Marriage Fraud in Immigration
In today’s digital world, particularly during COVID-19, a lot of our relationships are maintained and even formed, online. Shows like 90 Day Fiancé reveal that even the most intimate of connections can develop between people thousands of miles apart via Facetime and Whatsapp, and dating apps like Tinder and Hinge make meeting a special someone even more accessible on the internet. Of course, with these romantic tech developments also comes a negative social stigma surrounding the idea of “meeting someone on a dating app.” You probably even read that with a skeptical tone in your mind. Since these apps are global, people abroad have used them to meet Americans, hoping to form a relationship so that they can immigrate to the United States. Where does this cross the line from looking for love to just looking for a visa?
One of the most common basis for obtaining an immigrant visa is a close familial relationship to a United States citizen. A close familial relationship means a parent, child, sibling, or spouse. In these situations, a U.S. citizen (the petitioner) applies for an immigrant visa for their foreign national family member (the beneficiary). This application is called an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. In all family-based applications, both the U.S. citizen petitioner and the foreign-national beneficiary will have to prove that they do, in fact, have the close familial relationship that their application is based upon. However, when reviewing immigration petitions based on marriage, the inquiry goes a little bit deeper. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) looks to see whether the couple has a good faith marriage, or whether they entered into the marriage for the sole purpose of circumventing immigration laws, which would be the equivalent of committing fraud.
THE BIG QUESTION: DID THE COUPLE FALL IN LOVE?
Consider the following scenario: an individual comes to the United States and downloads a dating app in order to meet an American so they can get married and stay in the U.S. At this point, this person’s intentions sound skeptical at face value. But, say they do meet someone on this app, and after chatting for a little while they meet in person and it’s love at first sight. They both fall head over heels for each other, and spend as much time as possible together, meeting each other’s friends and family and getting closer and closer by the day. As time passes, however, one of them is getting closer to the date that their visa expires, meaning that the immigrant would need to return to his/her home country. Neither one of them wants to say goodbye; after all, they are truly in love. Is their marriage subject to fraud just because the foreign national initially intended to meet someone to obtain a visa, but ended up falling in love?
To succeed in a marriage-based visa petition, a couple must prove that they were married in good faith. For immigration purposes, the basis of a good faith marriage is “the intent to establish a life together.” Matter of Laureano, 19 I&N Dec. 1, 2 (BIA 1983). This basically poses the following question: did the two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together when they got married? While looking to meet someone with the ultimate objective of getting a Green Card might seem suspicious if those two people genuinely fall in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together, then obtaining status on the basis of that relationship is not fraudulent.
PROVING A GOOD FAITH MARRIAGE
Although this definition of a good faith marriage seems simple enough, proving intent can be more nuanced than it seems. For example, proving that you and your spouse live together will not, by itself, be sufficient to prove that you two meant to start a life together. Of course, a marriage certificate is necessary. Evidence of good faith may include, but is not limited to, “proof that one spouse has been listed as the other’s spouse on insurance policies, property leases, income tax forms, or bank accounts; and testimony or other evidence regarding courtship, wedding ceremony, shared residence and experiences. Other types of readily available evidence might include the birth certificates of children born [from the marriage], police, medical, or court documents providing information about the relationship; and affidavits of persons with personal knowledge of the relationship. All credible relevant evidence will be considered.” 8 C.F.R. 204.2(c)(2)(vii).
Again, the main focus is the intent of both parties when they got married. The evidence submitted should paint a picture to USCIS, and not just show snapshots in time. A couple will want to use the evidence presented to walk the USCIS officer reviewing their case through the timeline of their love story, going back to when they met, retelling their shared experiences in detail, recounting their wedding day, and ending with the filing of their immigrant petition. The more detailed the picture, the better. Sending one or two utility bills addressed to the couple at one address does not show intent to be together forever; sending utility bills spanning several months, or better yet years, will be much stronger. The same goes for photographs. Of course, submitting photos from the wedding ceremony is important to proving a marriage, but that’s really all they do – is prove that a marriage took place. Intent, on the other hand, is better shown by photographs taken throughout the course of the relationship, at both formal events such as weddings, church events, or family reunions, and also casual moments like random selfies and outings with friends.
KEEP IN MIND: THE CONSEQUENCES FOR FRAUD ARE SEVERE
While the possibility of USCIS reaching a finding of fraud is not one to take lightly, it should also not prevent you, or anyone, from moving forward with a marriage-based visa application based on a true happily ever after. That being said, keep in mind that the consequences for filing an immigrant petition based on anything other than a genuinely loving marriage are harsh. If the Government determines that the marriage was entered into “for purposes of circumventing immigration laws,” or in other words finds that the marriage was fraudulent, the individuals could face a $250,000 fine and/or possible imprisonment for up to five years. U.S.C. § 1325(c). And that’s not just for the foreign national spouse – those consequences also apply to the U.S. citizen petitioner. Additionally, a finding of marriage fraud could prevent a foreign national from further immigration relief, or subject them to a permanent bar from ever immigrating in the future. For more information about the consequences of marriage fraud, read this ICE brochure.
If you are planning on filing an immigration petition based on a marriage or a current romantic relationship, we recommend that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney. The Linesch Firm has assisted immigrants across the United States in achieving their goal of adjusting their legal immigration status. You can fill out an inquiry form here. Once you submit this form, somebody at our firm will review your case and contact you as soon as possible to discuss your potential immigration options. Additional contact information is linked below.
The Linesch Firm Website
The Linesch Firm number: (727) 786-0000
Department of Justice Website – Summary of Marriage Fraud
USCIS Website – Application for I-130 Petition for Alien Relative