Marriage Fraud: What is the Penalty for Marrying for a Green Card?

Updated on April 4, 2024
At a Glance:
  • Marriage fraud, which involves entering into a fraudulent marriage for immigration purposes, is considered a serious crime under US law.

  • Both the US citizen and the immigrant involved can face prosecution.

  • Immigrants convicted of marriage fraud may be imprisoned for up to five years, fined up to $250,000, and face deportation.

  • US citizens involved in fraudulent marriages may also face fines, jail time, and potential deportation.

  • The USCIS, along with other agencies, actively investigates and monitors marriages for potential fraud by conducting extensive interviews, requesting evidence, and verifying the legitimacy of the relationship.
  • The United States government does not impose restrictions on who its citizens can marry. If an application is processed in due order, including background and medical checks, the foreign spouse is issued a green card to live and work in the United States permanently. But some couples use marriage to get around the U.S. immigration system and obtain a green card. This is considered a federal crime. In this article, we’ll explain the consequences of marrying someone just for a green card.

    What is Marriage Fraud?

    Marriage fraud refers to the act of entering into a marriage for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws. In the context of United States immigration, it typically involves a foreign national marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident solely to obtain a green card or legal residence, rather than as a result of a genuine marital relationship.

    Key characteristics of marriage fraud include:

    • Lack of a Legitimate Relationship: The primary intent of the marriage is to gain immigration benefits rather than to establish a life together as a genuine married couple.
    • Financial Arrangements: Often, there is a financial agreement where one party (usually the U.S. citizen or resident) is paid to marry the foreign national.
    • Deception: In some cases, a U.S. citizen may be deceived into a marriage where the foreign national is only interested in gaining immigration benefits.

    Marriage fraud is considered a serious violation of U.S. immigration laws. It can result in severe legal consequences, including criminal charges, fines, deportation for the foreign national, and legal penalties for the U.S. citizen or permanent resident involved. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), actively investigates suspected cases of marriage fraud.

    Is Marriage Fraud Considered a Serious Crime?

    Marriage fraud, defined as entering into a marriage solely for immigration benefits like obtaining a green card, is a serious federal crime in the United States. This includes sham or fake marriages intended to evade U.S. immigration laws. Both the immigrant and the U.S. citizen involved face severe consequences, including possible deportation or jail time.

    The Immigration and Nationality Act, specifically INA Section 204(c), explicitly addresses sham marriages. Investigations into marriage fraud are conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). They focus on various types of fraudulent marriages:

    • Marriages where a U.S. citizen is paid to marry a foreign national for a green card.
    • Arrangements through mail-order bridal services where both parties know the marriage is fraudulent.
    • Situations where a foreign national deceives an American citizen into believing the marriage is genuine.

    HSI’s Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces (DBFTF) are specifically tasked with scrutinizing international marriages.

    Additionally, a marriage is deemed fraudulent if it’s not legally valid, such as entering a new marriage without legally ending a previous one. However, these cases are usually quickly identified and rejected by DBFTF, reducing the likelihood of being classified as marriage fraud.

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    What Are the Penalties for Marriage Fraud?

    As mentioned earlier, marriage fraud is a federal crime. If discovered, both the U.S. citizen and immigrant will face prosecution.

    For the Immigrant

    The immigrant faces severe charges when convicted of marriage fraud or a sham marriage. INA 275 (c), states that any individual who enters into the marriage purposely and knowingly intending to evade any provision of immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than five years and be fined not more than $250,000 or both.

    Therefore, if convicted, the alien spouse will be asked to pay the fine or serve in jail or both. Furthermore, their visa will be revoked immediately. Upon release, they will be deported back to their own country.

    Additionally, restrictions will be imposed on their further eligibility for getting a U.S. visa or green card.

    If citizenship has been granted by the time the fraud surfaces, then authorities will look at whether it should be revoked.

    There are two types of marriage fraud from a citizen’s point of view. They went into the marriage knowing it wasn’t legitimate, or they were unaware of the intention of the foreign spouse. In the latter case, it is marriage fraud, while in the former, it is sham marriage.

    Depending on how involved the citizen was, they will face both fines or jail time or both. If they willingly entered the marriage for cash or incentives, they’re likely to face severe charges.

    The most severe charges are issued against those citizens or LPRs who are engaged in conspiracy operations. Systematically arranging fraudulent marriages on a large scale for cash or other benefits is an example.

    If the spouse is a Lawful Permanent Resident and not yet a citizen, officials will also consider deporting them.

    Both the alien spouse and U.S.-based spouse will face additional charges, such as:

    • Visa fraud
    • Harboring an alien
    • Criminal conspiracy
    • Providing false statements

    How Does the USCIS Identify Marriage Fraud?

    With the rise in marriage fraud over the years, the USCIS makes it a top priority to examine marriages for potential fraud. It works with multiple affiliated agencies, including ICE and NVC, to curb them.

    First, they’ve made the application and verification process lengthy and difficult. They ask for extensive proof to determine the legitimacy of a marriage. Then they ask the couple to attend multiple interviews at the consulate or embassy. But that’s not all. After the marriage is approved, the alien spouse is issued a two-year conditional green card. This explicitly states that if the marriage ends in divorce, there’s a high probability that the green card will be revoked.

    These agencies usually monitor your marriage for years after it has taken place. If they find something suspicious, they’ll visit your home, talk to your friends, and possibly even interrogate your employers. But further paperwork or interviews after the two-year conditional period is over is rare if your marriage is indeed legitimate.

    The marriage-based green card process starts with the American spouse filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. You’ll be asked a lot of questions in this form and supplement it with documents. This is when the USCIS tries its best to identify any potential fraud.

    When determining the legitimacy of a marriage, immigration officials will look for the following things:

    • Whether or not both people share the same religion and language
    • If they have lived together and for how long
    • Whether they’ve gone on a vacation or celebrated important events
    • If they have children or are planning to have them
    • Financial records of both the partners
    • Any assets they share
    • Whether they have any marital problems and arguments

    Then during subsequent interviews, officials expect couples to prove what they have stated in the application.

    Any of the following documents may be submitted as evidence:

    • Bank records
    • Rental agreement
    • Property ownership details
    • Birth certificates
    • Photos of vacations and parties attended together

    These are just some of the ways the USCIS can discover fraud. The complete list is still unknown. The agency has extensive reach and can even go into the alien spouse’s hometown for further investigation if required. Therefore, you should try your best not to do anything suspicious, even when the marriage is indeed legitimate.

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    Final Thoughts

    When filling out the form, put extra focus on the accuracy of the information you provide. The information should reflect your real life. Remember, the USCIS only wants to ensure the marriage was entered in good faith. If you have any questions, it’s best to get in touch with an experienced immigration attorney before filing Form I-130.

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    FAQs on Marriage Fraud and U.S. Immigration

    What defines marriage fraud in U.S. immigration?

    Marriage fraud typically involves immigrants marrying U.S. citizens or green card holders solely to obtain immigration benefits.

    Can marriage fraud allegations be challenged in court?

    Yes, individuals wrongly accused of marriage fraud can challenge the accusations in court. Adequate evidence and legal representation are crucial in these cases.

    What happens if a marriage fraud allegation is proven?

    Convicted individuals face fines, imprisonment, and immigration consequences, including deportation for non-citizens and potential legal action against U.S. citizens.

    How does the USCIS investigate suspected marriage fraud?

    he USCIS conducts thorough investigations, including home visits, interviews, and examination of shared financial records and property ownership.

    Can a non-citizen be deported for marriage fraud?

    Yes, non-citizens found guilty of marriage fraud face immediate visa revocation and deportation after serving any applicable legal penalties.

    What are the penalties for a U.S. citizen involved in marriage fraud?

    U.S. citizens may face fines, imprisonment, and criminal charges depending on their involvement and knowledge of the fraud.

    Does a conditional green card period apply in marriage-based immigration?

    Yes, there is a conditional period to ensure the marriage’s legitimacy before granting permanent resident status.

    Can immigration status affect divorce decisions in potentially fraudulent marriages?

    In cases where a marriage was initially genuine, staying together for immigration purposes may not constitute fraud, but legal advice is recommended.

    What are common red flags for marriage fraud?

    Red flags include lack of cohabitation, absence of shared financial responsibilities, and inconsistencies in personal information.

    What should couples do to prove the legitimacy of their marriage?

    Couples should provide extensive evidence of their shared life, including financial records, property ownership, and personal testimonies.

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    Frank Gogol

    I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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