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Immigration marriage fraud: How investigations get started

It's tough to immigrate to the United States these days. Even if you're trying to legally obtain your green card or citizenship as the foreign-born spouse of an American, you may find yourself under investigation for marriage fraud.

What is marriage fraud?

This is what happens when a couple enters into a "sham" marriage just so that one party can obtain a green card (and maybe citizenship).

For example, imagine that you have a friend who is in the United States on a student visa and the visa runs out -- but they don't want to go home. You agree to marry your friend and stay married until they obtain a green card. Because you're only marrying your friend for the purpose of working around immigration laws, that's marriage fraud, and it's a federal crime.

What are some of the signs that a marriage might be a sham?

At some point, you and your spouse will be required to attend an "adjustment of status" interview. If the immigration officer gets suspicious that your marriage is a sham, you'll have to go through a marriage-based or "fraud" interview. You and your spouse will be separated and asked personal questions about your relationship. Your answers will then be compared to see how well they match up.

Some of the things that might trigger a fraud interview include:

  • The lack of a shared language
  • A significant difference in age between the couple
  • A big difference in religion, culture or education
  • A large gap in socio-economic status
  • Not living together -- without a very good reason
  • The timing of the marriage (immediately before or after the immigrant's visa ran out)
  • No involvement with family or friends in the ceremony

Generally, it's a combination of these things that will trigger an investigation -- or even just one factor without a good explanation.

Marriage fraud is a federal crime. The immigrant spouse can be deported and denied re-entry to the United States for a long time. The non-immigrant spouse could go to jail. If you're accused of marriage fraud, take steps to protect your future today.

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