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What happens if you marry just for a green card?

Getting married just for the sake of obtaining a green card in the United States is known as a fraudulent marriage. This practice is illegal under U.S. immigration law. There can be serious consequences if you are caught attempting to arrange or participating in a marriage fraud.

Why do people marry for green cards?

There are a few main reasons why some people consider immigration marriage fraud:

  • To obtain lawful permanent residence (a green card) more quickly – The spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can apply for a green card through a faster process than other visa types.
  • To avoid immigration caps or backlogs – Some visa types have numerical limits and long wait times, but immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are exempt from these caps.
  • To gain benefits of lawful status – A green card holder gains benefits like the ability to live and work permanently in the U.S., apply for citizenship, and sponsor relatives for visas.

However, none of these potential benefits are worth the risks of punishment under U.S. law.

What are the requirements for a bona fide marriage?

U.S. immigration law requires marriages to be “bona fide” – entered into with the intention of establishing a life together, not just for an immigration benefit. Some factors used to determine if a marriage is real or fraudulent include:

  • Length of relationship – Couples who just met or have only known each other briefly raise suspicions.
  • Time living together – Evidence of cohabitation before and after marriage.
  • Shared assets and finances – Joint bank accounts, property, insurance, bills.
  • Knowledge of each other – Details about each other’s lives, families, interests.
  • Shared experiences – Photos, records of travel, social events.
  • Ongoing commitment – Plans to build a life together in the future.

Engaging in a sham marriage lacks these signs of commitment and shared lives that genuine couples exhibit.

What are penalties for marriage fraud?

There are a number of civil and criminal penalties for entering into or arranging fraudulent marriages. Some potential consequences include:

  • Visa denial – A spouse green card application could be denied if fraud is suspected.
  • Deportation – Those who obtain green cards through sham marriages can have their lawful permanent resident status revoked and be removed from the U.S.
  • Bars from re-entry – Individuals deported for marriage fraud may be banned from returning to the U.S. for 3 or 10 years, or even life.
  • Fines – Civil penalties up to $250,000 and repayment of government benefits received.
  • Imprisonment – Sentences up to 5 years in federal prison for marriage fraud conspiracy.

In addition to punishing the foreign national spouse, U.S. citizens or permanent residents face prosecution for participating in fake marriage schemes. The marriage arrangers who profit from these scams also risk prosecution.

How are fraudulent marriages detected?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has numerous methods for detecting immigration marriage fraud:

  • Reviews all paperwork for consistency, accuracy, and completeness.
  • Interviews both spouses separately to look for discrepancies in their answers.
  • Visits homes to verify couples live at the same residence.
  • Compares tax, employment, insurance, and other records to check for joint documentation.
  • Looks for evidence of a bona fide relationship prior to marriage.
  • Investigates suspicions of marriage for profit or arrangements by third-parties.

In some high fraud risk situations, couples may be required to attend a second interview before the green card application is approved. Lying during these interviews or on immigration paperwork is a federal crime that can lead to severe consequences beyond just denial.

What are common marriage fraud schemes?

Some examples of marriage fraud arrangements that USCIS scrutinizes include:

  • Paying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to marry solely for immigration benefits.
  • “Shotgun” marriages – Marrying after finding out the foreign fiancé is facing deportation or pregnancy.
  • Never living together – Maintaining separate homes before and after the wedding.
  • No prior relationship – Meeting shortly before marriage with no evidence of courtship.
  • Unanswered questions – Not knowing basic details about each other’s lives, families, interests.
  • Suspicious documentation – Errors, omissions, or inconsistencies in paperwork and interviews.

Even if both spouses fully cooperate in a marriage fraud, it is often uncovered during the green card process. It is not worth the risk and consequences.

What are penalties for marriage fraud arrangers?

Some schemes involve complicated arrangements with third parties profiting from setting up fraudulent marriages. Arrangers face prosecution for:

  • Conspiracy – Knowingly assisting with fraudulent marriage and green card application.
  • Bringing in and harboring aliens – Helping foreigners enter or remain in the U.S. through sham marriages.
  • Document fraud – Producing fake wedding photos, joint accounts, or other false documents.
  • RICO charges – Large operations can be prosecuted under racketeering laws.

Marriage fraud rings face severe criminal penalties. In addition to 5 years imprisonment and $250,000 fines per arranged marriage, masterminds behind large schemes can get up to 20 years in prison.

How can I avoid a marriage fraud accusation?

If you are marrying a foreign national spouse and applying for their green card, take precautions to demonstrate your marriage is genuine:

  • Date for a significant period before marriage and engagement.
  • Provide evidence of shared residence, finances, insurance, property.
  • Share experiences like travel, family gatherings, holidays together.
  • Document your relationship story and how you fell in love.
  • Know comprehensive details and be consistent during immigration interviews.

Being truthful throughout the marriage green card process and clearly showing you have a bona fide relationship is the best way to avoid accusations of marriage fraud conspiracy.

Can they still get deported if we divorce later?

Getting divorced after obtaining a marriage-based green card does not automatically trigger deportation. However, it could raise questions if:

  • Divorce occurs very quickly after receiving permanent residency.
  • There is evidence the marriage was fraudulent from the beginning.
  • Permanent resident status was already questionable.

To avoid issues, it is recommended to wait at least 2 years before divorcing after marriage immigration. Demonstrating an initial attempt to make the marriage work helps confirm it was bona fide.

As long as the green card was granted properly with a real marriage, a later divorce itself should not lead to removal. But quick divorces will likely bring added scrutiny to the entire process.

What happens if we have children together?

Having children together does not automatically prove a marriage is legitimate. Immigration officers will look at the overall evidence and timeline of your relationship. Some considerations if you have kids include:

  • When pregnancy/birth occurred relative to marriage and green card petition.
  • If evidence shows a relationship prior to pregnancy.
  • Who has custody after divorce and involvement of both parents.
  • Impact on children of potential visa denial or deportation.

While not definitive proof, having children together can help indicate a marriage was entered in good faith rather than purely for immigration purposes.

Do we have to stay married forever?

You do not have to stay married to your immigrant spouse forever after obtaining a marriage-based green card. However:

  • It is recommended to wait at least 2 years before divorcing to avoid suspicion.
  • If you divorce before becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be unable to sponsor a future spouse.
  • You should still file the necessary paperwork with USCIS after divorcing.

While staying married permanently is not strictly required, quick divorces after receiving immigration benefits raise red flags. Having a bona fide marriage initially is most important.

What if we were engaged but never married?

If your engagement to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident ended before marriage, there are no immigration penalties. Some considerations include:

  • The relationship may still be scrutinized if a fiancé visa petition was filed.
  • Planning a marriage just for a green card, even if unsuccessful, could be attempted fraud.
  • No green card or other benefits were actually obtained, so penalties are unlikely.

Unless investigators uncover evidence you planned and took substantial steps toward a fraudulent marriage, a broken engagement itself does not trigger immigration consequences.

Can I work with nonimmigrant status while we apply?

Your ability to remain working in the U.S. during the marriage green card application depends on your current immigration status. In general:

  • Nonimmigrant visas (H-1B, L-1, etc.) – You can usually continue working if the visa is still valid.
  • Undocumented immigrants – You should not work legally without status.
  • Pending asylum – You can work for 180 days after applying for asylum.

You do not receive automatic work authorization just for having a pending green card application. But your current work status is often extended while applying for permanent residence.

What if my fiancé is still overseas?

If your fiancé is still living abroad, you will need to file a K-1 fiancé visa petition for them to come to the U.S. to get married:

  • You must have met each other in person within the last 2 years.
  • After arriving, you have 90 days to marry before the K-1 expires.
  • After marrying, they can apply to adjust status and receive a marriage green card.

This lengthy process will involve intensive scrutiny to confirm your relationship is bona fide. Do not attempt K-1 visa fraud as it often leads to serious consequences.

Should I speak with an immigration attorney?

Speaking with an experienced immigration attorney is highly recommended if you plan to apply for a marriage-based green card. Some key reasons include:

  • They can advise you on documenting your bona fide marriage.
  • They can represent you in interviews with USCIS officers.
  • They can help ensure your paperwork is accurate and complete.
  • They can defend you if a fraud accusation arises.

Navigating the complex marriage-based green card process with legal guidance maximizes your chances of success and minimizes fraud risks.


Entering into a sham marriage for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits is illegal and has dire consequences if caught. However, marrying for love and going through the proper immigration process can allow foreign spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to obtain green cards.

To avoid marriage fraud accusations, be prepared to thoroughly document your genuine relationship. Honesty and transparency throughout the immigration process is critical. Attempting short cuts by committing marriage fraud puts your immigration status in jeopardy and risks severe penalties.