Marriages that take place so that the foreign national obtains the Residency Card (or Green Card) is a very common occurrence in the United States.

Why are sham marriages solemnized in order to obtain the Green Card?

Of all paths there exist to obtain the Residency Card, marriage to an American citizen or legal permanent resident is one of the most commonly used ones. Approximately 1 out of 4 Residency Cards are obtained this way.

The Law of the United States allows both citizens and legal permanent residents to file for their spouses, and this applies for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Fraud occurs more frequently in the case of marriage between a citizen and a foreigner, since this gives two great advantages:

  • Applications are processed faster.
  • In some cases (although not all of them), undocumented citizens can adjust their status and obtain their papers. This does not happen in the case of a marriage with a legal permanent resident.

On the marriage between American citizens and foreigners

Obtaining the Green Card through a sham marriages

Even though there are no official statistics, it is estimated that 250 thousand Green Card applications through marriage with an American citizen take place in one fiscal year. Of that number, fraud is discovered in about 7,000 cases and thus are not acknowledged as real marriages by the USCIS. As a result, the petitioner is not granted the permanent Residency Card.

In those cases where the Green Card is granted, it is estimated that up to a 30% of marriages can be fake ones.

What is the punishment if the sham marriage is discovered?

In the case where people are discovered participating in a sham marriage with the sole purpose of obtaining the papers, the sentence can be up to 5 years in prison and a 250,000 USD fine, with some exceptions (which heavily depends on the jurisdiction where the case is tried).

Even though both spouses can be given sentences, it is often the case that the foreign citizen will be the one who receives a harsher punishment, since they can be deported. In the cases of those who managed to obtain the Residency Card before the discovery of the sham marriage, their cards may also be completely annulled.

Important difference in regards to consequences

If a marriage between a Citizen and a foreigner is fake and this fact is discovered at least 5 years after the fact, the American citizen shall not be punished. This is because of the Statute of Limitations, which establishes that no legal action may be initiated after this time.

However, the Residency Card will be taken away from the foreign citizen for the same crime. Besides, they shall leave the United States, since the Statute of Limitations do not apply to them.

Foreign citizens may also lose their citizenship in those cases where they have managed to file for the American Citizenship through Naturalization before their sham marriage was discovered. These are very rare instances of the denaturalization process, but they can occur.

Do not engage in fraudulent acts or immigrate illegally. Ask our lawyers. We shall find together the best way of obtaining a legal status.


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