bigstock-Passports-31148Only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States are allowed to sponsor foreign citizen spouses for visas. To begin the process of sponsoring the foreign citizen, the lawful resident or U.S. citizen will need to use Form I-130, which is a Petition for Alien Relative. If the foreign citizen spouse already holds a valid American visa and is already in the United States, then the U.S. citizen or lawful resident may file a request to adjust the foreign citizen’s status along with the Petition for Alien Relative.

Qualifying Marriage Relationship

In determining whether or not to issue a visa to a spouse, the United States will verify the status of the petitioner, which is the citizen or permanent resident filing the Form I-130, and establish that the wedding relationship is a qualifying wedding relationship. The validity of a wedding is determined based on the law of the country or jurisdiction where the wedding took place. However, when the wedding that was celebrated in another country offends American public policy, then the marriage may be deemed invalid for immigration purposes.

A Good Faith Requirement

The law also requires that marriages be entered into “in good faith.”  This means that the sole reason for entering into a wedding may not be simply for the purpose of receiving certain immigration benefits. When immigration benefits are the only reason for entering into a marriage, then the wedding is deemed a “sham marriage,” which is another way of saying that it is a fraudulent marriage.

Red Flags

Sometimes, certain facts will trigger red flags for the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), which investigates and approves visa petitions for foreign citizens. While these red flags may not automatically lead to a denial, they will make petition review authorities review the petition with much more scrutiny. Some of those red flags include major differences in age, a communication barrier between the couple, vast cultural and ethnic background differences, when a wedding is arranged, when a wedding is entered into immediately after the foreign citizen was apprehended for reasons which could result in deportation or after a notice of deportation was received, when there are discrepancies in answers to questions which both spouses should be aware of, when the couple has not lived together since the marriage, and when the U.S. citizen or lawful resident has filed petitions on behalf of foreign citizens in the past. Only the federal government is allowed to determine the validity of a marriage for the purposes of immigration.

Penalties for Fraudulent Marriages

In addition to being denied immigration benefits, those who enter into sham marriages also face the risk of several years in prison, fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, or both. The foreign citizen spouse faces deportation and the inability to obtain any immigration benefits from the United States in the future. Additional jail time and imprisonment may be faced if any false documentation is provided with an application or if the petitioner conceals a material fact regarding the marriage.

Generally, a lawful permanent resident must wait five years from the date that he or she became a lawful permanent resident to sponsor a foreign citizen spouse, if the lawful permanent resident status was obtained by wedding to a U.S. citizen or other lawful permanent resident. An exemption to this waiting period can be granted if the petitioner can prove that the original marriage was a good faith marriage, or that the original marriage ended with the death of the other spouse.