Frequently Asked Questions about Marriage Petitions:
What is a "bona fide" marriage? In order to petition for a spouse, whether you are a just married or you are celebrating 3o years of marriage, United States immigration law requires that citizens and LPRs prove their marriage is "bona fide" before they can sponsor their foreign national spouses to live in the US. Under current immigration law, a bona fide marriage is one where the couple intends "to establish a life together and assume certain duties and obligations." See Lutwak v. United States, 344 U.S. 604 (1953).
How does USCIS determine if my marriage is bona fide? To assess whether a marriage is bona fide the only relevant inquiry for USCIS is whether the parties intended, at the time of the marriage took place, to establish a life together. See Lutwak, supra.
In determining whether a marriage is bona fide, the conduct of the parties after the marriage is relevant as to their intent at the time of the marriage; evidence to establish intent may take many forms, including, but not limited to, proof that the Beneficiary has been listed as the petitioner’s spouse on insurance policies, property leases, income tax forms, or bank accounts, and testimony or other evidence of courtship, wedding ceremony, shared residence, and experiences. Matter of Phillis, 15 I&N Dec. 385 (BIA 1975). See also Bark v. INS, 511 F.2d 1200 (9th Cir. 1975) (Conduct of the parties after marriage is relevant only to the extent it bears upon their subjective state of mind at the time they were married).
What is a “Sham Marriage”? A sham marriage has been defined by the Board of Immigration Appeals as a marriage which may comply with all the formal requirements of the law but which the parties entered into with no intent, or "good faith", to live together and which is designed solely to circumvent the immigrations laws. Sham marriages are not recognized for immigration purposes. See Matter of Patel, 19 I&N Dec. 774 (BIA 1988).
According to USCIS, indicators of a Sham Marriage include the following:
- Large disparity of age;
- Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other's language;
- Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background;
- Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage;
- Marriage arranged by a third party;
- Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary's apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- No cohabitation since marriage;
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family;
- Petitioner has filed previous petitions on behalf of aliens, especially prior alien spouses.
What is the penalty for a Sham Marriage? Up to 5 years in federal prison, plus a fine of up to $250,000, ineligibility for other immigration benefits, and removal from the US.
Who has the Burden to prove that a marriage is bona fide? The “Burden of Proof” is on the petitioner (the US citizen) in a visa proceeding to establish eligibility of their foreign national spouse for LPR status. Matter of Brantigan, 11 I &N Dec. 492 (BIA 1966).
What is LPR/Green Card status? LPR status allows a foreign national to live, work, and travel in the US indefinitely, and provides eligibility for becoming a US citizen in the future. In general, the only way to lose LPR status is by committing a crime or residing abroad without seeking advance permission prior to leaving the US.
Can a US citizen sponsor their foreign national spouse for US citizenship and skip the Green Card? Unfortunately you cannot directly file for a foreign national spouse to be a US citizen, they must first be a LPR for at least 3 years before the foreign national can apply for citizenship via naturalization.
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