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Defining Marriage under Immigration Law

Marriage to a U.S. citizen is one of the quickest and easiest paths to becoming a green card holder.  Understanding how “marriage” is defined by USCIS is important if you wish to become a permanent resident through marriage.  Read on to see how USCIS goes about defining marriage under immigration law:

What is a bona fide and legitimate marriage under immigration law? 

Marriages must be legal at the place and time of inception and cannot be contrary to public policy. To be considered a valid marriage, the marriage must be both bona fide and legitimate.
Bone fide marriages must meet the following elements:

  • The marriage was not entered into for the purpose of evading immigration laws
  • At the time of the marriage, the bride and groom intended to establish a life together – factors used to prove intent can include but are not limited to: joint tenancies,  jointly owned property, or conduct that shows the individuals are acting as husband and wife

Legitimate marriages must meet the following elements:

  • Marriage must be valid at its inception under the laws governing the location where the marriage took place
  • In states where common law marriage is recognized, the marriage is also recognized as valid for immigration purposes

Does USCIS recognize proxy marriages?

A proxy marriage is a wedding in which the bride or groom (or both) is not physically present.  With today’s technology, proxy marriages, such as “skype marriages,” are increasingly common.   While the USCSIS recognizes proxy marriages, they are very suspicious of them.  Under immigration law §101(a)(35) of the Immigration and Nationally Act (INA), if the parties of the marriage were not in each other’s presence at a marriage ceremony, there must be proof of consummation for such a marriage to be recognized  under immigration law.

What happens if  USCIS is suspicious of my marriage?
If an USCIS officer suspects fraud then the officer will request a field investigation.   The investigation may consist of:

  • Home visits or visit to neighbors to investigate whether the suspected couple reside together, share a household, own property jointly, etc.
  • Interviews with the couple at their residence or at USCIS offices to ask private questions regarding all aspects of their marital relationship


What are the consequences if the USCIS determines that my marriage is a sham?

There are harsh consequences if the USCIS determines that your marriage is fraudulent, including permanent banishment for the U.S.
Our website has many articles regarding obtaining a green card through marriage.  Visit us here: 
Obtaining a green card through marriage can be complex.  Contact our Green Card Attorneys to schedule a consultation regarding questions concerning marriage based green cards or other immigration questions.