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Green-card marriage: risk vs. reward.
June 26, 2006 7:51 AM   Subscribe

A friend is considering participating in a paper-marriage-for-money to permit a stranger to remain in the U.S. The amount of money in question is not trivial and said friend is quite excited. I'm inclined to object, but need better grounds. What are the practical, legal, and philosophical issues involved in this? Any real-life stories?
posted by Tubes to Law & Government (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
well legally, you're not supposed to be doing something like that but it happens more often than you think.

on the other hand, a marriage is a legal contract between two consenting parties.
posted by eatcake at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2006


Two words: community property.
posted by SPrintF at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2006


Has your friend checked out the consequences if he/she is found out? Doesn't the US INS (whoever they are these days) actively try to prevent this kind of thing? I assume there are negative consequences.
posted by GuyZero at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2006


Pre-nuptial agreement. Seriously.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:58 AM on June 26, 2006


they'd better get their stories straight. Expect to be quizzed on each other's birthdates, astrological signs, favorite movies, etc. by Immigration & Customs agents. If they can't stick to a script they won't pull it off.
posted by trondant at 8:00 AM on June 26, 2006


If the friend has any assets that (he?) may wish to protect, he might want to start consulting with a tax attorney or a CPA. What is to stop the other person from marrying and then divorcing for whatever assets they can obtain? I'm not saying that this is the case, but it should certainly be considered. The friend, if serious about this marriage, should at least be protected by a prenuptual contract that is professionally prepared.

Also, your friend needs to consider what would happen if he/she ever wants to marry for love in the future. Until polygamy becomes legal, a divorce will have to be performed first. Do they really want to go throgh the hassles of a divorce from a stranger to marry someone? What will future partners think?

At least in the US, a scenario like this would carry some negative stigma by most people. Right or wrong, people will talk.
posted by galimatias at 8:03 AM on June 26, 2006


Two more words: child support.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on June 26, 2006


A friend of mine did this, and the woman lived at his place for a while. She would travel on her own sometimes and she ended up drifting back to her country or somewhere else. When he wanted to get married for real to legitimize a child on the way, he couldn't find the first wife to straighten out the divorce paperwork. I was kind of messy and awkward with the new wife.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:04 AM on June 26, 2006


What does child support have to do with anything? Obligations to children only accrue to an actual parent, and this must be proven, no?
posted by mikel at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2006


I had an English friend who paid an American to get married. That was about 10 years ago and they are now happily married (for real).

Rare but it happens.
posted by gfrobe at 8:07 AM on June 26, 2006


Mikel - If the marriage is illegal and the foreign spouse goes to court to claim child support, the friend is not going to deny the child or tell the truth for fear of legal repercussions. This sounds lilke a classic setup for blackmail/extortion if the foreign spouse decides to take advantage of citizen spouse.
posted by galimatias at 8:09 AM on June 26, 2006


This is a really crummy way to:

a) make money

b) become a legal resident

Your friend should think long and hard about this and consider the ways in which he (she?) can be screwed legally if this deal goes bad.

Furthermore... if this person seeking residence has so much money (presumably this is many thousands of dollars were talking about here) why can't they go through the normal channels?
posted by wfrgms at 8:10 AM on June 26, 2006


Right, here's what your friend can expect:

If it looks to be a fast relationship, your friend and his fiancee will be expected to submit evidence of their love, as it were. E-mails, love letters, ticket stubs to events, everything like that. The key is to start collecting things early. Now, if possible. Give at least 6 months preparation for this if you can, otherwise the process will be delayed.

If this isn't possible, the two will have to be willing to live with each other until residency is granted. No, they won't get many "which side of the bed do you sleep on," (at least I didn't), but they do want shared bills, pictures, Christmas cards from either family to the couple. Any sort of evidence is necessary to have on hand, in case.

As long as the evidence from the first paragraph is totally credible, it shouldn't be an issue at all.

Here's what happened in my case:

We had only prepared 6 weeks' worth of relationship evidence, but as we had the collusion of all of the family members, it was a lot easier to provide the birthday cards, et cetera when it was needed.

Hope this helps.
posted by katiecat at 8:11 AM on June 26, 2006


Didn't work out for a dear friend of mine. The guy screwed up, took off and she spent the money she made legally disentangling herself from him. Not the best experience.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:14 AM on June 26, 2006


Any child born within a marriage is the legal child of the marriage, regardless of the DNA. Even if it's not your kid, if you were married to the woman giving birth it's legally your child.

Even with a prenup, you may have to litigate to protect assets, and that's VERY expensive.

PS, If "the amount of money in question is not trivial and said friend is quite excited" doesn't that just SCREAM "too good to be true?" WTF are they thinking?
posted by johngumbo at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2006


Would an unusually rough pre-nuptual agreement be taken into account for whether the marriage is legit? It seems as if they found out that the prenup is that the father has no rights to the children and the wife has no rights to the money or possessions...
posted by Napierzaza at 8:24 AM on June 26, 2006


What can she expect? Maybe this.
posted by amber_dale at 8:25 AM on June 26, 2006


A co-worker at my old job did this when she married one of my co-workers. Who was gay. They didn't have a love relationship or anything- just friends- yet had no problem getting marriage and him staying here (he was frmo Brazil). They got divorced ~6 months later, he left town and we haven't heard back since. So, in my limited data point, no problems.
posted by jmd82 at 8:59 AM on June 26, 2006


From amber_dale's link:
If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the Conspiracy charge...up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the marriage fraud and false statement counts, and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the False Application count.
posted by Bugbread at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2006


I was kind of messy and awkward with the new wife.

heh.
posted by goethean at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2006


I'm (legitimately) married to a foreigner and immigration tries very hard to weed out marriages like these. I would strongly advise your friend against this as it really does make it a LOT harder for people who really are married to get green cards.

The process, if she goes through with it: The American applying for the card submits an application with basic info. Easy enough, but it also costs about $450 (I forget the exact amount). After the application is submitted, the non-American must submit a criminal record, complete physical exam signed by one of immigration's own doctors (this isn't cheap either as they need bloodwork and x-rays), both parties must submit their original birth certificates and the original of the marriage license.

After that, they will schedule an interview during which time the American must bring in three years back tax reports to prove that s/he can sponsor the non-American citizen. There is an incredible amount of paperwork to go through on this. It doesn't matter if the non-citizen is a squijillionaire, you MUST be able to prove that you yourself can support a foreigner at 250% above the poverty line or no dice. (Incidentally, because I was a college student for the three years that immigration was looking at, my husband is officially sponsored not by me, but by my mother - which meant EVEN MORE paperwork)

At this point, if everything has appeared to be legit, you'll have your interview. They want stories. They want photos. They are very picky about this and specifically want vacation photos and photos that show a progression of time. They are specifically looking for scam marriages with staged photos, so if your friend really wants to do this, start with the photos in many different locations RIGHT NOW. They also want photos with family members present as proof that everyone's met. Oh, and photos of the actual wedding.

If at this point you haven't sent up any red flags, you'll be asked to tell the story of how you met and why you got married and why you want to live in the United States. Good luck, and from my experience, the interviewers are very well trained in reading personal chemistry.

If you actually GET the green card and have been married less than two years prior, your card is on conditional status for two years, which means that if you get divorced in the two years immediately following the green card, you also get deported.

Again, I'm providing this information with the caveat that you please advise your friend NOT to do this. It's a long, expensive, arduous process and the people who want to scam the system for whatever reason make it much harder on legitimate couples.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:12 AM on June 26, 2006 [3 favorites]


I married an American (for real) in the UK. I am not sure how things work with the Green Card system but over here you get a provisional right of permanent residency when you fill in a form and show them a marriage certificate. In the states thinks may work differently - but it is important to realise that we are not just talking about sending off some paperwork and picking up a green card - you have to think about a long term subterfuge.

Your friend is looking at an agreement which involves not just legal risks but which needs a watertight story to be concocted and shared between the "couple" and several other family members. The story must be maintained for at least a few years. She would have to have absolute trust of all concerned - I am sure there are routes by which anonymous people could whistleblow (for a reward?) if they so chose.
posted by rongorongo at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2006


(I forgot to mention that the interview itself costs around $150 - again, I forget the exact amount)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2006


There's no parole in the federal system, by the way.
posted by amber_dale at 9:17 AM on June 26, 2006


Here's a curveball story: Had a friend of a friend who had been in an arrangement like this before I met him.

Story goes, the couple went in for one of the legendary interviews. They had spent a bunch of time memorizing personal details (they were not living together) and getting their stories straight. They enter the office of the interviewer - chit chat for a second when the interviewer says "OK, can I see both of your house keys?"

Even though they were not living together they each had a copy of hers (or his) house key. Interviewer examines keys, sees that they are the same, assumes they live in the same house and says "Good luck to you both. Have a nice day."
posted by asparagus_berlin at 9:28 AM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Don't. Just don't. For all the reasons that have already been listed above. In fact, go ahead and call an immigration attorney and tell him or her what your friend has in mind. I'm sure he or she would be glad to share some horror stories with you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2006


posted by Tubes I'm inclined to object, but need better grounds.

How about,

1. It's against the law
2. Your friend can get in a tremendous amount of legal and financial trouble and the risks and consequences far outweigh the benefit
3. Immigration fraud of this sort makes it harder for people who are trying to immigrate legally

If, as you mentioned, the amount of money in question is not trivial and said friend is quite excited, you could say, "Why don't you skip the middleman and rob a few banks?"
posted by fandango_matt at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2006


Seriously, advise them not to do this. They're making it harder for legitimate couples.
posted by oaf at 10:42 AM on June 26, 2006


I'm with grapefruitmoon - having gone through the immigration process in another country myself with a legimate marriage in which so much documentation was required to prove that we wanted to get married because of the union not for visa purposes was a humilating and exasperating experience.

There are many more options than marriage to get a visa. Your friend's opportunist should investigate those further.
posted by gomichild at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2006


Your friend should also consider that, as the sponsor, (s)he will have to sign an I-134 affadavit of support, and will be financially responsible for their "spouse" for ten years should said "spouse" (for instance) attempt to collect welfare. Separation or divorce will not remove this obligation. So years down the line your friend could suddenly find themselves on the hook for a significant amount of money.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2006


Nicely put, fandango_matt! Please, Tubes, advise your friend to not let their greed get the better of them - don't do it!
posted by Bobtheordinary at 11:45 AM on June 26, 2006


Bad, bad idea. Just don't do it. It's illegal, you could remain liable for support, it clogs up the system.

That said, the 'legendary interview' is not always all that. I just got a green card, we were married for 3 1/2 years and my husband is a U.S. citizen. My 'interview' was going down to Montreal, paying $250 or so, handing over some originals, and then talking to a guy who was standing behind a glass. I never sat down, he asked me where we would be living, if I would miss my family being so far away (we're in SF now), and that was it. It all depends on circumstances - how long have you been married, does the American have a job, does your medical check out, where are you immigrating from, what sort of background do you have.

(The process itself, however, is long, long, long. We got extremely lucky and had the Ottawa U.S. Embassy accept our I-130 right there on the spot - the first time they were doing that - and it still took about seven months total (which I know is actually not that bad), four of which I had to spend stuck in Canada while my husband had moved down, since I wasn't supposed to travel to the U.S. while under immigration proceedings. The paperwork is not as bad as people say - yes, there were a lot of forms, but they're fairly straightforward other than the support affidavit - and mainly it's a lot of waiting, as you go into a long queue to wait for your documents to be processed and an interview scheduled. There's a huge backlog for interviews. So yeah, the idea of people trying to scam their way through and take up spaces in that queue is fucking unbelievable, as we did things legally, honestly, and all by-the-book - have some respect for those of us who are doing things that way).

Oh, and if they think the immigrant is trying to cheat or sneak in, up to the point where they cross the border (and there's another point, this immigrant will likely have to return to their home country and then re-cross into the U.S. when the green card comes through, so it may not work out nearly as well as getting a work visa of some sort, which is much more immediate) - but they can turn you away at the border, and even ban you from entry for very long or infinite amounts of time. My friend was legally and up-and-up married to an American, didn't have all the forms done yet when they tried to move, and was given a one-year ban right at the airport. Would kind of negate the "staying in the U.S." aspect.
posted by livii at 12:16 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who did this to help out a gal who wanted US citizenship ... they had to live together for a couple years while she awaited legal US status. In that time, the girl ended up actually falling in love with my friend and made his life hell (especially since they continued living together so as not to blow the scam). It all finally ended and they've both gone their seperate ways. My pal says he would have never done the fake marriage if he had known what he would have to go through. He's also told me his IRS tax-work has been pretty screwy since then as well. Yeah, I'd say don't do it.
posted by General Zubon at 12:25 PM on June 26, 2006


Thanks so much, everyone. Lots of great info and stories here. I knew it was not a cakewalk idea, but didn't realize just how complex and risky it really is.
posted by Tubes at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2006


Bad, bad idea. A friend did this, as a kindness to an aquaintance and for the minimal help with school costs/rent that was offered, and it proved very unpleasant for her. There were lies, poor treatment, the promised financial support vanished, and finally the guy hid out and refused to sign divorce papers to "punish" her for moving out.

Think of it this way: how far would you trust someone who intends, with your help, to defraud the U.S. government?
posted by Scram at 5:52 PM on June 26, 2006


trodant: "they'd better get their stories straight. Expect to be quizzed on each other's birthdates, astrological signs, favorite movies, etc. by Immigration & Customs agents. If they can't stick to a script they won't pull it off."

That's not always the case. My wife and I submitted a good amount of supporting evidence of our relationship/marrage. Our "interview" consisted of about 3 questions, none related in any way to any of the questions above.

livii - Your Montreal experience sound exactly like ours!

Tubes: I think most people here echo my same feelings: it's illegal to do, and makes it harder for legitimate people to go through the immigration process. It's not a fun process at all, and this is just wrong. Plus, it sounds like your friend is just asking for trouble.
posted by punkrockrat at 7:31 PM on June 26, 2006


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