How quickie is too quickie when it comes to a green card marriage?
November 24, 2008 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Green-card-via-quickie-marriage-filter....

Some similar questions in the past, so forgive the slight retread for the sake of specifics and a late-2008 perspective.

Against our advice (and the Ask Metafilter links we sent), a close friend married a man from Turkey in order for him to stay in the country (he's here on a student[?] visa, I believe, and working at a gas station). His visa expires in January. They are "in love" but only met two months ago--the feeling is: a marriage certificate is just a piece of paper, this way they can feel things out and he can at least get a green card. There were no witnesses/guests to the city hall ceremony--she hasn't even told her parents or siblings yet (they're both in their mid-twenties). They will not be living together. They haven't talked to any lawyers, though he has friends who have gone through the process successfully with similarly borderline marriages.

So they aren't doing this for money or anything, but it's not a "real" marriage either. And, on paper, it looks pretty suspicious. AskMe descriptions of the process vary from most-intrusive-experience-ever to some-tough-paperwork-but-the-interview-was-a-breeze. My question: how much scrutiny can they expect? Do her parents need to be in on it? Is there anything they should do next besides starting all that paperwork? Best-case-scenarios? Worst-case scenarios? (They just got married last week, by the way.)

(Previously-linked sources like visajourney are very informative but tend to approach everything with the assumption that you have a "real" marriage with oodles of love letters, photos, and family willing to back you up. I know that you're not their lawyer and that they should talk to one as soon as possible.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The fact that they're not living together will probably be enough to set off alarm bells.
posted by Class Goat at 10:08 PM on November 24, 2008


This matter is too serious to leave to Ask MeFi. You should advise your friend to seek a competent attorney.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 PM on November 24, 2008


- not living together
- no kids
- no shared bills
- no documented history (phone records, letters, etc...)

These are all red flags. This couple is far more likely to get held up at each stage of the process, assuming they clear ANY of them.

Setting aside the illegality of this situation, you should remind your friend that the I-864 is no joke.
posted by HopperFan at 10:16 PM on November 24, 2008


I'm under the impression that merely getting a green card is a years-long process, not something quick. The system is set up to ferret out this kind of fraud; if it were this easy everyone would be doing it. The fact that they are not living together doesn't bode well for their ability or commitment to fake it successfully.
posted by jayder at 10:18 PM on November 24, 2008


Sounds to me like it's not too late to annul this mistake. They should consider that seriously.
posted by Dasein at 10:23 PM on November 24, 2008


Really dumb way to do it. I had friends who were zapped by a simple, "let's see the wedding photos" question.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:27 PM on November 24, 2008


A sham marriage checklist. A list of what USCIS can investigate. Oh, and if he's on a student visa, the gas station job could be problematic too. Basically, everything about this sets of alarm bells for USCIS, and ought really to do so for Close Friend as well.

Best-case scenario, seriously? Close Friend can get an annulment.
Worst-case? Close Friend tries to bluff it and ends up an accessory to immigration fraud.

If you're asking 'what does USCIS expect from marriages that come out of whirlwind romances?' then it's living together, commingling of assets (and liabilities). If you're asking 'what should Close Friend do to manufacture a relationship history that might not set off all the alarm bells?' then Turkish Guy's friends are the people to ask, and I'd urge Close Friend not to dig herself any deeper.
posted by holgate at 10:47 PM on November 24, 2008


My wife used to work for an immigration law firm, and she says a green card based on marriage can take four to six years.

I asked her what your friends can look forward to in this situation, and she (not entirely joking) replied, "Federal prison."

Also, "If he gets caught he may never be allowed to return to the U.S."

My wife says the biggest problems are that they are not living together. She says that, in itself, is a huge tip-off that this is a fraudulent marriage, and that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that your friends could be prosecuted for immigration fraud. My wife remembers vividly a federal prosecution of two of the firm's clients for immigration fraud, based on facts very similar to your friends' situation. My wife's boss, the immigration lawyer, testified at the trial. (I asked, "What would he testify to ... isn't everything he knows privileged?" She said the clients waived the privilege.)
posted by jayder at 11:27 PM on November 24, 2008


They should have applied for the appropriate transitional visa long before actually getting married. His visa is still going to run out and that's a very short window to get a new visa in play, especially with all Immigration & Naturalisation services folded into Homeland Security. Everything is taking longer, and anything related to marriage of a citizen is already fairly complicated (and expensive).

Just because they are married doesn't mean he has a right to be in the country. If he doesn't get a new visa or another form of permission by the day before his prior visa runs out, he should very seriously consider heading back home while the process is worked through, while he still has permission to be in the country (and possession of his passport). I know, that defeats the purpose of what they did. Precisely why they do it that way.

Honestly, they should get an immigration lawyer involved immediately. They can rush paperwork through as much as it can be rushed, but, more importantly, they can prevent things like deportation and being barred from return. While this does cost a pretty penny, it doesn't cost as much as countering being "held" (imprisonment) and the various tolls of deportation.

So much of what they've elected to do will seem like fraudulent intent by even the most distracted clerk, there's no way they should invite such risk.

We didn't intend this to be the case, but I've already been the horrible example (paid ~$10k to "rescue" my now-ex from deportation due to paperwork gap which wasn't our fault but was still enforced; this was in '99, before today's more strict policies). We wanted to be married, it was very impulsive, and we had no idea what hoops we actually needed to jump through first. It set me back five years of hard work and a lot of personal peace. If even one other couple can be saved from what is sure to be a worse experience, it's worth telling.
posted by batmonkey at 12:02 AM on November 25, 2008


I have a hard time seeing how this is going to work.

My mother married a guy from Ireland in 2002. It took around 4 years for him to get his green card. It took until a few months ago for him to get approved for citizenship.

And that's with them actually being in love, playing by the rules and jumping through hoop after hoop with any number of government organizations. They did everything on the up and up and were STILL worried about something going wrong. Hell, they're still concerned. It may have been a joke, but one official even inquired about whether the wedding pics they provided were Photoshopped or not, since he'd seen that before.

Also, keep in mind that attempts like this make things harder for people who are trying to stay with legitimate loved ones.
posted by adamk at 1:38 AM on November 25, 2008


Also, keep in mind that attempts like this make things harder for people who are trying to stay with legitimate loved ones.

Nth-ing this strongly. While the Canadian immigration process is less convoluted than the US process, the number of hoops people have to jump through in both places to prove that a marriage is geniune is unbelievable... and the more people that try to cheat the system will make it even more difficult for those who are in a genuine relationship. Having almost gone through it in the states(and reading about INS officials making house calls where they even check to see if you're sleeping in the same bed, let alone living together), and going through it with my husband in Canada... I wouldn't recommend, both for ethical, and criminality reasons, that they go through with this.

I can't answer all of your specific questions but I know for the Canadian immigration process, the paperwork specifically asks if family/friends were present at the wedding, and if they know about the relationship. Yet another red flag if they don't. This is not a good road to be going down. While I never got to the paperwork part of the US immigration system, I can only imagine this will be one of many questions they will be asked.
posted by irishkitten at 4:02 AM on November 25, 2008


- not living together
- no kids
- no shared bills
- no documented history (phone records, letters, etc...)

These are all red flags. This couple is far more likely to get held up at each stage of the process, assuming they clear ANY of them.


Seriously. I was honestly married and when we filed for divorce, the validity of the marriage was called into question (my ex is the foreign citizen, got a green card after yes, a pretty intrusive process) because we didn't have shared bills or wedding photos. This is AFTER three years of marriage.

During the initial interviews, we had to provide sworn testimony from two sources who knew us both stating that the marriage was undertaken in good faith and was NOT entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card. We had to provide photos going back YEARS - specifically, they asked for photos of vacations we had taken together to provide an array of locations thus being less likely to be staged. We were asked for letters and any sort of written proof of the evolution of the relationship - packages that we had sent to each other, etc. I also had to provide three years of *my* tax information to prove that I could support my partner to 150% above the poverty line - since I was a student making no money, I had to get tax information from my parents and sworn afadavits stating that they would support him failing my ability to do so. This was actually the first hurdle. They look at your financial information before they even consider the validity of the relationship, which is something to keep in mind.

Two months of involvement won't cut it PERIOD for getting a green card, even if they were crazy in love. They need to be living together. They need joint bank accounts. These are the BARE MINIMUM to clear even the first step of the green card process. This process, if you are *living* in the US is certain to drag on for months and can take years, as others in this thread have mentioned. The lawyer's advice very well might be "GET OUT NOW" which is the advice that I, personally, would pass on.

Their ONLY hope is a good lawyer. There's just no way, speaking as someone who has been through the scrutiny (though I suppose it wasn't me *personally,* I'm the American citizen, but still I had to help provide all of the paperwork) that not only does this send up eight hundred kinds of "FAKE MARRIAGE" red flags that even if they were crazy in love and eloped to Vegas to spend their lives together, they wouldn't have enough evidence to get a green card.

Also, keep in mind that attempts like this make things harder for people who are trying to stay with legitimate loved ones.

Yes, totally. If he does lose his status, it'll be rough for him, but these rules are tough for a reason. Sham marriages like this just make it *tougher* for everyone else because in order to weed them out, scrutiny is applied that also ends up weeding out a lot of real relationships for lack of a proper paper trail.

Also, "If he gets caught he may never be allowed to return to the U.S."

Yes. This is something my ex worried about greatly upon the dissolution of our relationship. If his green card had been revoked, it very well might have come with the caveat that he wasn't allowed back in, ever.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:14 AM on November 25, 2008


he's here on a student[?] visa, I believe, and working at a gas station). His visa expires in January.

His Visa is worthless because he is already out of status. A visa is permission to enter the country, his I-20 and the stamp in his pasport that has "D/S" handwritten in are what give him permission to stay. D/S stands for "duration of status" which he has violated by working at a gas station for starts, and having immigrant intent on a nonimmigrant classification for second. You didn't say if he was still going to class full time, but if he's not, chances are he's already terminated in SEVIS and awaiting his appointment with ICE. The sham marriage will not help him with that for long.

And, on paper, it looks pretty suspicious.

And, that is what is the problem. A lot of sham marrianges look legit on paper, tey have "evidence" to back them up of a long relationship. In this case you have none of that.

To be honest, a lawyer is only going to take their money. That money is better spent on a plane ticket and "voluntary removal" if he intends on ever coming back. That will mean saving all the letters and emails back and forth between the couple over the couple of years that he spends back in Turkey and then an application for a K Visa and an Adjustment of Status from that once he's back in.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:25 AM on November 25, 2008


Oh, and when they deny his adjustment application in person, ICE is going to be present. They are going to hand him removal papers and start counting up the time he has already spent out of status (working, not going to school, and applying for immigrant status). If it is long, several months, he may get a bar from returning. They say 3 years (or 10 if it's been years), but honestly, that thing stays on the record forever. Even after the 3 years are up the Consulate is going to look at his stuff with added scrutiny and disbelieve anything he says.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:35 AM on November 25, 2008


My sister married a guy from Pakistan on kind of the same deal.
My father worked for the NRC at the time and she didn't tell him.
When my father found out and contacted the FBI to cover his butt, they already knew all about it.
The guy is back in Pakistan. My sister got a chewing out, nothing legal happened to her.


So, somebody watches these things. Maybe more so if it's a up and coming 'nuclear' country and the girls father works for the NRC, but you never know.
posted by whoda at 5:49 AM on November 25, 2008


To be honest, a lawyer is only going to take their money.

Since the wife in this case ignored the advice of her close friends, it may take a lawyer saying "do not continue down this incredibly stupid path" to get them to rethink this whole marriage sham. If it doesn't, then nothing will, probably.
posted by oaf at 5:53 AM on November 25, 2008


This was a really stupid thing to do and it's unlikely that anything good will come from it.

If they really are IN LURRRVE, they need to resign themselves to a (very) long-distance relationship while he goes back to Turkey and they exchange visits. Then they can do the K visa thing.

If they are intent on trying to make this work as it is, they need to move in together, mingle their finances, and so on. NB: this would be a different sort of really stupid thing to do.

They should have applied for the appropriate transitional visa long before actually getting married.

AFAIK, there isn't any transitional visa when you're applying from within the US. You just get married and then file for adjustment of status. Once you get your NOA from the AOS, your new entirely legal status is "pending adjustment" until your case is adjudicated. This may be different for people with student visas with return requirements.

His visa is still going to run out and that's a very short window to get a new visa in play, especially with all Immigration & Naturalisation services folded into Homeland Security. Everything is taking longer, and anything related to marriage of a citizen is already fairly complicated (and expensive).

AFAIK, things have actually sped up substantially since INS was split into ICE and BCIS and folded into DHS.

D/S stands for "duration of status" which he has violated by working at a gas station for starts

Well, maybe it's somehow a gas station owned by and on the campus?

Or maybe this looks exactly like a dude who came into the US on a student visa he had no intent of honoring, which throws everything into even deeper suspicion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:51 AM on November 25, 2008


Or maybe this looks exactly like a dude who came into the US on a student visa he had no intent of honoring

And just happens to get married and file for AOS before it's time to leave. Seriously, this is the immigration equivalent of the burglar with the stripy shirt and bag marked 'SWAG'.
posted by holgate at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2008 [5 favorites]


Well, maybe it's somehow a gas station owned by and on the campus?

Let's hope for his sake it is anyway, and that he's only working part-time, or that he's got an EAD, but all that is doubtful and it's going to be mighty hard to explain on his Adjustment paperwork.

Incidentaly, immigration marriage fraud is punishable up to $250,000 and five years in Federal prison.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:09 AM on November 25, 2008


From my experience, the process seems designed to be fairly trivial for people who are legitimately married, and VERY convoluted for people who aren't. It's still intrusive and tedious for people who are legit, but it's not that hard to provide wedding pictures and gas bills and tax returns and talk about your relationship and history and each other's family when you really are married and have lived together for a while. It's pretty hard to fake all that.

We (actually married, together for years previous) did it with a lawyer and they constantly wanted more, more, more! More official papers with both our names on it, more things showing we had the same address, letters from my family to him and from his family to me. They were never satisfied. In the end, it was enough, but the lawyers just wanted to make sure we were prepared for anything. It's the weirdest thing, having the government judging your relationship. Sure, it's just a piece of paper to you, but in this case that's not for you to say. In their opinion it better be a whole lot more than a piece of paper, and it better fit their definition of it, too.

Honestly if they were really married and lived together and knew each other very well, the other stuff wouldn't matter much unless they got very unlucky. We were never asked why he overstayed, or whether he worked in the meantime, or anything like that. I think it's unlikely anyone will be arrested or deported on the spot. But just doing it really straight-forward is pretty stressful and very expensive and time consuming (best scenario, totally above-board marriage and lucky with your appointment dates: 2.5 years from filing to permanent green card). If anything goes wrong, maybe no one goes to jail, but you're talking about eating up years of your life with stress and shoveling piles of money out the window for something you might not even both want in the end.
posted by lampoil at 9:00 AM on November 25, 2008


Other folks went where I was unwilling to go, so I'll nth 'em here:

adamk:
"Also, keep in mind that attempts like this make things harder for people who are trying to stay with legitimate loved ones."
grapefruitmoon:
"Yes, totally. If he does lose his status, it'll be rough for him, but these rules are tough for a reason. Sham marriages like this just make it *tougher* for everyone else because in order to weed them out, scrutiny is applied that also ends up weeding out a lot of real relationships for lack of a proper paper trail."

Marriage, as we are now eminently aware, is something that is denied to others, and in addition to making it more difficult for those who want to marry and can do so legally, it does no favours to the institution of marriage (either as a protective and binding legal contract or permanent love bond sanctioned by a religious authority). If I'd allowed myself to be mindful during the "courting" period, I would never, ever, ever have married. But, I didn't, and now I regret it. Your close friend can have this marriage annulled. It would be in her very interests to do so, now and for the future.

pollomacho:
"His Visa is worthless because he is already out of status. A visa is permission to enter the country, his I-20 and the stamp in his pasport that has "D/S" handwritten in are what give him permission to stay. D/S stands for "duration of status" which he has violated by working at a gas station for starts, and having immigrant intent on a nonimmigrant classification for second. You didn't say if he was still going to class full time, but if he's not, chances are he's already terminated in SEVIS and awaiting his appointment with ICE."

We learned this the hard way, but not for us - for other guys locked up with my now-ex. It turned out that as soon as certain conditions quit being met, computers talk to each other and forms get sent out and [then INS] would just wait for the person to fall into their hands, as people tend to do.

"That money is better spent on a plane ticket and "voluntary removal" if he intends on ever coming back."

Amen to this x100.

"Incidentally, immigration marriage fraud is punishable up to $250,000 and five years in Federal prison."

And it's not the allegedly "easy" Federal prison, either.

ROU_Xenophobe:
"AFAIK, there isn't any transitional visa when you're applying from within the US. You just get married and then file for adjustment of status. Once you get your NOA from the AOS, your new entirely legal status is "pending adjustment" until your case is adjudicated. This may be different for people with student visas with return requirements."

This is very true. For us, there was a window wherein we could have arranged (with a lawyer's help) for a more appropriate visa, but we missed it (widely, horribly, expensively). And things have tightened up since then. This is a much more accurate reading of the situation, so ignore my meandering on that.
posted by batmonkey at 9:16 AM on November 25, 2008


What Ironmouth said:
This matter is too serious to leave to Ask MeFi. You should advise your friend to seek a competent attorney.

My cousin & his wife did the whole marriage-green card thing, and they felt that having a lawyer was essential.
posted by salvia at 9:24 AM on November 25, 2008


For those figuring out how to get the paperwork through quickly and legally there is another not well known option. With nationals of certain (non-threatening, not-too-much incoming immigrants) countries you can do what is called direct consulate filing.

Worked this way for me (foreigner) and my now wife:
-she contacted US consulate in Helsinki asking when is next available appointment she could have to file the paperwork on my behalf -- they had an opening in about 3 weeks

-2 weeks later we flew to Finland; we got married at city hall on Friday morning

-on Monday or maybe Tuesday morning she had an "interview" (=gave paperwork and swore that everything was correct) with vice-consular

-I went through medical tests and had results sent to the consulate

-the following Monday I had my interview, which consistent me swearing everything we submitted to be true; waited for 15 minutes and got my passport stamped with green card/ permanent resident stamp

-flew to US next day, gave fingerprints at airport and received the actual card in the mail 1 week later
posted by zeikka at 10:20 AM on November 25, 2008


DCF requirements vary by country. I don't know what Turkey's are, but in Morocco, for example, the foreign spouse (ie. the non-Moroccan) has to be a resident of that country for at least six months.
posted by HopperFan at 10:49 AM on November 25, 2008


Nthing that your friend should talk to a lawyer and this is a bad, bad, bad idea. IANAL, but like jayder's wife, I used to work for an immigration law firm. If your friend commits document fraud as defined by the statutes, she could potentially end up in jail on top of whatever happened to her husband (like the long-term bar to entering the US mentioned somewhere above).

This is a situation with potentially serious legal consequences for everybody involved. Your friend really needs to talk to a lawyer to cover her ass.
posted by immlass at 11:06 AM on November 25, 2008


It turned out that as soon as certain conditions quit being met, computers talk to each other and forms get sent out and [then INS] would just wait for the person to fall into their hands, as people tend to do.

That was then. Now ICE comes looking for you. Special Agents are assigned to the duty of rounding up terminated students all over the US now.

I think it's unlikely anyone will be arrested or deported on the spot.

I think this is unlikely as well, but I also think it is very likely that an ICE employee will hand him removal papers at the end of the interview. This will state that he has X ammount of time to "voluntarily remove" himself (aka "leave") or report for "removal" (aka "deportation") or face imprisonment (in the fun place that they send MS-13 kids awaiting removal) and the kind of removal that potentially involves handcuffs and injections of traquilizers anong other fun things.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:24 PM on November 25, 2008


Pollomacho:
"Now ICE comes looking for you. Special Agents are assigned to the duty of rounding up terminated students all over the US now."

*shudder*

Based on the experience the ex went through during "collection" (arrest), "holding" (imprisonment), and "investigation" (information deprivation & misdirection to get passport in hand), having them actually come looking for you seems like a much scarier proposition in a scenario that was already not focused on the warm fuzzies.

Interestingly, his walk through the airport gate was with nice guys looking forward to the trip, so they were actually grumpier when they had to bring him all the way back.
posted by batmonkey at 1:39 PM on November 25, 2008


DCF filing also requires you to visit the consulate in the foreigner's home country, and it's not accepted everywhere. They'd have to make at least one, if not several, trips to Turkey to do this. Also: I believe this is only an option if you are married *in* the foreign country. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but my ex and I went this route and I remember hearing that we only had the option because we weren't married in the States. Your friend may have already exhausted this possibility since they're already married.

It's a great idea for legit couples wanting to get around the long lag times with USCIS, but a really rotten thing to try to do for a sham. Not that the sham isn't rotten enough as is.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:43 PM on November 25, 2008


I know someone who married a former girlfriend so she could get citizenship--after they had been split up for a good period of time. They lived apart, but this didn't pose a big problem because they were both graduate students and could use this as the excuse. The guy said they actually did ask them some questions that only someone who had been intimate could answer, but since they had been a couple in the past, they were able to answer these questions satisfactorily.

This is all anecdotal, of course.
posted by fructose at 5:57 PM on November 25, 2008


« Older An unusually boring port in the storm.   |   How can I deal with my overly large collection of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.