Should we have a greencard wedding in Vegas?
September 16, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Someone I just met has suggested getting married for me to get UK citizenship and her to get US citizenship. Is this insane?

I'd made a lighthearted, uninformed comment about wanting to marry someone from the UK in order to get the benefits of citizenship: health benefits, job opportunities, and reasonably priced university. She wants the advantages of a US green card for her work. She proposed we get married.

We're both attracted, physically and intellectually to one another, but have only known each other for about a week.

This seems partially insane and partially kind of reasonable. Are the benefits to either of us imagined? Are there pitfalls we're missing? We're both reasonably financially stable i.e. no real debt beyond some property a house she owns in the UK. The discussion has lead us to possibly living at her place while everything gets sorted and then moving here, to the US should her work call for it.
The idea is business first, and see if the romance follows. We've discussed a prenup to protect both of us, meager though our assets are.
posted by slartibartfast to Law & Government (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For clarity, the discussion is in regards to getting married in the US while she's here on a tourist visa. The other option being discussed is to get married in the UK once my work season is done and she's back in the UK.
posted by slartibartfast at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2012

I can't answer to the UK side, but from the US you can expect that the folks at Immigration will conduct interviews where you have to prove that you got married for the usual reasons of companionship. Failure to satisfy them will result in deportation for her, and also could result in penalties for you.

You're much better of seeing where the relationship goes in the future and making the decision to get married for compatibility reasons rather than for citizenship reasons. Then the various citizenship things will come as an added bonus.
posted by Runes at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yes, it's insane.

Also, if the immigration people think the marriage isn't genuine (and yours certainly wouldn't be) they can refuse to grant visas.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like a bad idea. Do you guys have to stay married for x number of years? If so, how long is that?

Additionally, I don't know who you are, but if you meet someone else who wants to marry you and have children, I'm not sure that person is going to think you're a totally honest person.
posted by discopolo at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is just one story, and Anonymous at that, but yes, this is insane.
posted by carsonb at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2012

Let's say you're able to convince everyone that you're doing this for legitimate reasons.

She would have to live continuously (with you) in the UK for about five years - applying first for a marriage visa, then indefinite leave to remain, then citizenship. Each step costs about £1000.

The process for obtaining citizenship through marriage in the US is even longer, more arduous, and more expensive - and unlike in the UK, you don't automatically have the right to work once you've obtained a marriage visa, so would she be willing and able to support you for however many years that the process might take?
posted by cilantro at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

Getting wed to somebody you've known for a week is insane, never mind the fraud you're intent on committing. You know next to nothing about this person, and shouldn't trust her in any endeavor, never mind an unlawful one.
posted by Jehan at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Are there pitfalls we're missing?

The pitfall is that you have only known one another for a week. Would you enter into a long-term business partnership with someone you've only known for a week? I personally don't think there is anything inherently wrong with marrying someone with the primary interest of mutually obtaining side benefits (health insurance, citizenship, &c) but you need to give this a lot more consideration. I would probably want to have a background check done at the very least.

Also, while it is the most logical and responsible decision, the problem with contractually maintaining fiscal independence from one another is that it will likely be a red flag to whomever will be investigating the genuineness of the marriage.
posted by elizardbits at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

As mentioned already, you should look at previous askme questions related to this to confirm how bad that idea is.

Just to pick up on one of your points, a prenup is likely to be seen as a red flag by immigration and it would not protect you against your spouse emptying your join bank account (you have only one bank account obviously since you both love and trust each other) and gamble everything on one roll in Vegas.
posted by McSly at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also also, I have known of half a dozen citizenship marriages in various countries, and the only ones that worked out to everyone's mutual satisfaction were those between LGBT folks in fake hetero marriages.
posted by elizardbits at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2012

Yes, this is entirely insane. And if you are actually considering this, I wouldn't advise posting this question with your real username.
posted by Sal and Richard at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Terrible idea.

And you likely want to ask the mods immediately to have this question anonymized if there's even the slightest chance you'll go through with it.
posted by vers at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

"We're both attracted, physically and intellectually to one another, but have only known each other for about a week. "

A distant family member of mine was proposed to after two weeks of dating. They're still together some 20 odd years later. I'd follow your heart and date for a while. If it works out you guys can get dual citizen ship, awesome. If it doesn't, then you dodged a bullet.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

She would have to live continuously (with you) in the UK for about five years - applying first for a marriage visa, then indefinite leave to remain, then citizenship. Each step costs about £1000.

The process for obtaining citizenship through marriage in the US is even longer, more arduous, and more expensive - and unlike in the UK, you don't automatically have the right to work once you've obtained a marriage visa, so would she be willing and able to support you for however many years that the process might take?

What cilantro said. There are plenty of people in fake marriages for citizenship purposes (and plenty of them get busted) but it doesn't benefit both parties like that. Plus there are heaps of hoops to jump through in both countries. Also, amongst a million other problems for both sides, once you have a green card you need to stay in the US. If you spend too much time outside the country you will lose your green card, and they won't be nice about it (I know someone this happened to. There was no question of fraud - he had never been married - and he lost his green card after being detained for several days. This was before the days of Homeland Security, I shudder to think what it would be like now.)

Just to reiterate: one party might benefit, but you won't both be able to benefit from a fraudulent marriage.
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've known two couples that did this and it worked out very well for both of them.

In both cases , they got married right at the beginning of a budding romance for visa reasons. One couple is still together forty years later. The other "dated" for about six months, then amicably split and started seeing other people while still living together for another year and a half until their citizenship documents processed.

I've certainly heard plenty of horror stories as well (though I've never met someone who lived one), and the people above telling you this is a terrible idea are not themselves crazy. Personally, I also think it's probably not a great idea. But I just wanted to say that yes, it does work out for some people.
posted by 256 at 11:05 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

But 256, only one party got a visa, right? I'm just thinking of my own experience: I'm in a genuine relationship, kids and all. My kids and I are dual nationals. My partner, the kids' father, is still only a national of his own country. We don't live in my country, and my partner wouldn't get any rights there unless and until we all moved over there. There's just no quick route to "Visas for everybody for both countries, yippee!"
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know a legit couple who'd been in love and dating for years, at first in the US and the long distance. On in the US, one in a Commonwealth country. They had everything immigration asked for - pictures of them together, proof of knowing each other for about a decade, plane tickets for when they'd visited each other, etc. It still took them two years, incredible hassle and pressure at interviews as well as immeasurable paperwork to be allowed to get married and stay in the US - and there are still follow-ups and things they'll have to do in the next couple of years for it to become truly permanent.

Everything else aside, it really is not as simple as just filling in some forms and you're ready to settle in your legal spouse's country.
posted by harujion at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

[Folks, maybe nix the sarcastic stuff and just either answer with a straight face or move onto another thread?]
posted by cortex at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2012

Whatever you do, don't get married in Vegas while she is on a tourist visa. US immigration frowns on this, which will start the whole process off on a bad foot. Also, it will be pretty easy for them to figure out that you have only known each other for a week at this point.

You can get citizenship of both countries each, but it would take a really long time - years and years and years. You need to establish residency in the first country, then go through the citizenship process (very long), and then once you have citizenship you would need to up and move to the other country and go through the whole procedure again for the other partner.

I think it can work, it does for some people, but its a big risk. You should at least live together for a while or LDR date to build up enough of a relationship that you will pass the interviews.
posted by Joh at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2012

She proposed we get married.

She's known you a week and is already proposing to use you. Ignore all the the legal implications and consider that fact for a minute. She has more to gain from this situation than you and is thus willing to risk more.

Ok, so it doesn't work out, a divorce is easy right? Well, you're married to someone who's willing to do sketchy things to get what they want. Might not be an easy or painless divorce.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not insane. People do it; it's really attractive for a lot of reasons. The problems are practical ones, and you need to consult an immigration attorney jointly to clarify them. The residency requirement in the UK appears to now be five years; I think it's the same for the US.

While a pre-nup is not a barrier to visas (someone just made that up), you do need to understand that marriage may join not only your assests but your debts, though this may well be different in each country. Assuming you live together, you can have his - hers - household accounts; that's fine. In addition, there are a lot of costs involved in gaining residency in each country, and you need to determine which of you is going to be responsible for what and what happens if either of you can't meet an obligation. It's all complicated.

She has more to gain from this situation than you and is thus willing to risk more.

How does she have more to gain?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

This happens a lot, and it could work out. For her to maintain a US greencard, she'll need to live in the US and spend most of her time in the US for 3+ years until she can get citizenship. For you to get UK citizenship you'll need to live in the UK for some period of time. Do a little research into the timeline and logistics and see if that is feasible for you.

USCIS is not there to judge matters of the heart. People do get married on a whim, and people do get married so they can convince their governments to let them be together. It's good that you like each other. Consider what will happen if you break up, and do make sure you have a genuine relationship.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:30 PM on September 16, 2012

Also, entering the country on a tourist visa with the explicit intention of marrying and immigrating is a violation, but entering the country as a tourist and then meeting the man of your dreams and being married after a whirlwind romance and subsequently applying to immigrate is not.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:31 PM on September 16, 2012

The discussion has lead us to possibly living at her place while everything gets sorted

As noted before, "while everything gets sorted" is going to take years. You'd have to be married and resident for five years before you could get your indefinite leave to remain (their equiv to a green card) and then however long it takes to naturalize. And, yes, sparky, you want to become a UK citizen -- otherwise you run the risk of losing your ILR when you leave the UK.

If y'all then decide to move the US, you'll have to file for an IR1 visa with the embassy, which will take a while and cost a lot.* There will be intrusive interviews. After you're in the US, she'll have to wait 3 years before she can file for US citizenship, and then however long that application process takes. More intrusive interviews and another pile of money. And, yes, she'll want to take US citizenship for the same reason you want UK -- in order to be able to move freely between the UK and US without being dependent on your spouse.

So to get the benefits you're thinking of, you'll need to be married probably nine or ten years.

*This is actually better than people in a lot of other places because London does direct consular filing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:34 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Migration to the UK through marriage has just got a lot more difficult - we're talking about a total path of 5 years now through all the different visa types. There are also income restrictions. It's expensive with application and possibly lawyer fees.
This is a terrible idea for this reason alone, but also in an ethical sense it adds fuel to the fire of anti-immigration campaigns about 'sham marriages' and therefore hurts genuine couples. Do not do this - I cannot emphasise this enough.
posted by plep at 12:37 PM on September 16, 2012

More on the recent UK rule changes :

You should only go down this path with someone you are totally committed to, which after a week and for the reasons stated you aren't. This is not an easy thing to follow up on.

She has more to gain from this situation than you and is thus willing to risk more. - There are plenty of reasons to prefer living in the UK, in fact. But it's not easy to migrate here.
posted by plep at 12:47 PM on September 16, 2012

A guy I used to work with one day revealed to our considerable surprise that he was married. It turned out he had met and then married some Russian woman via an internet site for that purpose. Straight after the ceremony she disappeared with *his* UK passport. He heard from her about 2 years later (I might have remembered this wrong) when she became eligible to stay. She immediately filed for divorce and returned his passport. I would be surprised to find the marriage was ever consummated. I do not believe he had the intention of deceiving UK immigration, but that's what he ended up doing, nor was it for financial gain. Basically, he wasn't good at standing up for imself and was manipulated.
posted by biffa at 12:48 PM on September 16, 2012

Oh, a further complication: let's assume the two of you remain friends but do not work out as a romantic partnership, and decide everyone is free to do their own thing whilst living in the same 2-bedroom abode for visa reasons. Great. You need to be crystal clear what happens if she gets pregnant and gives birth in whatever state the two of you reside in. It used to be that in New York State, a child born to a marriage was the legal and financial responsibility of the husband, even if the child was fathered outside the marriage. (This is what caused my parents to finally file for divorce after my mom had been living with my stepfather for ten years - she got pregnant with my youngest sister.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know a couple whose green card marriage turned out just fine, with an amicable divorce as planned. However, they both knew exactly what they wanted going in.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:12 PM on September 16, 2012

The thing that gives me pause is the reason marriage was proposed.

My dad knew my mom two weeks when he told her he wanted to marry her. She told him he was nuts, go find a different girlfriend, I will never move to the US, etc. He was crazy about her. They are still together like 55 years later.

But they did not marry for a greencard. My dad was extremely taken with my mom in a way that reminds me of a joke to the effect of "There is a fine line between devoted adoration and stalking." (I can't quite remember the line. That is an approximation.) He pursued her hard.

When it came time to immigrate, they granted mom a hardship exception based on married with small kids and had been together for years. From what I gather (about events prior to my existence), immigration did not for one second question that this marriage was For Realz. (This was when they came to the US because of military orders. The first few years, my dad honored my mother's wishes and lived with her in Germany.)

I think you are making a terrible mistake to ask this question without anonymizing it. If this account can be in any way tied to your legal identity, even asking the question could be grounds for ruling against you. It is fairly strong evidence of intent to commit fraud and not pursue a legitimate marriage.
posted by Michele in California at 3:33 PM on September 16, 2012

Life lesson: Any time your current situation resembles a "meet cute" from a romcom, RUN AWAY.
posted by mochapickle at 6:15 PM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I take it you guys are sleeping together/early stages of dating? And there is no immediate reason that either of you needs to do the green card marriage thing within the week to stay in the country?

If so, why not give it three months and then see you feel?

Getting married after three months is still stupid, but it's enough time to establish baseline trustworthiness and make the whole thing smell a whole lot less like fraud. Also, if you guys can't date for three months, you sure as hell can't be sham-married for the five or more years it takes to get what you want.
posted by Sara C. at 6:57 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to be a UK citizen to use the health service there.

This makes no sense: "She wants the advantages of a US green card for her work." If she were seeking US citizenship, she doesn't get a greencard. Maybe you mean (or she means) not getting US citizenship, but instead getting alien permanent resident status.
posted by Xhris at 7:39 PM on September 16, 2012

Xhris, a greencard is typically the first stage in the journey towards US citizenship. A UK citizen with a greencard would be able to work in the US, where wages are typically higher. Without a greencard, you must secure a work visa, which is a long arduous process that requires you to already have a job in a US with a company willing to sponsor you. Greencards allow you to move to the US and look for a job.
posted by Joh at 11:21 PM on September 16, 2012

Consider yourself lucky, and then hammer out the details before you seriously consider it. Read immigration laws, especially residence requirements extensively. And realize that this could end up being a friendship destroyer. Are you prepared for that? What if halfway through the requirements one of you meets another person you want to date seriously and move in with. What happens then? Do you meet the financial support requirements for the US?

The deception would have to go pretty deep. And you'd need some friends and family that you would either trust to move bodies, or that you would feel comfortable deceiving.

FWIW, I don't think it's immoral or crazy, but gird your loins, because you're going to get a lot of those sorts of responses.
posted by thelastcamel at 1:41 AM on September 17, 2012

I know two couples whose marriages were hastened by the issue of citizenship - both were UK men who had met their American partners online, had long-distance relationships which may well have ended in marriage anyway, and did it mostly to make citizenship easier. One is still with their partner, but had to go through immigration to get the citizenship finalised which was very expensive. One is not (workplace affair after she got a job where he worked, messy break-up, divorce) the ex-wife is still legally resident here - so if it doesn't work out, in theory you will retain the benefits but not without cost. I don't believe either guy has a green card or US passport, though.

Expect difficult questions if the marriage takes place in the UK. I believe that if you are suspected then convicted of conducting a 'sham marriage', then you can expect a hefty fine and jail time. And you need to think about how you would earn money in the UK.

An ex-housemate of mine was asked by a male friend whether they could enter a civil partnership to get him a visa. He said no, not least because he was already engaged. To a woman.
posted by mippy at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2012

I very much doubt either of you will get a green card of any sort. For starters it is only in extreme circumstances that they will change the status of a tourist visa to allow her to stay in the country anyway, you have to have the right sort of visa to file for "Adjustment of Status" so she would have to go back to the UK, while you filed all sorts of paperwork here.

That sort of paperwork by the way would have to include proof that you have had a long term relationship of some sort that suddenly and spontaneously became love so you got married on a whim and where in no way trying to game the system by planning to get married and asking questions about it on public forums. Proof will be needed, LOTS of proof.

You will then have to live together for 2 years, and she will then have to apply to change her temporary resident visa to a permanent one (ie one you renew every 10 years). You will then have to supply more proof than you can possibly imagine to prove that you are in a real marriage (I sent over 100 individual documents to support my application, and was still asked to provide even more). Or she will have to supply reasons and evidence as to why you divorced none of which will be complimentary to you and you will still be legally liable to support her during that time as you've signed paperwork guaranteeing that you will. If it is even suspected you are lying you can face serious jail time and huge fines.

Oh and it will cost you around $3K to $4K in fees to get all her US paper work if you don't use a lawyer, obviously more if you do. Not to mention doctors fees for medical exams.

Do I sound angry? I just spent over two years wading through the mess that is US immigration, to do everything the right way because I love my husband and we want to be together. So forgive me if 2 people flippantly trying to game the systems in two different countries, with less research than you'd do to buy a car, makes me crabby.
posted by wwax at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

(What wwax said, much better than I could. This is a Bad Idea).
posted by plep at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2012

This will take a really long time. Teh times you hear such as "live together for two years" are minimums as Immigration can sit on her case indefinitely after any papers are filed and never issue a green card, and once her visa expires, she will be unable to leave and reneter the country. Do you trust this person enough to sort this out for a decade AT LEAST?
posted by WeekendJen at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2012

FWIW, I've known people who've done this, and it hasn't been nearly as impossible as some posters make it seem.

That said, in those cases, there was money to grease the wheels. With resources to rent extra apartments and open pointless joint accounts with money in them that you move around in believable ways, not to mention the right immigration lawyer, this could work.
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 PM on September 17, 2012

...and open pointless joint accounts with money in them that you move around in believable ways...

In other words, fraud.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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