Residency by Marriage: Rules & Risks

BY: Frederik Stefani, MRC CEO – 2Dec2019

Immigration Custom and Enforcement (ICE) has begun stricter enforcement of mandatory bars under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Undocumented people can still be deported, even if they are married to a U.S. citizen. Many mistakenly believe that marriage to a U.S. citizen avoids Immigration Services processes and deportation. However, chances of exposure and deportation are high if criteria set by the Act are not met.

The Act’s qualification for citizenship based on marriage requires evidence of a “bona fide” marriage. This evidence includes that the undocumented person must: have sufficient income for financial support, pass a medical exam, and have no serious criminal record. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives the petition/application, they will investigate the marriage and verify that the foreign spouse meets all the criteria required by immigration law. If the foreign spouse does not meet the criteria, he or she might face deportation or removal proceedings.

During the immigration process, the USCIS will examine the marriage. They will interview both spouses, look at the length of the relationship before the marriage and/or co-habitation, and evaluate the knowledge that they have of each other. If USCIS determines that the marriage is not real, the immigrant spouse may be deported and the U.S. citizen may face legal issues. This can create an irreparable barrier for the foreign spouse to ever legally reside in the U.S.

To demonstrate financial support, the petitioning spouse must have enough money to support the foreign national for a certain number of years, without using public benefits. Another essential element is whether the foreign spouse has a criminal record. A severe criminal record would prevent the foreign spouse from qualifying for Lawful Permanent Resident status and open the door for removal proceedings and eventual deportation from the U.S.



Migration Resource Center provides affordable immigration legal services.
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