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Immigration fraud occurs when a non-citizen enters a country with the purpose of obtaining a legal status that allows them to live or work in that country, and provides intentionally false information in order to do so. Most countries have laws to address immigration fraud, as well as special governmental departments to investigate fraud and enforce immigration laws. In the US, immigration marriage fraud is a prevalent type of immigration fraud.
Marriage immigration fraud occurs in situations involving “sham marriages.” Spouses of permanent residents and US citizens are given special consideration in their applications for permanent residency. Sometimes a US citizen or permanent resident may agree with a person to a “marriage” in order to help that person obtain permanent residency status. Often these transactions involve the payment of money. Other times, one of the parties to the marriage is a US citizen or permanent resident and innocent of the other party’s intent to dissolve or leave the marriage as soon as the party obtains permanent resident status.
The Immigration Marriage Fraud Act of 1986 (IMFA) was passed to address the high incidence of fraudulent marriages for purposes of immigration. IMFA classifies immigrants deriving their immigration status from a marriage of less than two years as “conditional” immigrants. IMFA specifies that a conditional immigrant must apply ninety days prior to the second anniversary of the marriage to have the conditional status removed.
At a hearing or interview to decide whether to lift conditional immigration status, the immigration official may ask the parties to provide documentation supporting the fact that they reside together as husband and wife. This could include requests for rental leases with both names on the lease, or joint bank accounts. Often the parties are interviewed separately first. The immigration official may ask the applicant questions about the other party’s work and personal habits and what the parties do together.
If the parties cannot show that the marriage is valid, the conditional status of the applicant may be terminated, and one or both of the parties, unless the non-applicant is a US citizen, may be deportable. When seeking to remove conditional status, one or both of the parties may also show that the marriage was ended for legitimate reasons applicable to any other marriage. Immigration authorities at their discretion may choose not to impose sanctions for failure to meet the two-year period in cases of “hardship,” often when children are involved.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects immigrant women with conditional immigrant status who ended the marriage in less than two years to escape domestic violence or extreme mental cruelty. VAWA also allows victims of domestic violence to petition for adjustment of status based on the abuse. A victim of domestic violence may also petition for permanent resident status from outside the US if the abuse occurred in the US.