Although many countries allow immigrants to obtain citizenship through marriage, it is not actually legal to marry only to obtain citizenship. The process of obtaining citizenship and legal residency is very extensive, and each situation is different. In the U.S., there are very serious consequences if a sham marriage is discovered by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Although some countries, such as Canada, have been known to be more lenient, in 2011, they are cracking down. Moreover, in many countries, there are additional requirements and waiting periods if an immigrant or potential immigrant tries to marry to obtain citizenship.
The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 state that aliens to the U.S. who marry for citizenship will only receive the conditional immigrant status, not permanent residency. In the 90 days before the two year anniversary of the marriage, each partner must file a petition to remove the conditional status and make the alien a legal resident. Once this is done, the INS will conduct a very extensive investigation to determine if the marriage is, in fact, legitimate. If the marriage is approved, the individual can obtain permanent legal residency. If it is discovered that the alien did marry for citizenship purposes only, the conditional resident status will be terminated and deportation proceedings will begin.
The process is similar in the United Kingdom (U.K.). An alien to the U.K. can apply for a spousal visa if married outside of the U.K. to a citizen or wishing to become married. This visa is initially granted for a two year period, after which, the resident alien can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or a permanent residency. A citizenship interview is then conducted and the marriage must be proven in order for the individual to obtain ILR.
Regardless of the country, marriage to a citizen does not confer automatic citizenship. A marriage does not even guarantee conditional status. Paperwork needs to be completed for all levels of entry and residency. Specific laws vary by country, but there are some similarities in what is considered a valid reason for being barred from entry.
Most countries will not even give conditional status for a marriage if any of the following apply. If the alien has a communicable disease or a mental deficit, entry will be barred. If the foreign born citizen is under the legal age of adulthood, he or she will be barred from obtaining any residency in order to marry for citizenship. Also, certain criminal conduct or affiliations with certain groups will make foreign born citizens ineligible.