Immigrating for Love – The Not So Romantic Side of Proving a Marriage is Real

Written by Johnson Lazaro
Romance and Immigration
Marriage is romantic.  Marriages of convenience are not.  But if it’s a permanent residency or green card you want, then it’s imperative that you prove to immigration officers that your marriage is in fact, a marriage born out of love and passion. 

But that’s easier said than done.  Consider these questions: “When did you and your spouse last bathe together?” “What did your spouse wear to bed last night?” “Do you and your spouse use condoms?” These are the kinds of question – often asked in separate interviews – which you will have to be prepared to answer.

To prove your marriage is real, the government will poke into your private lives and nothing about it will be romantic.

No Enemy of Romance
It’s not that the U.S. government wants to dampen romance or marital bliss. Quite the contrary, the government knows that it is important on many levels that those legally bound in matrimony deserve to be near and dear to each other. In fact, U.S. immigration laws even have special visas available for fiancées.

Every year, almost half-a-million citizens of the United States marry foreign-born folks and petition for them to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. Much of the ponderous bureaucracy and documentation required to obtain residency has been put aside for their benefit. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered an “immediate relative” under immigration laws. Thus, they are exempt from all numerical quota limitations that could otherwise mean months, sometimes years, of being unable to live together freely and permanently.


Raised Eyebrows
The U.S. government has made it so easy for an American and a foreigner to get married, that marriage to a U.S. citizen is often referred to as the “fast lane” to permanent residency and a green card. The “immediate relative” status wipes away a number of medical, civil, and criminal bench marks that could possibly prevent a similar unmarried person from even considering a visit to the U.S., much less gaining residency.

As a consequence, immigration authorities certainly raise an eyebrow when a foreign-born person marries immediately upon entering the U.S. If a foreigner marries while in the midst of a U.S.C.I.S. legal proceedings to remove them from American soil, the authorities will certainly check the bona fides of that marriage.

Going Too Far
Any number of circumstances in a petition for permanent residency can cause immigration authorities to wonder about marital bona fides. That marriage to a U.S. citizen is often traded on the international black market probably makes immigration officers a bit over-zealous in trying to weed out marriages of convenience.

This over-zealousness has led immigration officers to go too far during marriage interviews.  This is where lawyers come in to protect couples they are representing by coaching them on which questions are within and out of bounds of the marriage interview. 

Usually, the foreigner spouse’s culture makes the situation even more unpleasant.   Many immigrants to the U.S. come from countries with many sexual taboos that Westerners can't even imagine. A question as innocuous as, “Do you and your spouse have sex?” is cause for many to blush, squirm, and become tongue-tied. This only casts further aspersions on their attempt to have their marriage declared valid by immigration authorities.

Marital Minutiae
To understand the breadth and depth of scrutiny perceived marriages of convenience undergo, know that almost nothing about a couple’s private life is spared from questioning – from the mundane to the most private, like sex.   Myriad questions concerning the excruciating minutiae of their day-to-day life together, from the color of the bed spread, to where the car keys are kept, and on to the names of aunts and uncles are asked before moving on to the couple’s sex life.

Consider again: “Do you and your spouse use condoms?” What if the woman says “No!” to the question, because she knows it's against certain religious tenets and fears perhaps those tenets have some authority in immigration law? What if the husband says “Yes!” because it's true?  Sex questions are, at best, meaninglessly embarrassing and, at worst, harassing and confusing and can endanger a couple’s petition for validity.

The Ability to Blush
One of the great givens in American law is that innocence is presumed until proven otherwise. Also, the dignity and the worth of the individual are prized. It is demeaning to those precepts, as it is demeaning to the couple under scrutiny, to ask unnecessarily detailed questions regarding sex. Does asking perhaps indicate a bit of prurience on the part of the investigators?

Questions regarding sexual details really have no place in establishing the bona fides of a marriage. They prove nothing except the ability to blush. The plethora of other questions provides material enough to detect the realities of the relationship. Even though sex is part of the romance of marriage, it does not define a couple’s love and relationship.

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