Getting Married for a Visa - Aspects to Consider

Due to historical and cultural reasons, certain parts of the world offer a much better quality of life than others. While most of the times, this is due to better economic opportunities and facilities like health and housing benefits, sometimes it is also about cultural, religious and sexual freedom – free to simply live the way you want to, as long you are not hurting others. No wonder then that immigrants employ several means to get permanent residence status, one of which is marrying for a visa.

It is unethical

Even though morals and ethics are hardly a concern with people who make a business out of buying and selling permanent residence visas, if you are a party directly getting involved in such a deal, it may be worth your while to consider the moral implications. Any relationship which is based on fraud and lies is bound to flounder in the end. Among the relationships entered into by choice, marriage signifies the ultimate level of love, trust and commitment. It is this which sets a marriage apart from live-in relationships and those of convenience like mistress/paid companion. By engaging in marriage fraud, you are not only cheating the government and society, but yourself, your family, your religion and anyone else who may have your well-being at heart.

It is unsafe

More importantly can you trust such a person who is ready to call you his/her spouse in exchange of money or a green card. It is not like as soon as you land in a new country and clear immigration, you can be on your own. There would be several rounds of documentation for which you would need your sponsor spouse’s help and may have to live with him/her. Getting a visa is not an overnight matter, you may have to live with your ‘spouse’ for some years in order to prove the validity of your marriage to immigration officials – all this while you would be exposing yourself to physical danger since if he/she can stoop to sell a marital status in exchange for money, what is to prevent him/her from treating you cruelly. Instead of a newly-wed, you will be more like a prisoner, unable to move around on your own and dependent on the mercy of your sponsor spouse for your well-being. At any time, you stand the risk of being abandoned or worse hurt. Even if personal safety is not a concern, your sponsor spouse can withdraw the petition of your visa any time which leaves you vulnerable to demands of more money along the way. And if he/she abandons you in the process, not only will you have lost all the money you paid your ‘spouse’ but now will be reduced to the status of an illegal immigrant living without any valid basis in the country. In contrast, a genuine marriage which is based primarily on love is more likely to survive the ups and downs of life – usually a spouse is not in danger of being abandoned if he/she slips up on a marital duty or is indisposed for a time. Since it is mainly love which brought two people together, the source of attraction lies in each other’s presence and not in something external like money or visa.

It is illegal

The primary reason which makes marrying someone for a visa a bad idea is that it entails marriage fraud and is punishable by law across countries. In the United States, marriage fraud is a federal crime and the punishment of trying to cheat immigration officials can be severe. An alien accused by authorities of marriage fraud can be deported and barred from ever obtaining a green card. And a US citizen who knowingly marries to evade immigration laws can face five years in jail1. Other countries too have equally strict laws against marrying citizens in order to obtain a spousal visa. It is a crime for foreign nationals to marry Canadian citizens or permanent residents only to gain entry into Canada. Those found guilty will not only have their visas denied and banned from travel to Canada for two years but those already in the country would face enforcement action like being deported by the Canada Border Services Agency. Canadian citizens or permanent residents found to be part of a marriage of convenience for immigration purposes are likely to be slapped with criminal charges. In UK too, a number of successful prosecutions have been brought against people involved in sham marriages for offences under the Immigration Act, Perjury Act, ID Cards Act and Fraud Act, often resulting in imprisonment. Despite the romanticized implications of marriage for green card as depicted in Hollywood movies like the Green Card and The Proposal, federal officials take marriage frauds very seriously. For them it is much more than a cat and mouse chase – it is a matter of national security and the offenders are likely to be punished accordingly when convicted.

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It is impractical

Apart from the very real legal dangers of marrying for green card, it is hardly a good idea even if one is able to get past immigration officials. The uncertainty and the anxiety during the mandatory year waiting period can cause both to feel really uncomfortable and miserable. It can definitely harm the quality of their lives – after all how can you be happy if you are constantly looking over your shoulder in anticipation of the law coming knocking on your doorstep? For the immigrant especially, living under the shadow of deceit and crime is hardly the right way to start a new life in the land of promise.

Being prepared

In the end, you are the only person who knows whether or not you are entering into a genuine marriage; but if indeed you plan to apply for visa to the country of your new spouse, it may be wise to take few precautions. Before marriage you had better clarify the legal position of your sponsor spouse – he/she may be a citizen, a permanent resident, a non-immigrant visa holder, each of who has different rules, quotas and waiting periods regarding sponsoring an alien spouse into the country. Check for proof of the sponsor spouse’s legal status like a passport for a citizen and a visa stamp for a non-immigrant visa holder. Also keep copies of your sponsor spouse’s proof of income and tax returns which are required for affidavit of support purpose. This is an equally important aspect of immigration since your ‘spouse’ may apply for a partner visa but if he/she doesn’t support the application with an affidavit of support, you will not be allowed to enter the country.
Finally consider that if your ‘spouse’ has been married and divorced more than once in the past, it may increase suspicion over the validity of your marriage and immigration officials may be tempted to smell out a case of marriage fraud. In this case, ensure that you have ready the marriage and divorce certificates of your sponsor spouse so that you can prove that his/her earlier relationships were genuine and not entered on account of marriage fraud.


  1. Legal Affaors – To have and hold a Green Card