Memphis immigration lawyer Ari Sauer provides news and information on US immigration law.
Question: I have a friend who is in the U.S., but not in legal status. I am a U.S. citizen. If I marry her, can she get a green card? How long would we have to stay married? Would we have to live together?
Answer: No. You should not marry your friend just to help her legalize her status.
When a U.S. citizen files an immigration petition for their foreign national spouse, they must prove that the marriage is real and not entered into to get the spouse a green card. The couple must show evidence that they have been sharing their lives and sharing their assets. If the spouse is in the U.S., the couple will also be interviewed by an immigration officer. Usually they interview the couple together, but if the officer feels that the marriage is a fraudulent marriage, they have the right to separate the couple and question them separately. In extremely rare case the government can send an ICE officer to your house for a surprise visit (In TV and movies they like to make it look like this happens all the time. It doesn’t. But, when it does happen, it is nothing like on the TV show Ugly Betty).
If USCIS determines that the marriage is fraudulent, the foreign national is barred from receiving most immigration benefits in the future. This means that if she later marries someone who she actually wants spend her life with, she would not be able to get a green card based upon that marriage.
In many instances, USCIS will start removal proceedings against the foreign national, possibly resulting in their being deported.
Also, it is illegal to marry someone just so they can receive an immigration benefit. It is a crime with a possible penalty of imprisonment up to 5 years and a fine of up to $250,000. However, the government usually does not seek criminal prosecution except in the most egregious cases.
If you convince USCIS that the marriage was real, and they grant the green card, you are still not finished. Where a couple has been married for less than two years at the time the green card is granted, USCIS will grant Conditional Residence, which is only valid for two years. At the end of the two years (within the 90 days before the green card expires) the couple has to file an application to have the condition removed. This process involves showing USCIS again that the marriage is real. In some cases this also includes another interview. If the couple has divorced before then, the foreign national must still show that the marriage was not entered into to just to get the green card.