Debunking 5 Common Myths about Marriage Green Cards: What You Need to Know
Applying for a marriage green card can feel like navigating a labyrinth of rules and regulations — a journey made all the more challenging by pervasive myths and misconceptions. Falling for these common misunderstandings can lead to mistakes, delays, or even denials. To ensure you’re armed with accurate information and can make informed decisions, we’re here to debunk five of the most persistent myths about marriage green cards. Read on to separate fact from fiction and gain a clearer understanding of the process.
It’s a common misconception that once you receive a marriage-based green card, you automatically become a U.S. citizen. While a green card does grant you the status of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) in the U.S., it does not confer citizenship. Here are the key differences and steps involved in moving from green card to citizenship:
Status: A green card holder is considered an immigrant with permission to live and work in the United States indefinitely, but they are still a citizen of their home country. A U.S. citizen, on the other hand, has the right to vote in federal elections, hold certain federal jobs, and carry a U.S. passport. U.S. citizens cannot be deported, unlike green card holders who commit certain crimes or violate U.S. immigration law.
Pathway to Citizenship: Once you are a green card holder (permanent resident), you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship through a process called naturalization. However, you need to fulfill specific criteria to be eligible for naturalization. For marriage-based green card holders, they can usually apply for naturalization after three years of obtaining their green card, assuming they remain married to and living with the U.S. citizen spouse during this period. Otherwise, they generally need to wait five years before applying for naturalization.
Naturalization Process: The naturalization process includes several steps, such as filing an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), going through a biometrics appointment, completing an interview, and passing English and civics tests. Only after successfully completing this process can a green card holder become a U.S. citizen.
Maintaining LPR Status: It’s important to remember that green card holders must maintain their status by not committing serious crimes or spending extended periods outside the U.S. Failure to maintain LPR status could result in losing the green card, which would also eliminate the possibility of gaining U.S. citizenship.
Myth #2: Any Marriage to a U.S. Citizen Qualifies You for a Green Card
A widely held belief is that any marriage to a U.S. citizen will automatically make the foreign-born spouse eligible for a green card. However, the truth is far more complex:
Bona Fide Marriage: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires the marriage to be bona fide, meaning it was entered into in good faith and not solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. To establish that a marriage is bona fide, USCIS will need evidence such as shared financial records, joint ownership of property, affidavits from third parties, photographs of the couple together with friends and family, correspondence between the couple, and possibly others.
Affidavit of Support: The U.S. citizen spouse (the petitioner) also needs to demonstrate that they have the financial ability to support the foreign-born spouse (the beneficiary). This is done by submitting an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, that shows the petitioner has income or assets that meet at least 125% of the U.S. federal poverty guidelines.
Previous Marriages: If either the U.S. citizen or the foreign-born spouse was previously married, they must provide evidence that all prior marriages have been legally terminated.
Inadmissibility Grounds: There are also certain grounds of inadmissibility that could disqualify the foreign-born spouse from obtaining a green card, even if they are married to a U.S. citizen. These include certain criminal records, previous immigration violations, certain medical conditions, or inability to demonstrate that they will not become a public charge. Some grounds of inadmissibility can be waived, but not all.
Real and Continuous Marital Relationship: Lastly, not only does the marriage have to be real at its inception, the couple has to continue to be in a real marital relationship. USCIS may deny the removal of conditions on residence (a requirement for those who received their green card within two years of marriage) if they determine the marriage is no longer real.
In sum, while marrying a U.S. citizen is a common path to a green card, it doesn’t guarantee one. It’s a complex process requiring various evidentiary and eligibility criteria. Therefore, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced immigration attorney when pursuing a marriage-based green card.
Myth #3: Divorce Means Losing Your Green Card
This myth suggests that a foreign-born spouse would automatically lose their green card in the event of a divorce. However, the reality of this situation is much more nuanced:
Conditional vs. Permanent Green Card: If the foreign-born spouse has a conditional green card (issued when the marriage was less than two years old at the time the green card was granted), they will need to apply to remove the conditions on their green card. If they get divorced before the conditions are removed, they can still apply for a waiver of the joint filing requirement, but they will need to demonstrate that the marriage was entered into in good faith and not for the purpose of evading immigration laws.
Permanent Green Card Holders: If the foreign-born spouse has already obtained a permanent green card (10-year validity), then a divorce will not affect their status. However, it may affect the timeline for applying for citizenship. As a general rule, a person who is married to a U.S. citizen can apply for naturalization after three years of getting their green card, but if divorced, they need to wait five years.
Good Faith Marriage: In both cases, it is essential to understand that the marriage must be proven to have been entered into in good faith. This means that the marriage was a genuine one, not merely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. If the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finds that the marriage was a sham, they can initiate proceedings to revoke the green card.
In summary, while a divorce can complicate the process, it does not automatically mean that a foreign-born spouse will lose their green card. As with any complex immigration matter, it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to understand the specifics of your situation.
Myth #4: If You Overstay Your Visa, Marriage Will ‘Fix’ Your Immigration Status
This myth presumes that marriage to a U.S. citizen is a surefire way to correct any immigration status issues, including those that stem from overstaying a visa. However, the reality is more nuanced:
Consequences of Overstaying: Overstaying a visa can lead to serious immigration consequences, including deportation and being barred from re-entry into the U.S. for a certain period.
Marriage and Adjustment of Status: It’s true that marriage to a U.S. citizen can provide a pathway to adjustment of status (AoS), which means obtaining a green card without having to leave the U.S. However, eligibility for adjustment of status is generally only available to those who originally entered the U.S. lawfully (with some exceptions).
The Overstay Problem: If a person entered the U.S. lawfully and subsequently overstayed their visa, they may still be able to adjust status through marriage. However, if they overstayed their visa by more than 180 days, they can face a 3 or 10-year bar from re-entry if they leave the U.S. The duration of the bar depends on the length of their unlawful presence in the U.S. before leaving.
Unlawful Presence and Waivers: The 3 or 10-year bar doesn’t necessarily apply to those adjusting status within the U.S. But it can become relevant if the person needs to leave the U.S. during the process (for example, for a visa interview at a consulate abroad if they are not eligible for adjustment of status). There are waivers available for these bars (such as the I-601A provisional unlawful presence waiver), but they require demonstrating that the refusal of admission would result in extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent.
Entry Without Inspection: If someone entered the U.S. without inspection (or unlawfully), marriage to a U.S. citizen won’t necessarily ‘fix’ their immigration status. These cases can be quite complex and may involve a process known as “Consular Processing” in the immigrant’s home country along with a possible waiver application for their unlawful presence.
While marriage to a U.S. citizen can provide a path toward legal immigration status, it is not a panacea for all immigration issues, particularly for those who have overstayed their visa. Because of the complexity of these issues, it’s highly recommended to seek advice from a knowledgeable immigration attorney when dealing with overstays and the immigration process.
Myth #5: Once You Get a Marriage Green Card, You’re Safe from Deportation
It’s a common misconception that once an individual secures a green card through marriage, they are permanently shielded from any risk of deportation. This, however, isn’t always the case. Let’s explore why:
Conditional Green Card: If the marriage is less than two years old at the time of approval of the permanent residence, the foreign-born spouse will receive a conditional green card, which is valid for only two years. Before the expiration of the two years, the couple must jointly file an I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, along with proof of a bona fide marriage. Failure to do so can result in termination of the permanent resident status and potential deportation.
Green Card Does Not Equal Citizenship: While a green card grants the holder the right to live and work in the U.S. permanently, it does not grant them U.S. citizenship. As a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the individual is still subject to the immigration laws and can be deported if they violate these laws.
Criminal Convictions and Deportation: Certain criminal convictions can lead to removal proceedings for a green card holder, even if they’ve obtained their green card through marriage. These include crimes of moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, certain drug and firearm offenses, and others. It’s critical for green card holders to understand the immigration consequences of criminal convictions.
Abandonment of Permanent Residence: A green card holder can also lose their status if they leave the U.S. for an extended period without proper preparation and the intent to return. Immigration officials may view such long absences as an abandonment of the permanent resident status.
So, although obtaining a marriage green card provides a significant level of security, it doesn’t absolutely guarantee safety from deportation. It’s crucial to understand the obligations and responsibilities that come with a green card to maintain the legal status and avoid potential immigration complications. Always consult with an experienced immigration attorney for guidance if there are concerns about maintaining status or risks of deportation.
Dispelling Myths, Guiding Paths: Navigating the Journey towards a Marriage Green Card
Applying for a marriage green card is indeed a complex process that involves thorough understanding of U.S. immigration laws. As we’ve learned, there are numerous myths that surround the process, and falling for them could potentially derail your application, leading to unnecessary delays or even outright denials.
From misconceptions about the guarantee of citizenship, the qualification for a green card through any marriage to a U.S. citizen, to misunderstanding the impact of divorce on your green card status, these myths are often rooted in misinformation or partial understanding of the rules.
Moreover, the notion that overstaying your visa can be ‘fixed’ by simply marrying a U.S. citizen and the belief that once you secure a marriage green card you are forever safe from deportation, demonstrate the dangers of not fully comprehending the intricacies of immigration law.
By debunking these common myths about marriage green cards, we hope to provide clearer understanding and help you make informed decisions in your journey towards lawful permanent residency. It’s critical to remember that every case is unique.
For complex issues like overstaying a visa, or matters concerning divorce and the risk of deportation, it’s highly recommended to seek advice from an experienced immigration attorney. Legal guidance can help navigate the labyrinth of immigration laws and ensure that your application stands the best possible chance of success.
Knowledge is your best weapon against the challenges of the immigration process. With the right information, you can separate fact from fiction and make the right decisions towards achieving your American dream.