Articles assisting those married to U.S. green card holders or citizens in attaining the same are plentiful*—though we urge you to consult an experienced immigration attorney, not the internet, when searching out such critical information. Less common are articles detailing the consequences of marrying a foreign spouse for someone who already holds lawful permanent residency. This is unfortunate because the consequences are many and far reaching.
What Obligations Do I have When Sponsoring a Foreign Spouse for Residency?
While Hollywood would have you believe that marrying a U.S. citizen opens wide the doors to immigration, the truth is not so simple. New marriages—defined as those less than two years old—allow the foreign national to gain a conditional green card. Naturally, this residency permit is conditioned upon a number of factors. Most important among these is the frequent requirement that the U.S. spouse file an affidavit of support, binding them to use their financial resources to support the intending immigrant until they are able to gain U.S. citizenship, them self. This usually takes 10 years.
Let that sink it. Regardless of whether the marriage is terminated, the sponsoring spouse is on the hook for any costs associated with the immigrating spouse’s use of certain types of government-based financial assistance for as long as they remain in the country. This applies to the immigrating spouse’s children, as well. Say, after a divorce, your former spouse goes on welfare. You can expect the U.S. government to sue you for the costs. Sounds harsh? It happens.
Another condition of the temporary green card is that, once two years into a marriage, the couple apply for the immigrating member’s permanent residency. This means presenting immigration officials with documentation demonstrating the sincere nature of the relationship (i.e. that is was not initiated for immigration purposes). Fail to do this and the spouse enters into undocumented status, putting them at risk of being banned from the U.S.
These are but two of the conditions placed on marriages in which a U.S. spouse sponsors an immigrant spouse for residency. Only an experienced attorney can inform you of the many other pitfalls that may befall such a marriage.
How Can I Protect Myself When Sponsoring a Spouse for Immigration?
Above all, be honest.
If you have assets you are worried about losing, consider signing a prenuptial agreement before marrying—but be careful, such agreements may hurt your spouse’s chance of gaining permanent lawful residency in the future.
Most importantly, consult an experienced immigration attorney that can guide you and your loved one through the entire process of gaining citizenship, beginning with the initial application for a temporary green card and ending with the eventual petition for your spouse’s U.S. passport.
Once you’ve done all this, plan yourselves a trip to celebrate! Unless there’s a virus wreaking havoc across the world. Then stay home, and maybe crack that fancy bottle of champagne you were gifted at your wedding and have been saving all this time.
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*Here is one that goes straight to the source: The U.S. Government.