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The latest immigration and visa news for the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and select European countries - straight from the leading immigrant advocates in the Philippines.

Genuine Visas, Fake Marriages

In most cases, if you wish to live in the same country as your foreign partner, he or she will have to file a petition or sponsorship application for you. This is true for the US, Australia, and the UK. You can only proceed to the visa application stage only if the government agency in charge of immigration has approved your sponsor’s petition/sponsorship application.

Crispin Aranda

Genuine Visas, Fake Marriages

"LOVE and marriage, go together like a horse and a carriage..." goes the Frank Sinatra song.

And if you wish to live in the same country as your foreign partner, you cannot be sure that an embassy will issue you an immigrant or permanent resident visa.

Spouses.

There have been many cases where the marriage was a sham with the couple arranging it solely for petition and visa purposes. If authorities discover the fraudulent relationship, an immigration court may prosecute the foreign spouse to the full extent of the law.

In the U.S. recently, officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) in Houston, Texas, took 50 people into custody. This move was after a federal grand jury returned a 206-count indictment, alleging that those arrested and detained were part of a massive fraud scheme.

According to an announcement from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS), the court announcent the indictment on April 30, 2019, charging 96 individuals. Some of those charged were Vietnamese nationals. ICE took 60 people into custody, and nine appeared for a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson at 10 a.m. on May 14.

Across the globe, in November 2018, the Australian Border Force uncovered marraige for residency scams involving 164 intending immigrants from India and at least four Australian citizens.

In both cases, the arrangement between foreing applicants and citizen sponsors involved vast amounts of money—up to $70,000.

The money was real, but the love was fake.

Each country has its protocol.

The historical and continuing incidences of marriage-for-visa schemes have had unintended consequences. Governments have enacted immigration laws that require foreign partners to prove that the relationship is genuine for a probationary period.

Sometimes, the sponsoring party does not want to marry his foreign significant other yet, since most countries allow their citizens to sponsor their fiancée/fiancé to live with them temporarily. The exception, among the top five destinations of Filipinos, is Canada, which does not have a visa category for the foreign fiancée/fiancé of its citizens and permanent residents.

The U.S. requires the petitioner to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible to sponsor his fiancée. In Australia, the sponsor may be a permanent resident.

The prospective marriage/fiancée petition allows the foreign fiancée to enter their destination country on a specific visa. For the U.S., it is the K-1 visa. For Australia, it is Visa Subclass 300.

And since the visa is temporary, the end goal is marriage.

The U.S. citizen sponsor must marry the foreign fiancée within 90 days of admission on a K-1 visa. The U.S. Embassy may issue a K-2 visa to the eligible, minor children of the K-1 visa holder while his fiancée partner remains in the K-1 status.

Neither the sponsor nor the foreign fiancée should keep their status secret, as they will need adults who can later attest to their genuine relationship. They must allow other adults, at least 18 years old and who possess valid and legal immigration status, to know about their relationship. These individuals can later attest to the genuine relationship before the partner or spouse sponsorship.

Unless a petition is an accepted religious practice of one or both parties or there are other extenuating circumstances, the couple must have met in person, before the filing of the prospective marriage or fiancée sponsorship.

Online relationships—no matter how intense or extensive the Messenger or Facebook documentation is—do not count towards the period that the sponsor and Filipino fiancée must have met face-to-face before the sponsor files the petition.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs requires the couple to have been in a common-law relationship for at least 12 months to enable the Australian spouse to sponsor the foreign partner. The USCIS requirest the couple to have met in person within two years before the filing of the fiancée petition. Sponsoring a fiancée or spouse isn't easy as the petitioner must provide evidence of financial ability to support the foreign applicant. In the U.S., the petitioner must submit an affidavit of support together with financial documents to prove he or she can support the alien fiancée until they marry.

In the U.K., the Home Office requires both sponsor and fiancée to present a minimum combined income of £18,600 a year before the government agency issues an "indefinite leave to remain" status to the foreign fiancée. This status is valid for five years.

The financial ability of a U.S. citizen spouse or fiancé sponsor has been under intense scrutiny under the Trump administration to prevent foreign nationals from "gaming the system" that is, availing public benefits reserved only for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

In sum, the road towards permanent residence requires extensive documentation and expensive procedures. And because the sponsoring spouse may face prosecution if the governemnt uncovers an arranged marriage, the fees involved also have increased.

In the 1970s to 1980s, immigration practitioners in the U.S. say that the "price" of agreeing to sponsor a fiancée or spouse was somewhere in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.  The 1986 Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment Act in the U.S., however, tied a U.S. sponsor for at least two years: the price of marriage, therefore, also went up.

No changing partners.

In Australia, the fiancée first enters under a subclass 300 prospective marriage visa. He then has to undergo two more stages before gaining permanent residency.

While there are exceptions, the foreign fiancée must maintain his/her relationship with the Australian, U.S., or Britain partner who filed the sponsorship application or petition. The aforementioned is a requirement for the USCIS to approve a petition to remove the conditional status, or for U.K.’s Home Office to issue an indefinite leave to remain.

While the children of a fiancée visa holder or conditional resident visa in the U.S. must be below 21, Australia allows children beyond that age to qualify as a dependent and issues the same visa as the principal applicant.

For Australian visas, the foreign fiancée’s or partner’s child may be between 18 and 23. The child, however, must still depend on the principal applicant or partner because of a partial or total physical or mental disability.

Case study.

The U.S. Embassy issued a K-1 visa to Randy’s mother, Alice. However, Randy could not get his K-2 visa at the time before Alice was admitted to the U.S. in 2010. Nine years after, Alice is a U.S. citizen who wants her son to pursue his dependent visa case.

Recently, Randy, who is now 30 years old and still has a copy of the approved I-129F petition, tried to apply for a K-2 visa. The U.S. consul informed Randy that, not only is he no longer a minor, having turned 21 but the principal applicant is no longer in K-1 status. In fact, Alice is now a U.S. citizen.

Alice may still file a petition for Randy, but as the unmarried over-21 son of a U.S. citizen, he stands to wait for 10 to 15 years. The long period of waiting for immigrant visas in the U.S. and other countries with similar permanent residency programs is fueling the marriage for visa scams.

When the USCIS approves a fiancée visa petition and, the applicant passes the interview stage, a U.S. Embassy issues a valid visa. It is now up to the foreign fiancée and the U.S. citizen sponsor to prove the relationship is genuine to avoid repercussions if the government discovers their relationship to be fraudulent.

The red warning of deportation or removal thus remains, outweighed by the color of money and green card.

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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