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What’s a Legally Valid Marriage Under US Immigration Laws?

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Valid US Marriage

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US immigration laws require extensive verification for married couples. You may consider yourself married, but immigration laws may not. If you want to help your spouse obtain US citizenship or get a visa, you need to know what a legally valid marriage is under the guidelines of the law.

The law claims that a couple is legally married when:

The Marriage is Bona Fide

US Customs and Immigration Services will do a complete investigation of your marriage. Officials want to ensure that the marriage is bona fide when obtaining a green card.

"To obtain a green card, the foreign national must be married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Marriages must also be bona fide, which means that they are real. It is not legal for people to marry simply for the purpose of obtaining permanent residence in the U.S.," explains The Shapiro Law Group.

Marriage is Legal

Marriage is legal when it is legally recognized and valid in the country in which the marriage took place. For example, if the marriage took place in Mexico, it must have been done in accordance with the country's laws and fully recognized.

Couples that are of the same-sex can also leverage these rights.

Common law marriages, where two people have lived together for a period of time, may also be allowed. The one distinction is that the country that you were married and lived together in must recognize common law marriage.

By proxy, marriages are only recognized through consummation.

Marriages to family members, even if legal in another country, are not likely legal in the United States.

Marriage is a Single Marriage

If you're seeking a green card or visa, the marriage must be to a single person. You cannot be married to multiple people, and the person seeking their citizenship cannot be married in another country. If either spouse is legally married to someone else, the marriage will not be legal in the eyes of the law.

Even if multiple marriages are legal in a spouse's originating country, US officials will deem the marriage invalid.

The only option, in this case, is to seek a divorce from the previous spouse and remarry.

When seeking a marriage visa or citizenship, one spouse must be a US citizen or permanent resident of the United States. Temporary residents do not have the right to petition for a spouse's permanent residency. It may be possible to bring the spouse to the US for short-term purposes.

Work visas are not green cards. If a spouse has been granted a work visa, the visa doesn't make the individual a US citizen.

If you and your spouse meet all of the definitions or requirements above, it may still be difficult to bring a spouse over on a visa. Some spouses will reach the border on a normal visa or through a travel agreement only to be turned away. If officials believe that a spouse may overstay a visit, especially if they have a spouse in the US, the person may be turned away. Short-term visits may be more difficult while petitioning for permanent residency.

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