Why Children Must Remain Unmarried Until Green Card Approval

Children awaiting green cards can destroy their eligibility for a green card in their visa category by getting married.

Unmarried children beware. If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, and you plan to immigrate to the United States as that person's beneficiary, you must not marry before you complete the process of getting a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence).

Why? Because you must not only qualify for the green card when the visa petition is first approved on your behalf, but up until when you are actually granted permanent residence -- in fact, if you come from overseas, up until you actually enter the United States with your immigrant visa. In some cases, depending on your visa category, marrying will completely cancel your application process. In other cases, it will mean you drop into a lower eligibility category, and face years of delays.

How Marriage Can Jeopardize An Immigrant Visa

Here are some examples of how this could play out:

  • The unmarried child of a U.S. citizen, under 21 years of age, receives an approved visa petition as an immediate relative (a category in which unlimited numbers of green cards are available). However, he or she gets married in the months before the green card is approved. The marriage drops the child into the Family Third Preference visa category, for which only 23,400 visas are available each year, meaning the child will have a long wait for a green card -- typically around ten years.
  • The unmarried child of a U.S. lawful permanent resident, under 21 years of age, receives an approved visa petition in subcategory 2A of the Family Second Preference category (for which only 114,200 green cards are available each year, split between subcategory 2A and 2B). After waiting around two years for a visa to become available, the family is about ready to receive green cards. However, the child gets married. That child is no longer eligible for a green card. (His or her best hope for a visa might be to wait until one of his or her parents becomes a U.S. citizen, and can file a Family Third Preference petition on the child's behalf, at which time the child's spouse could immigrate as well).
  • The unmarried child, over age 21, of a U.S. citizen, receives an approved visa petition in the Family First Preference category (for which only 23,400 green cards are available each year). The child waits around seven years until a visa becomes available in that category, during which time the child gets married. That means the child will drop to the Family Third Preference visa category, for which another 23,400 visas are available each year, but the waits for a green card tend to be even longer -- probably another three years.

The marriage issue can be a problem for many young immigrants, who may grow up during the long wait for a visa, and don't want to put their marriage on hold. However, they should understand the consequences of marriage before making a decision -- especially if they think that, by getting married, they'll be able to bring their spouse along with them to the United States.

Dangers Of Concealing The Marriage

Some immigrants have attempted to conceal the fact of their wedding. For example, if the child marries after the visa interview but before entering the U.S. with an immigrant visa, how will anyone know about it? But the truth is likely to come out eventually, for example if the child later files a visa petition to bring his or her spouse the United States (which would require submitting a copy of the marriage certificate) or applies to become a U.S. citizen (at which time the immigration authorities will review the person's entire file). And committing fraud in order to get a visa (i.e. by concealing one's marriage) can be grounds for removal from the United States.

If you have any questions, or claimed a green card as an unmarried child despite having been married first, see an experienced attorney.

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