If you got your green card (permanent residence) or other U.S.
immigration status through marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful
permanent resident, you may wonder: What happens if you get a divorce?
Fraudulent Marriage Concerns
You are right to be concerned. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services (USCIS) believes that a significant number of immigrant
marriages are fraudulent and entered into for the purpose of obtaining
U.S. residence. Both U.S. law and USCIS policy contain many safeguards
and requirements to ensure that only immigrants who have entered into
real, valid marriages are awarded immigration benefits in the United
States. And, of course, some couples who enter into fraudulent marriages
can’t maintain the artificial lifestyle for as long as it takes to get a
green card, so the marriage ends in divorce.
But real couples have relationship issues and get divorces, too. And
the immigration laws recognize this fact. So a divorce somewhere along
the process in your path to U.S. immigration isn’t necessarily fatal.
How USCIS treats your divorce depends on how far along you are in the
immigration process and how good a job you can do at convincing USCIS
that the marriage was the real thing in the first place.
Steps in the Immigration Process
Below are some of the key steps during the immigration process and
how a divorce will impact your immigration rights or status at that
- After approval of visa petition (USCIS Form I-130). The visa
petition simply starts the immigration process. It doesn’t give you any
immigration rights. So if a U.S. citizen spouse or permanent resident
has filed a visa petition for you, but you then divorce, you will not be
able to take further steps toward U.S. immigration.
- After approval for conditional residence. If you have already
attended your visa or green card interview and been approved for
conditional residence -- that is, a two-year green card given to a
spouse whose marriage was less than two years old at the date of
approval -- you’ll face some hurdles when USCIS next reviews your case.
That will happen two years after your approval date, when you are
required to submit USCIS Form I-751 asking that the conditions on your
residence be removed and that you be approved for permanent residence.
The usual way of filling out Form I-751 is as a joint petition, signed
by both spouses, affirming that the marriage is still real and ongoing.
After a divorce, however, you will have to submit the petition on your
own, provide lots of evidence that the marriage started out as the real
thing, and then ask for a waiver of the joint filing requirement. It
gets more complicated if the divorce isn’t final yet when your Form
I-751 is due. But, in any case, you will want to get an attorney’s help
if you divorce at this stage in the process.
- After approval for permanent residence. If you have already
been approved for permanent -- not conditional -- residence, USCIS has
no reason to take a second look at your application just now, so you
need not worry. But read the next entry concerning your application for
- When you apply to become a U.S. citizen (naturalize). If and
when you apply for citizenship, USCIS will have another chance to review
your entire immigration history. If it sees any indications that the
marriage that got you the green card was fraudulent -- and divorce might
be considered such an indication -- it will ask you to provide
documentation proving that your marriage was bona fide. If you’re unable
to do so, USCIS may not only deny your citizenship, but refer you to
immigration court proceedings for removal from the United States
Getting Legal Help
If you (or your spouse) are in the process of immigrating to the
United States, but are facing a possible divorce, contact an immigration
lawyer for a personal analysis of your situation and advice on how to