Is an Arranged Marriage Considered a Legitimate Marriage for Immigration Purposes?

If you are a US citizen or green card holder and you're entering into an arranged marriage, is it considered a legitimate marriage for the purposes of an immigration family petition? Absolutely. However, it's important to realize that you may face some additional scrutiny because of it. Here's what you should know.

There's always a concern that an arranged marriage is actually a forced marriage.

Arranged marriages are the cultural norms for some ethnic groups, especially in predominantly Muslim countries. However, other cultures also commonly have arranged marriages as well, including the Orthodox Jewish and Hindu cultures. An arranged marriage is set up by family members, but both partners willingly agree to the match and intend to establish a life together. It's the consent and intent that is critical to establish when dealing with immigration, in order to prove that the marriage is "bona fide" (being entered into in good faith).

A forced marriage, however, isn't considered a bona fide marriage for immigration purposes. Forced marriages occur when either partner is coerced, threatened, or bribed into agreeing to the marriage. Sometimes the forced marriage is specifically for the purpose of obtaining a green card, which is considered immigration fraud. Often, it involves a younger woman and an older, substantially well-off male. 

How do you prove that your arranged marriage is not an attempt to circumvent the law?

You and your spouse will have to answer questions about the nature of your marriage. It's perfectly okay to admit that your family arranged the marriage. However, be ready and willing to discuss such things as whether or not you met your spouse prior to the marriage, how negotiations were carried out between your families, and whether or not you willingly consented to the arrangement.

Be prepared to prove that you have a legally binding marriage, regardless of whether or not you had a religious ceremony as well. In some cultures, religious ceremonies can be carried out to establish a marriage but the steps necessary to legally document the marriage are skipped. You cannot do that and expect to get your spouse's petition for entry to the United States approved.

You need to take certain things with you when you go for the immigration interview regarding your spouse's application:

  • Your marriage license, certificate, and any religious documents, as well.
  • Photos of you and your spouse prior to the marriage, if possible.
  • Photos of your actual wedding, including photos of you and your spouse with relatives from both sides.
  • Affidavits from friends and relatives who know that your marriage is legitimate.

Proving that an arranged marriage isn't a sham marriage just to get your spouse a green card isn't impossible at all. Immigration officials are well aware that many cultures view arranged marriages in a positive way. However, recognize that because of the potential for fraud, your situation may be scrutinized more intensely than others.

If you need help getting your spouse's petition through immigration, contact an attorney for advice.