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Who Is Recognized as a Spouse for Immigration Purposes?

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on January 18, 2019

For a person to be recognized as a spouse for immigration purposes, the validity of the marriage must be established. For a foreign national to get a spousal visa or green card to live and work in the U.S., the person must be legally married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and the marriage must be bona fide. Neither of the spouses can be married to other people.

Legally Married

For a marriage to be considered to be legal for immigration purposes, it must be recognized as such in the country or state where the marriage occurred. Same-sex marriages qualify spouses for immigration. However, domestic partnerships in which people have lived together but have not married do not. It might be possible for people who have lived together in a country that recognizes common law marriages to show that their marriages are legally valid in some cases. Marriages by proxy are not recognized as legal marriages for immigration purposes unless they were consummated. Marriages to certain classes of relatives are also not considered to be bona fide. For example, people who are married to siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren are not considered to be legally married and will not be allowed to obtain spousal visas.

Bona Fide Marriage to a U.S. Citizen or Resident

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. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service will investigate marriages to make certain that they are bona fide.

Only Married to Each Other

For foreign national spouses to obtain green cards based on their marriages to U.S. citizens or residents, the foreign national spouse and the U.S. citizen or resident must only be married to each other. If either spouse is also married to another person, a spousal visa will not be available to the foreign national spouse. There are a number of countries in Africa and Asia that recognize polygamous marriages. Despite the fact that these types of marriages might be recognized in other countries, they are not legal under U.S. law and can’t form the basis for obtaining a spousal visa.