May 21, 2024
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Prince Charming Is Not American, Now What?

Congratulations! You have finally met your bashert! You are engaged to be married!

Before you start designing your chuppah, practicing the horah, and choosing a ketubah, you should first make sure that your spouse-to-be will be able to show up for your fairytale wedding. What happens if your chatan (or kallah) is not a U.S. citizen? Unless you are planning on moving abroad, your first task is to quickly figure out a way to keep your bashert in the United States legally!

For a head-start you might follow these 10 tips when preparing for the “green card” process:

1.  Pull together some biographical information about the potential spouse including the names, dates, and places of birth of your parents, your places of residence for the last five years, and your employers’ addresses. This information provides a biographical sketch of your life which will be needed in the application process.

2. Make sure that you have original copies of your and your fiancé’s birth certificates, divorce decrees (if either of you was married before), and birth certificates of any children you have.  Original copies are necessary for fraud prevention, as the government feels that copies or scans of official documents can be too easily doctored or fabricated.

3. Make sure you have filed your U.S. taxes for the last three years. Paying your taxes shows that you are a law-abiding citizen and illustrates genuine residence in the community. It also shows that you are known to the U.S. government.

4. Living together makes a difference. If you already live together, check that the lease/deed is in both of your names. If you elect not to live together before the wedding, plan to do so as soon as you are married and again, make sure that the lease/deed to the residence premises is in both of your names. Living together shows that you share a life together and that you entered into your marriage in good faith.

5. As soon as you move in together, arrange for household bills to be in both of your names (cable, gas and electric, water, cell, etc.). Doing so garners third-party endorsement of your life together and shows a couple’s financial collaboration to pay their bills.

6. Once you begin receiving mail that is addressed to you as a couple, set some aside as documentation of your co-habitation and proof of joint residence.

7. It is never too early to open joint bank accounts and arrange for credit card accounts. Comingling your assets is a strong indication of a bonafide relationship in the eyes of the government. It is extremely unlikely that two people simply trying to find a shortcut to a green card would take this drastic step.

8. Prepare photos of your life together with dates, including photographs while on vacation, of your wedding, holidays, simchas spent together, etc. This builds a narrative of your life together and supports the notion that you’re marrying for love and not just trying to obtain a visa status for a friend.

9. Just like letters of recommendation for applying to schools or jobs, it helps to have close friends or relatives write testimonials about how they know you as a couple. Having people vouch for your personal character as well as your life together also helps the government in ruling out marriage-for-visa scams.

10. Your employment can make things much easier. As a U.S. citizen, being gainfully employed precludes the need for additional steps, such as obtaining joint sponsorship, which would be needed for financial reasons in the absence of employment.

This is just a temporary list to get you started. It is critical that you meet with a good immigration attorney who can guide you through the process and see you through the interview and the entire case. U.S. Immigration Services has a tough job sorting through all of the marriage applications it receives, and approval or denial depends on a case by case analysis. Immigration looks at each application to figure out whether the couple married for love or whether a marriage is simply a favor to get someone a green card (or even worse—whether you are being paid to get a friend a green card).

Michael J. Wildes, is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. Mr. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s  office in Brooklyn (1989-1993). He is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and teaches Business Immigration Law. From 2004 through 2010, Mr. Wildes was also the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey. Email him at [email protected] and visit the firm’s website at www.wildeslaw.com. Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Press.

By Michael J. Wildes, Esq.

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