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Bona Fide Marriage Recognized for Immigration Benefits

by Hamid R. Kashani, Attorney at Law
Nov 07, 2018 (last modified Oct 25, 2019)

To claim immigration benefits based on marriage (same-sex or opposite-sex), the marriage must be bona fide (i.e., it must be real and not a sham) and you must have entered into marriage in good faith. There are severe civil and criminal penalties for attempting to circumvent immigration laws by claiming an immigration benefit based on a sham marriage.

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When is my marriage recognized for immigration purposes?

You and your spouse must be legally married under the laws of the state or country where you married.

Some jurisdictions recognize a marriage by operation of law. An example would be “common law marriage,” where parties are considered married after living together for a specified period of time. If you are married by operation of law, then the laws of the state or country, where you became married, must recognize your marriage.

If polygamy (having multiple spouses) is recognized under the laws of the jurisdiction where the marriage occurred, then only your first spouse would be recognized as your spouse under the U.S. immigration laws.

If you wish to marry a person, where such marriage would not be recognized under the laws of your future spouse's residence but would be valid in the United States (e.g. same-sex marriage), you have two options: (a) you and your prospective spouse may travel to a place recognizing and allowing such marriage and get married there, or (b) if you are a U.S. citizen, you may utilize the fiancé visa procedure to first bring your prospective spouse to the United States as a fiancé.  See K-1 Visa for Fiancés of U.S. Citizens.

How should I prepare for an overseas marriage?

If you are going overseas to marry your spouse overseas, find out the local requirements and prepare before you depart. Different countries and localities have different requirements before allowing a marriage to take place. These may include (a) residency for a particular duration of time, (b) blood test, (c) minimum age, depending on the parties' gender, (d) parental consent, (e) proof of dissolution of prior marriages, (f) presence of certain witnesses, or (g) affidavits of eligibility to marry.

To determine whether your overseas marriage will be recognized in the United States, you should contact the office of your state's Attorney General.

What evidence may I present to prove my marriage is real?

If you wish to apply for immigration benefits, you must be prepared to submit evidence showing the bona fide of your marriage. The evidence may include, where available:

  • Emails, letters, and correspondence between you and your spouse
  • Love letters (if you don't mind)
  • Photographs showing both of you at different events or in company of others
  • Social media entries showing your relationship
  • Itineraries, tickets, boarding passes, hotel receipts, and similar documents showing you traveled together or went somewhere to meet each other
  • Engagement ring receipt
  • Announcements of your engagement or marriage
  • Planning documents for your wedding
  • Vendor contracts for your engagement or wedding ceremonies, if any
  • Wedding pictures
  • Your honeymoon travel documents, receipts, and pictures
  • Affidavits of friends and family members who witnessed the growth of your relationship over the periods of courtship and engagement leading to marriage

You do not need to submit evidence in each and every category listed above. You need to submit sufficient evidence to persuade the USCIS that your marriage is bona fide.


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