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U.S. Law Is Surprisingly Generous to Foreigners Marrying Americans

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

Many foreigners visit the U.S. and ultimately wind up not complying with the conditions governing their entries to the U.S. Whether it’s overstaying their allotted time in the U.S. or working “off the books” for small predominantly cash businesses, there are infractions of U.S. law that can sharply limit foreigners’ abilities to request relief from U.S. immigration authorities like USCIS. However, many such infractions will be generously forgiven for foreigners who eventually marry Americans. (Foreigners who hold “Green Cards” are “U.S. Permanent Residents”, not “Americans”. Residents have to live in the U.S. consistently. See blog post, U.S. Permanent Residence: Use it or Lose it.)


Accordingly, it is often absolutely silly for newlywed foreigners to lie on some of the responses in their U.S. permanent residence applications. Such foreigners can disclose their prior illegal employment and overstaying their authorized admissions without having to worry about being denied U.S. permanent residence. There are people who overstayed their 6-month tourist visas by a few decades and ended up marrying Americans. They were not denied U.S. permanent residence even though they had resided illegally in the U.S. for longer periods than what is actually the entire lifespan of many people.


Bartender smiling with bottle in hand

Frequently, foreigners lie about these issues because they’re ignorant of U.S. immigration law, whether because they did not think to research the issue thoroughly on the Internet or because they did not seek out professional assistance from an immigration lawyer. While being truthful in copping to unauthorized employment and overstaying a visa will not cause problems for the previously mentioned newlyweds, the same is not true about lying on immigration applications, even ones for permanent residence.


It’s a shame that many newlyweds jeopardize the success of their permanent residence applications by unnecessarily lying on questions or being incomplete in their answers to others. One example that springs to mind is the question asking applicants to list the social groups in which they’re involved. Many people list no groups out of fear that listing any groups would harm them. However, listing many groups, especially purely philanthropic groups, would not steer an application toward a denial. However, lying about group membership could trigger a denial. The reason that foreigners are asked to list their group memberships is because U.S. immigration officers want to decide for themselves whether the group is one that warrants additional scrutiny of applicants.


When foreigners ask how U.S. immigration lawyers can help them, this is just one of the ways in which U.S. immigration lawyers can be invaluable. People believe filling out an immigration form equates to an approval. Not true at all. It’s one thing survive filling out a form; it’s another thing entirely to do so in a way that strategically leads to victory. The latter requires assistance from an immigration lawyer.

There are several websites that have cropped up over the years, primarily offering to assist with filling out forms. In exchange, they charge a fee that they advertise as dwarfing the fees charged by immigration lawyers. However, there are a few problems with such lofty claims. First, the assistance that those websites provide is not a genuinely comparable substitute for devoted oversight by an immigration lawyer. Those claims are made to chase sales. Second, the fees charged by immigration lawyers are often less than people realize.


A person can usually find an immigration lawyer who offers services for a fee that matches a reasonable budget. Hopefully, in the future, articles such as this one will help more people to avoid needlessly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on their immigration applications.




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