Under U.S. immigration law, marriage fraud is defined as entering into a marriage solely for the purpose of getting a permanent resident card (green card). Committing marriage fraud has severe consequences. A case found to be fraudulent can not only result in deportation, but may also keep you from applying for other immigration benefits, and sometimes lead to criminal prosecution.

In order to apply for a marriage-based green card, the U.S. government requires more than just a marriage certificate to prove a valid marriage. Because of this, even couples in legitimate relationships often face difficulties with immigration officers if they are unable to provide enough supporting evidence or convince the immigration official that their marriage is real and not simply a way to get a green card.

To illustrate this point, I want to introduce you to Scott and Rosario.

Scott, a U.S. citizen, and aerospace engineer, finally found the love of his life in his beautiful wife Rosario. They met in San Francisco, where Rosario was a Salvadoran foreign exchange student studying English at a U.S. university. They have their differences just as any other couple – Rosario’s English isn’t very good, Scott is 20 years older than her and recently divorced – but they know that they are soulmates. Their whirlwind romance was brief, they met and married after only 1 month, but neither cared because they were madly in love.

Rosario’s student visa is set to expire within the next 3 months. Scott can’t imagine living without her, so he files a marriage-based immigration petition on her behalf so she can stay in the U.S. permanently and they can start a family. However, because their relationship progressed so quickly, they have not had time to meet very many of each other’s friends, they still have not met each other’s parents, and they are currently apartment hunting so they can move in together.

Of course, none of that matters to Scott and Rosario. They have the rest of their lives to work out the minor details. What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, quite a lot…

Marriage-based petitions between a U.S. citizen and a spouse from another country are highly scrutinized by U.S. immigration authorities. There is a prevalent idea in the U.S government that a great number of applications it receives in these cases are fake. USCIS officials and consulate officers are specifically trained to give cases that raise certain “red flags” closer inspection.

So what possible problems could Scott and Rosario face during the application process?

Let’s identify 10 red flags that will likely raise suspicion for marriage fraud in their situation.

1. They do not speak the same language

It is suspicious that two people are building a life together when they cannot even communicate well. For Scott and Rosario, the fact that they do not speak the same language would definitely raise a red flag for the immigration officer.

2. There is a large age difference

Scott and Rosario are 20 years apart in age. While this is certainly not unheard of, it does cause the immigration officer to look more closely at the situation.

3. One spouse has considerably more education than the other

The fact that Scott, an aerospace engineer, married, Rosario, an English student will likely make the immigration officials pay more attention.

4. They do not live together

Most married people live together; however, Scott and Rosario do not. Although they may have a good excuse as to why they are not living in the same household, they should be prepared to explain why.

5. They do not know each others family and friends

By the time most people get married they have met each other’s friends and family. Scott and Rosario do not know each other’s parents or many friends. This will definitely draw more attention to their application and raise questions with immigration officials.

6. They married soon after meeting

The fact that Scott and Rosario met and married after only 1 month is a huge red flag. Typically, couples take more time dating before getting married. Their short time together signals to the immigration officer that maybe it was a marriage for money instead of love.

7. They married soon after a divorce

Scott is recently divorced. This fact, together with the short time frame of the relationship, makes them look suspicious.

8. The timing of the marriage is too convenient

Scott and Rosario will need to explain why they decided to get married only 3 months before Rosario’s student visa is set to expire.

9. They have no children together

Children are a strong indicator to the immigration officers that people are in a real relationship. The fact that Scott and Rosario have no children together, along with the other issues discussed above is another factor that would draw closer scrutiny from immigration.

10. The non-citizen spouse is from a country with high incidents of marriage fraud

While it may not be fair, the truth is that U.S. immigration authorities keep a close watch on people from certain countries that have high incidents of marriage fraud. It is important for Scott and Rosario to be aware of this fact and make sure they come prepared with as much evidence as possible to overcome the immigration officers bias.

So what should Scott and Rosario do?

In any marriage-based green card case, the best thing that a couple can do is be prepared. Make sure to submit as much evidence and documents as possible showing that the relationship and marriage are real. A few examples of documents to include are, pictures, love letters, statements from friends and family, emails, plane tickets, joint bank accounts, and joint tax returns. Also, start thinking about possible red flags in your particular situation, and be ready for any questions that may arise. The more you understand what immigration officers are looking for, the more you can do to decrease their doubts, and increase your chances of getting approved.