In some cases, marriage offers a legal path for individuals to immigrate into the U.S. The key legal principle for these marriages rests on the validity of the marital union.
Recent years have seen some important changes to this pathway to citizenship, particularly the Supreme Court ruling in 2013 upholding the Defense of Marriage Act.
The legality of a marriage
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has specifically defined rules for marriage validity when it comes to immigration purposes. The agency identifies several unions that do not meet the requirements according to U.S. law:
- Polygamous marriages
- Proxy marriages (in most cases)
- Dishonest marriages designed to evade immigration laws
- Unions that violate the laws of the place of marriage
Since 2013, the USCIS determines the validity of a same-sex marriage (as it does with other marriages) by the place-of-celebration rule. So long as the jurisdiction allows same-sex marriages, then this qualifies as a valid marriage for immigration purposes. North Carolina recognized these unions in 2014.
The need for evidence
It remains the responsibility of the applicant to prove the validity of a marriage to the USCIS. This requires an acceptable civil record of the marriage along with the pertinent details. The officer in charge has the discretion on a case-by-case basis to accept secondary evidence.
In the case of death of the U.S. citizen or a divorce, the individual applying for U.S. citizenship through marriage loses the right to naturalize if these events happen before the Oath of Allegiance. However, a special provision does exist in circumstances where the deceased died during a period of honorable duty in the U.S. military.