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How does divorce affect the legal status of immigrants?

Divorces can be complex legal matters, especially when one of the spouses (or both) is from another country. In some cases, a divorce can cause immigration authorities to scrutinize the marriage closely, looking for evidence of fraud. Below is some basic information about divorce and remarriage involving immigrants.

Divorce can jeopardize an immigrant's citizenship status. Noncitizens who divorce might not be able to apply for citizenship on the same grounds, i.e., being married to United States citizens.

  • When noncitizens already have "green cards" and get divorced, they retain their residency status. But if the immigrant was married to a citizen for less than three years and has been a legal permanent resident for less than five years, he or she can't apply for citizenship status until they have been a legal resident in America for no fewer than five years.
  • Immigrant spouses who are conditional residents and who get divorced can't become legal permanent residents based on marital status. Sometimes immigrants may be permitted to file waivers of termination so they can retain residency status.
  • When couples divorce before the immigrant spouse is a permanent resident, any of the immigrant spouse's children with noncitizens are barred from residency based on the marriage.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are always on the lookout for fraudulent marriages that grant residency status to immigrants. These sham marriages can cause immigrants to be denied residency status and potentially face criminal charges. Any convictions can result in deportation and being prohibited readmission into the United States.

If you are an immigrant facing divorce, it is wise to learn what legal consequences your divorce will have on your immigration status.

Source: USImmigration.com, "Immigrants and divorce," accessed Oct. 13, 2017

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