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Getting Married for a Green Card

October 22, 2007 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 32 Comments

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For centuries, marriage had nothing to do with love. It was a sort of partnership between families, creating a mutually beneficial relationship that would ensure the continuation of the bloodline. Love, for the most part, was never really part of the equation. Your mom and dad introduced you to the person with whom you would be sharing the rest of your life a few weeks before the wedding, and that was that.

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Then came the 20th century and with it the globalization of American culture. And American culture, ripe with tales of love, romance, and unrealistic expectations, led the world to deifne marriage as something completely different; spending your entire life with someone who was the love of your life, regardless of whether or not this was something anybody was really cut out to do.  Then many of us realized this was NOT something we were cut out to do, and then came the birth of the divorce lawyer and a skyrocketing marriage failure rate.

But people still get married for reasons other than love. Many marry for money, some just to climb the social ladder, and others for nothing more than guaranteed sex. Or so they thought. Some just wanted children and didn’t really care with whom they had them so long as they were able to reproduce and continue their blood line. And so it all came full circle. But in America, while it is perfectly legal to marry someone you don’t like for money, sex, fame or pretty much any other non-romantic reason, one motivation is still deemed illegal: Getting married for a Green Card.

THE HOLY GRAIL OF INTERNATIONAL PAPERWORK

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Yes, that holy grail of international paperwork known as a United States Permanent Resident Card is a more sought after commodity than 50 yard-line seats at the Super Bowl. Probably because with a few exceptions, you can’t find one on eBay. And with the nation up in arms about immigration reform and a new march planned every week against it, this piece of documentation that us natural born citizens take for granted is becoming something that people will do just about anything for. Including getting married.

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In Miami, this has become big business. While a good number of our immigrants are legal thanks to the inexplicable Cuba exception,  some from countries that are not political scapegoats face a harder time gaining legal access to all our wonderful country has to offer. Some choose to begin the citizenship process, and hope that they are deemed eligible to continue living here. Others get and renew work visas at clockwork intervals. But many choose to find a morally casual U.S. citizen who is in need of some cash and not planning to marry anyone for a few years. Or maybe just legally can’t. They then go down to the Dade County Courthouse, fill out some paperwork, and next thing you know the once-illegal alien can stay as long as they like. And three years later, they are eligible for a green card. It’s just that simple.

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Or not. The INS is not as stupid as many would like to think. At the end of the three year period they require the couple to attend a sort of interview-audit. At this event, they go over your bills, leases, rental history, purchases, and pretty much anything a “real” married couple would have together.  They ask personal questions (although not THAT personal) to make sure the couple actually knows each other, and ask to see some photos and family mementos. If they pass, the non-citizen gets a green card, and is usually divorced within a week of receiving it. If they fail the interview, well, the immigrant is deported and the citizen goes to jail. So you had better make sure you have your act together.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN

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I first learned of this unique type of marriage when I moved here in 1998. My friend Alex*, who was Puerto Rican, was drinking with me one night and disclosed to me that he was in fact married. Given that he had a girlfriend, I found this a rather startling revelation and wondered how she might feel about all of that. She knew, of course, but Alex had been paid $10,000 by the sister of a friend of his to marry her.  At 19, I thought it would be a great idea if I could get my hands on a deal like that, and Alex said he would set me up. Fortunately, I never heard back from him. Alex had not gone to the trouble of putting her on his apartment lease, nor was she receiving any mail at his place. I never saw a picture of the girl so I’m guessing they did not have the litany of family photos the INS requires. Alex is still a free man (last I checked) but no word if his bride ever got to stay in the U.S. Or if he ever got his money.

THE “I LOVE YOU” CON

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While the mutual-understanding faux-marriage is a common phenomenon in South Florida, what is also sadly common is the citizen being used for his passport. I say his, because as we all know there are more than a few American guys who will fall for the charms of a sexy Latina, quickly overlooking the convenient fact that he can get her into the country legally. I read an excerpt from the book “Coyotes” by Ted Conover that describes him going into a Mexican bar in LA and the hottest girl at the bar blatantly hitting on him, only for him to later find out all she wanted was a gringo to get her a green card. Conover never married her, but my friend Ben was not so lucky.

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Ben was a casual friend of mine when I lived in South Beach who worked a variety of service industry jobs with my roommate’s girlfriend. He was a nice, personable guy who would always buy you a drink when you saw him out, and always at least acted excited to see you. One day my roommate came home and told me Ben had gotten married. Now I knew Ben well enough to know that he had not been dating anyone since the last time I saw him, which had been about two weeks before. So apparently it was some sort of whirlwind romance and they had gotten hitched down at the courthouse the week before.

Now Ben was not a bad looking guy, but he was also not exactly the type of dude you’d expect to have a smoking hot Argentine girl fall madly in love with him within a week. Nice, sure. Great guy, definitely. But Ben was not rich and never seemed like to sort of guy who could make women do whatever he wanted. The point is, we smelled a rat. We met his wife one day on the beach, and she seemed nice enough, but we all couldn’t figure out why she had married Ben so fast and, more importantly, why he had married her.

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Now maybe Ben was in it for the money and just didn’t tell anyone so he never got found out. Or maybe he knew full well what she was doing but figured he’d get to sleep with a hot Latin girl for a while and went ahead with it anyway. But as much as Ben seemed to like his new wife, when I came back from my disastrous stint in California Ben was in the process of getting divorced. And this, not surprisingly, came almost exactly three years after he had gotten married. My old roommate, who had always known Ben a little better that I had, told me she had moved out a little over a year ago, and that Ben was pretty broken up about it. So poor Ben got stuck with a failed marriage, and his now-ex-wife is a legal resident.

Say what you will, but she did it the best way you can. Maybe she really liked Ben, or maybe she didn’t. We will never know. But she was willing to enter into a relationship with a guy she barely knew in order to get into the country, a relationship I’m guessing she would have foregone if a green card had not been involved. But when it came time for that INS interview, her story was seamless. She gave up a couple of years of her life for a guaranteed future, and it would be hard to take it away from her now.

THE ONLY TIME I’LL EVER BE THE BEST MAN AT AN EX’S WEDDING

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But perhaps my most personal involvements in a sham marriage came this year when an Aussie girl I used to date bailed at the last minute on her first INS interview, and was instantly in need of a new husband. Again, fortunately I declined the offer. Mandy had actually been living in Miami since 1999 and had married one of her ex-boyfriends in order to stay after her visa expired. Unfortunately, she had decided to marry an ex that was not a citizen. He was a legal resident, which would have been acceptable, but had he been found out he too would have been deported. At the last minute Mandy decided she could not have that hanging over her conscience.

So the great husband search began. She asked around for anyone willing to marry her to stay in the country. Now Mandy was the type of girl who got marriage proposals from strangers on a daily basis. A tall blonde with a chest that cost more than most people’s cars, it would not have been hard for her to find a guy willing to help her out. The problem, of course, is that she found herself repulsed by the thought of even pretending to marry most of them, and didn’t trust them as far as she could throw them.

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She had thought the whole sham-marriage thing through better than most. While she wasn’t going to fake a relationship, she also wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t going to be believable. He had to be tall, fairly good looking, and intelligent enough to pull off the INS interview. The new guy would also have to have all his bills sent to her apartment and co-sign on her lease. In exchange, he would receive a percentage of her business and free accommodations in South Beach whenever he wanted them.

While she asked several of her American ex’s to do it (myself included), and some hemmed, and some hawed, her gay friend Mike jumped at the opportunity. Mike, who was not in any danger of being allowed to marry anyone he loved anytime soon was in need of a change. Just days from eviction from his own apartment, he agreed to become the new Mr. Mandy in exchange for also becoming her new roommate. And not paying rent. This, of course, would give Mike and Mandy an air-tight story when they went to visit the INS since they were basically living like most married couples: Sharing a house but sleeping in separate bedrooms and never having sex.

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The wedding took place at a friend’s picturesque home earlier this year. Mandy had a couple dozen friends and family in attendance, including her sister who flew all the way from Australia. The bride managed to put the wedding together in four days for the grand total of $65. The liquor was donated by her former boss at a big-time nightclub she’d bartended at four several years. The photos were courtesy of a nightlife photographer who she was friends with. Another friend made the cake. Another friend who was a notary performed the ceremony. And the dress was a pretty yellow number she had worn to a wedding a few years before.

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They went outside and took about two dozen pictures until Mandy realized she wasn’t wearing a ring in any of them. So they went through and retook them all, borrowing a ring from one of her married friends in attendance. They held the ceremony right at sunset, and because I had been dressed exactly like the groom (a complete accident) I was selected as the best man. For photographical purposes only. I am going to go out on a limb and guess it is the only time I am best man at an ex’s wedding.

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The wedding went off without a hitch, aside from the groom getting black out drunk and inappropriately grabbing the boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids, and the bride going into one of the bathroom and crying for an hour, saying “I swore I would never do this again.” But ethical dilemmas and moral objections aside, her story is air tight. They live together. They are both on the lease. They had a wedding and took pictures.

Even if the INS knew the whole story, it would be hard to discredit the couple. After all, just because they’re not in love, why shouldn’t they get married? It was a mutually beneficial arrangement whereas Mandy can stay in the country and continue her flourishing business, and Mike can save some money and go back to school, possibly getting his life back on track. “Real” marriages have been more detrimental to a lot of people’s lives.

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So it seems that Miami is just a society harkening back to olden times when love and marriage did not necessarily go together, and the institution itself was more for financial gain than anything else. It is a difficult line to draw, which reasons for marriage are acceptable and which are not. Many stay in loveless marriages for worse reasons than wanting a green card, and end up much more miserable than the bride crying in the bathroom. But for those of us for whom citizenship came the minute we took our first breath, we never realize the lengths many people will go to for what we take so much for granted. So every time I complain about America I think to myself, “Yeah, but if this place is so bad why will people do anything to get here?” 

* - names have been changed to protect the potentially guilty

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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32 Comments on

"Getting Married for a Green Card"

Suzy says:

You are not kidding Matt.  Not only have I been approached for the same thing but an ex of mine married a co-worker so she wouldn’t get deported.  4 years later, since they’re now divorced, he has no problem saying her family paid him but back then, with his freedom on the line, he wouldn’t have admitted to a thing.
BUT, I have another friend who YEARS later, is not only still married to the guy but expecting their third child this December.  Guess an arrangement can go either way.

Posted on 10/24/2007 at 12:45 AM

Laurie says:

Great article Matt! For once I’m not going to ask Michelle “you paid him for THAT????” LOL. It is a sad state of affairs when someone like Mandy with a flourishing business, someone who is actually contributing to our society, needs to get married to stay. They should be cracking down on the people who are here to collect welfare and unemployment…

Posted on 10/24/2007 at 10:35 AM

Mirna says:

Matt, this article reflects a sad reality.

Being an immigrant and having my green card from marrying a Cuban guy who I loved very much, I always was judged like a woman who married him only for the papers, especially after we got divorced. Well, now I am married again to an American citizen so I guess like International guys. smile I didn’t care what the people thought and I always was true to myself. I didn’t break anyone’s heart like in Ben situation. That’s awful because you are using people for your own benefit and that’s is hurtful and evil.

But the thing here is that United States doesn’t give too many options to live legally. And most of immigrants take this as the only solution to this problem.

When you said “So every time I complain about America I think to myself, “Yeah, but if this place is so bad why will people do anything to get here?”, that’s true and that’s why I don’t understand some people who can live legally here and don’t take advantage of this great country.

Posted on 10/24/2007 at 3:28 PM

Eric says:

Great story! I’ve been approached twice about this sort of arrangement since I’ve been in Miami. I’ve considered it both times, but there has never been any follow up on the part of the go-between. So I’ve never had to make a final decision.

I’ve always wondered what a potential “real” wife would make of a previous marriage like this. Do you know what Alex’s girlfriend thought about his “marriage”?

Posted on 10/26/2007 at 9:36 PM

John Parr says:

well, this is true thing and it has been happening in the areas where i live in NY. occasionally we hear some stories of such things. i’ve even met a couple of gals who married immigrants for the sake of money, in turn they have guaranteed green card assistance

JWP
——————-
New York Immigration Lawyer Marina Shepelsky, located in Brooklyn, assists clients from the New York metro area and across the United States in all immigration and naturalization matters

Posted on 05/02/2008 at 6:34 AM

xx says:

I do not think the INS are very smart.  Lots of people come into the country on a working visa from a resort, marry an American and get their green card.  They present staged photos etc.  They put their names on each others bills etc.  So bills, leases, do not mean any thing.  What they need to do is delay the time a working permit to 10/12 months for those who came into the country on a H2 Visa, as well as extend the time for the first green card.  Once the first documents are filed people get a working permit in 3 or 4 months.

Posted on 08/25/2008 at 1:54 AM

Orlin says:

Hello.My name is Orlin.I’m interesting about green card.I’m Bulgarian citizen,but I’m living in Spain by 4 years.I have a job and spanish residen card.
I want to live and work in Miami.How can I get green card and can you help?I saw the website about dvd loterry green card,but I don’t like this system.If you can give me more information and I need of secure way to enter and work in Miami. Sincerely: ORLIN

Posted on 08/28/2008 at 11:23 AM

Green Card says:

Great Story, thank you Matt , I agree with Mirna this article reflects a sad reality. In our live we can face some pain reality.

Posted on 10/24/2008 at 4:10 PM

Iveni says:

The reality is that Legal residents (f1/h1b etc..) who are legally here find it impossible to become a resident legally that he/she ends up pushed into the same line as those who haven’t been here or legally aren’t here. Vast numbers of those who gain residency are those who haven’t lived in the United States or are illegals compared to those who have lived here by working, completed their high school or college here for many years. Whats even sad is many who get their green card run back to their countries and end up sprouting their green card tree among their family members like Christmas gifts.

The Government realize how the green card is being exploited by “those who aren’t legally here or even in the United States(F1/j1/h1b etc etc)” thus making it hard for legal residents (F1/h1b/j1 etc etc) who want to become permanent residents or citizens.

Its high time this nation be a nation of immigrants who care about the nation

Posted on 03/12/2009 at 4:30 PM

Jul says:

Hi,Im Jul me and my boyfriend are planning on getting married in the next couple weeks, we love eachother but he is away in the military but we still want to get married so we could move in together and have a life together, but i really dont know how exactly we could do to prove that we have a life together if in the mean time i am waiting for the approval of the temporary green card we would have to be away, what exactly we would have to do to prove that we really are together>.? and also wut if we dont want like a big wedding kind of thing and just go to city hall. all we want is to get married and be together, but in order for us to do it is by us getting married at once and apply for the green card, do u guys think taht because we prolly wont have like a ceremony and everythin for our wedding taht would affect us in any way?

Posted on 07/02/2009 at 1:30 AM

The Desperate Call says:

Hi, Im a Greek Citizen currently living and working in Greece. Ive studied in NY and i wanted to stay for work after my studies.Unfortunately i wasnt able to find sth soon and i came back.Lately ive been thinking very seriously abt moving back to the US (either NY or Miami-cant stand the winter) and although i once again started applying for jobs in order to get an H1 as soon as they read on my Resume that im not a citizen they completely ignore me. Then i stopped putting that lil piece of info there and start getting replies. I got calls and and even interview offers, however as soon as i was telling them u may have to sponsor me, they were all gong like. “U CRAZY? ITS THE RECESSION, U KNOW? THOUSANDS OF US CITIZENS R LAID OFF AND WELL SPEND MONEY TO SPONSOR FOREIGNERS?”
So although i can find a job and survive there, once i have a work permit (ive 2 masters) i dont know how to get one. So guys seriously if u feel that u could help pls drop me a line. Everything will b discussed at the privacy of PMs or any other way u prefer.
Thnx everyone in advance

Posted on 07/06/2009 at 9:40 AM

be careful says:

I hear all of you guys….I was on student visa ever since I moved to NY for college. Now I am working on H1/work visa. Last year I got married to the guy who I dated through out my college years. He is an US citizen. So we applied for my green card and we have to go over the interview with the INS very soon. Our attorney had been telling me horror stories about how INS at times gives legitimate couples a hard time because INS thinks they are posing to be a couple just to get the green card. My attorney is making us print out our last 6months phone bill, every email we ever wrote to each other, our facebook pages etc. He even suggested that my husband put me on his medical insurance even though it’s cheaper for us to use the medical insurance that I get through work. It’s a gruesome and lengthy process. If I had know about this before, I would have waited till my work decided to sponsor me the green card. I just want to advise everyone who is thinking about going for a “green card” marriage: be careful. They can deport you and fine the US citizen something like $250,000

Posted on 07/16/2009 at 4:04 PM

john says:

ahaha, what bullocks here. they will never find someone of 250’000, pbecasue people dont have this money. and they never put you in jail becasue jail are already full.

they can only delay the green card.
manu of my friends paid for white marriage , and no propblem.

Posted on 06/28/2010 at 2:26 AM

Kirstin says:

Well my experience was the opposite of John’s (#12).  When my Romanian husband and I married (I met him here in the US while he was on an H-1b visa), we waited several months and then applied for permanent residency.  By then we had a joint checking account, I was on his credit card, we had filed taxes together, and - I think this was key - we were able to buy a house together.  Clearly we were tied together financially.  We also brought pictures and letters from relatives, but honestly all INS cared about was the financial stuff, i.e. did this guy have leverage over me.  It also didn’t hurt that he was making far more money than I was.  After the 3-year probationary period, we got a letter saying that INS didn’t even want to do the second interview, and here’s your green card.  We never hired a lawyer; it was easy as pie.  So my advice is, entangle your finances.  That will convince INS like nothing else (and for good reason!).

Posted on 08/06/2010 at 4:04 PM

nauman says:

i want marry with american girl,any age any colour

Posted on 04/20/2011 at 6:17 AM

crystal says:

my name is gail and i would have no problem marryng to help someone

Posted on 05/25/2011 at 1:27 PM

D says:

gail are you sure that you have no problem to marry any one for help.i want your help to get green card of USA. Would yoo marry me and help to get green card

Posted on 08/29/2011 at 11:28 PM

Dee says:

well did crystal gail and D get married? i’d have no problem marrying for someone to stay in the usa.

Posted on 01/06/2012 at 3:36 PM

Chase says:

Hey guys, i have a Bachelor degree from US in Biology and a Medical Doctor degree from abroad. trying to get everything straight and am looking for some one to marry for a green card. i will be able to pay all the expenses and monthly amount as a contract, if desired. i really need help…

Posted on 04/29/2012 at 11:02 PM

chan says:

i want marry anytype of american girl,but only for green card,i will pay money,plz help me.

Posted on 06/02/2012 at 2:30 PM

marie says:

hi guys i’d like to live and work in the us , i live in egypt and i’d like to move to the us nd get a green card by marrying an american man, will someone help me do so?

Posted on 07/07/2012 at 3:27 PM

ashley says:

Chase please contact me i know someone

Posted on 09/14/2012 at 12:01 AM

Fabian says:

Ashley do u know someone?

Posted on 09/18/2012 at 11:56 PM

brian says:

ill marry someone for a greencard but what do i get out of it

Posted on 02/03/2013 at 6:51 AM

chris says:

Ill marry a woman as well. Feel fee to contact me

Posted on 06/30/2013 at 2:54 AM

chris says:

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) just messege me there

Posted on 06/30/2013 at 3:01 AM

Lynne says:

How come no one wants to be a Canadian?

Posted on 07/21/2013 at 6:20 PM

Shakti says:

Hi I’ m available to help a man who wants to get a green card . Only if you can easily afford all the expenses. Send me a message with ur contact.

Posted on 09/15/2013 at 12:45 PM

Ali says:

Hi, name’s Ali and I have absolutely no problem in marrying any girl that would need help in getting the green card. (as long as you can cover all the expenses). Prices are negotiable. Been a US citizen for quite some time now. Shoot me an email for additional information.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted on 01/25/2014 at 7:07 PM

Sharon rossano says:

Send me an email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you are a man needing to get married for a green card. Maybe we can work something out!

Posted on 01/25/2014 at 9:35 PM

sarah james says:

Hi im a uk english white lady and i would not have a problem marrying a man so he could get a green card

Posted on 02/24/2014 at 6:01 PM

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