A sham marriage is a union that was entered into fraudulently for the purposes of obtaining immigration benefits. If you get married because you want to become an American, and that is the basis for the marriage rather than a love story, your marriage is a sham.
Not every person who marries a US citizen can obtain a green card and citizenship ultimately. Those who marry for the benefit exclusively will be denied if their fraud is suspected and uncovered. The consequences could be dire, including deportation and incarceration.
Proof of a Union
When a couple gets married and the foreign national applies to adjust immigration status, they submit documentation and other evidence of their union and its valid basis. They may show photos, bills, joint bank account statements, housing information, and other proofs that should indicate they are telling the truth. An immigration officer will review the file and speak to the couple at an adjustment interview.
If the officer suspects fraud, based on the file or the interview or both, the couple can be called to a Stokes interview, also known as a fraud interview. During this meeting, each person will speak to the immigration officer individually, and based on these exchanges, an officer may determine that the marriage is fraudulent or real.
Sometimes couples who really married for love do find themselves proving the truth of their union at a Stokes interview. The opposite is also true, a couple in a sham marriage may be well prepared and never face a fraud interview.
Types of Fraud
There is more than one way to trick the government. A foreign national may pay to marry an American or an American may marry a non-citizen as a favor. Either way, that is illegal. Similarly, if a foreign national tricks a citizen into marrying, the marriage may be deemed a fraud even if the American in the couple thought the union was legitimate. Whenever one or both spouses enters into the marriage knowing the intent is to obtain benefits, that marriage will be deemed a sham, benefits will be denied, and punishment follows.