At Disney World, some buy a fast pass to skip the queue. For a fast pass to U.S. citizenship, some marry an American citizen. Generally, immigrants must be green card holders for five years before applying for citizenship. However, when married to a U.S. citizen, an immigrant can apply for citizenship after three years.
K-1 Visas, often referred to as “Fiancé Visas,” permit U.S. Citizens to bring their foreign fiancés to the U.S. for 90 days to marry. Once married, the couple can apply for Adjustment of Status, i.e., an application to become a green card holder. If approved, a provisional green card will be issued. The provisional green card is then valid for two years. After two years of marriage, the couple may file a petition to make the green card permanent. Even if the couple divorces during the two-year period, a foreign spouse can still request a permanent green card if he/she can demonstrate that the marriage was entered into in good faith. If a couple is married for three years, the immigrant spouse can apply for citizenship.
In January 2014, The Learning Channel launched a reality television show that is called “The 90 Day Fiancé”. Today, in its 10th season, the show focuses on the relationships of U.S. citizens and their foreign fiancés during the 90-day K-1 Visa period. While the show highlights the drama resulting from these couples’ cultural differences and language barriers, the show raises a question. Are these relationships born of love or opportunity?
Consider, for example, a woman from northwest Ohio who appeared on the show in 2014. Danielle Mullins married Mohamad from Tunisia, almost twenty years her junior. Throughout the show, the young man does not conceal his disdain for her or the fact that he entered the relationship to gain U.S. residency. Two months after receiving his green card, he left Danielle and moved to Florida. His departure and other objectionable behaviors led Danielle to pursue an action for annulment, with the hope that annulment would later result in deportation. After a hearing where her spouse appeared as a pro se litigant, an Ohio Court denied Danielle’s annulment action but granted the parties a divorce.
To this day, the man remains in the U.S. Amidst the emotion and drama, Danielle yells to her now ex-husband that even though he used her to obtain a green card, she remains financially responsible for him.
What was Danielle referring to? The divorce court did not require her to pay him spousal support. What financial obligation could she have once they divorced and he left Ohio?
This show fails to explain the financial responsibilities imposed by law on the sponsoring American. When a U.S. citizen brings a fiancé to the U.S. on a K-1 visa, the U.S. citizen is required to sign an Affidavit of Support. This financial obligation is not a spousal support obligation based on spousal obligations under state law. The financial obligation of the sponsoring American is to the federal government. The purpose is to ensure that an immigrant spouse will not enter the U.S. and become the public’s responsibility by way of public assistance. The sponsoring, American 90-day fiancé’s obligation cannot be avoided through a Prenuptial Agreement with the immigrant fiancé or in the terms of a final divorce decree.
The obligation is significant and applies even if the immigrant spouse does not act in bad faith, e.g., he/she cannot obtain or maintain employment due to language barriers, educational deficiencies, or poor health. There are a whole host of legitimate reasons why a well-meaning person might be unemployed. Nonetheless, a sponsor cannot dismiss the potential for exploitation. After all, Danielle’s husband entered the U.S. under false pretense, what would stop him (or a likeminded individual) from availing himself of all legal benefits conferred upon him by his status?
In the Affidavit of Support (1-864), the U.S. citizen agrees to provide financial support to the immigrant spouse until the spouse obtains U.S. citizenship or until the immigrant spouse has worked for 40 qualifying quarters (10 years). If the immigrant has dependents, the sponsor’s responsibility also extends to them. If the marriage ends in divorce and the immigrant spouse does not have a job, the American citizen must support the immigrant spouse per the terms of the Affidavit of Support. This applies regardless of whether state law would impose a spousal support obligation in the context of a divorce. The U.S. citizen is required to support the immigrant spouse at an income level of 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. This obligation is quantified by multiplying the federal guideline amount by 1.25. The specific guideline amount varies based on household size and location. For example, the annual federal poverty line for a single Ohioan in 2023 was $14,580 ($1,215/month). Further, if the immigrant spouse ever receives certain public assistance, the government may seek reimbursement from the U.S. citizen spouse. On the bright side, if the divorced foreign spouse obtains citizenship, dies, or leaves the U.S., the obligations imposed by the Affidavit of Support abate.
The 90 Day Fiancé, a fairytale with an unhappy ending!
For more information on Family Law contact Mary Sotera at 216-621-7860.