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Violence Against Women Act Bigamy Exception

Crop close up focus of African American woman show palm hand against violence toward women

As a general matter, foreign persons married to a U.S. citizen or resident seeking visas and work authorizations -- a green card -- must have the help and assistance of their U.S. resident spouse. But, in general, if the marriage is invalid, then the marriage cannot be used to obtain a visa, green card, or other immigration benefits.

However, there is an exception to this general rule created by the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA"). The VAWA was enacted to protect immigrants from domestic abuse and violence. However, the VAWA has other protections including protection for those who find themselves in a bigamous marriage. Bigamy exists when one person is married to more than one person. Typically, it is the husband that has more than one wife. Under U.S. laws, bigamous marriages are invalid. As such, under the general rule stated above, a bigamous marriage cannot be used to obtain a visa, green card, or other immigration benefits. But, as noted, the VAWA makes an exception where:

  • The foreign-resident spouse -- the wife -- seeking immigration benefits became married but, at the time of the marriage, was unaware that the U.S.-resident spouse -- husband -- was already married
  • There was an actual marriage ceremony
  • Except for the bigamy, the marriage would otherwise be valid

If these conditions are met, then the bigamous marriage will NOT be a bar to the wife seeking to obtain a visa, green card, or other immigration benefits. Under these conditions, visa and work authorization approvals can be granted. Further, if the bigamous husband is not willing to support the applications/petitions, the wife can apply for various immigration benefits without the support and/or involvement of the husband. That is, the wife can become a "self-petitioner."

Proving the Necessary Conditions

Generally, proving the first condition -- no knowledge of the other marriage -- can be done with a sworn statement that the wife did not know the husband was already married. But is it better to also show additional facts demonstrating that the second wife could not have known about the other wife? This might include providing facts to the immigration services that the husband engaged in deception -- such as any efforts to actively hide the other marriage -- and/or providing facts showing the unlikelihood of the wife's knowledge -- such as lack of contact with the husband's extended family or facts showing the other wife's residence in a foreign country and lack of contact with the husband.

Proving a legitimate marriage ceremony can be accomplished by photos, announcements, marriage licenses and certificates, and witness testimony. Proving that the marriage was otherwise legitimate can be done in the same manner as proving a marriage is legitimate for other immigration purposes. That is, facts related to courtship, marriage, joint living arrangements, joint ownership of property, the raising of children, etc.

Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today

For more information, contact the Orange County Immigration Attorneys at Yekrangi & Associates today. You are not alone and we will fight for you. Yekrangi & Associates works to meet a higher standard. Our first goal is your satisfaction. Contact us at (949) 478-4963 to schedule a consultation or complete our convenient “Get Your Consultation” form here. We are located in Irvine, California.
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