Incomplete Indian Marriage Ceremony Can Result in Permanent Bar to Enter U.S.

In recent months, attorneys at the Murthy Law Firm have been hearing from a number of people who have had their applications for dependent visas (e.g., F-2, H-4) denied. The cases involve visa applications filed prior to the couple’s completion of all of the marriage formalities required under the Hindu Marriage Act in India. It appears that there may be “visa consultants” in India who are recommending this potentially fraudulent practice that could result in severe immigration penalties for both the principal and dependent spouses.

Relying on Incorrect Advice is not considered an Innocent Mistake

The fact scenarios reported to the Murthy Law Firm for these marriages vary, but typically involve a number of common elements. A foreign national in the United States, in lawful status (e.g., H1B, F-1), becomes engaged to an Indian citizen living in India, after meeting through the families in what is referred to as “an arranged marriage” process. The couple and their parents plan a large traditional wedding ceremony in India, but it cannot take place for a number of months. Meanwhile, the couple has a small ceremony, complete with a Hindu priest and a few close family members – often because a family member is old and possibly gravely ill, which is why a small, rushed ceremony is performed. The couple, however, does not perform all of the necessary rituals required for a valid marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, such as the ritual of Saptapadi, where the couple traditionally takes seven steps before the sacred fire. After completing only a part of the process for a valid marriage under Indian law, the couple then applies for and obtains a marriage certificate from the local government authority.

U.S. Consulates in India View Partial Marriage Ceremonies as Fraudulent

As far as the officers at the U.S. consulates in India are concerned, these ceremonies are not considered to be valid legal marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act. The consular officers contend that these are illegitimate weddings being conducted for the purpose of allowing the dependent “spouse” to apply and obtain a dependent visa before being legally married.

Typical questions asked by consular officers in these circumstances are how many people attended the ceremony, whether the couple took any trips together, whether the wife moved into the husband’s parents’ home after the ceremony, and whether a larger ceremony has been planned for a later date. Then visa applicants may be asked to provide written statements in which they admit that they have not yet been married.

U.S. Consulates Consider Practice to be Fraud / Misrepresentation or Alien Smuggling

In such a case, the consular officer will likely deny the visa pursuant to Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) for committing fraud or misrepresentation, resulting in the applicant potentially becoming permanently barred from the United States. Moreover, a finding may be made against the principal spouse under INA § 212(a)(6)(E) for alien smuggling (i.e. assisting a foreign national to try to enter the U.S. unlawfully), which also results in permanent inadmissibility to the U.S.

Conclusion

Requirements under the Hindu Marriage Act are cumbersome and can be difficult to understand. Many in India may believe this type of incomplete wedding is of little consequence, given the complexity of the rituals, and not see it as an effort to defraud U.S. immigration officials. Consular officers, however, tend to view any shortcut like this as fraudulent practice designed to shorten the wait time to obtain a dependent visa. Those who consider having a small, impromptu wedding in India should consult with an attorney who specializes in this area of Indian law. To avoid devastating consequences, they should not depend on casual advice from friends or an “immigration consultant.”

 

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.
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