For countries where marrying a citizen rapidly accelerates the process of getting citizenship, are there any laws clarifying the terms under which this is legitimate?

For example, if it was believed that the marriage was only in order to gain citizenship, would it be rejected or is there no legal objection to this?


2 Answers 2


A mariage that is only made to get citizenship or a residence permit is illegal. The german legal term for it is "Scheinehe". This is defined as

Eine [Scheinehe] liegt dann vor, wenn das heiratswillige Paar offensichtlich keine Lebensgemeinschaft führt, sondern die Bestimmungen über Zulassung und Aufenthalt von Ausländerinnen und Ausländern umgehen will.

A sham marriage (see below for terminology) is on hand when the couple that requests the marriage obviously doesn't live in a partnership but wants to circumvent the laws about immigration and residence of foreigners.

The marriage registrar may deny the marriage, or it may even later be voided.

This source says that you can get a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years for this. If one even takes money to enter a fake marriage with someone, the sentence can be up to five years.

So, better wait for the right one ;-)

Terminology remark: It needs to be distinguished between the terms "Scheinehe" (english "sham marriage") and "Konvenienzehe" ("marriage of convenience"). The later is a marriage mostly to keep one's social status and is typically arranged by the parents. This is legal and was very common in former times. In some countries, e.g. in India, it is still common. It differs from the sham marriage by the fact that the social status of both spouses is the same.

  • The definition for Scheinehe (marriage of convenience) in Germany is similar. Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:54
  • A frequent term is "marriage of convenience," but that isn't a particularly good translation for Scheinehe (and indeed it can include marriages of social convenience). The usual term used for Auslander is foreigner; until recently the term was alien but this word seems to have become pejorative among younger generations, so it is typically avoided nowadays. Stranger typically means "a person who is not known." It was formerly used in the sense of "foreigner" but this is so outdated today that most people would probably misunderstand.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 11:43
  • @phoog Wikipedia uses the terms "sham marriage" or "fake marriage". What do you think of those?
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 11:55
  • They aren't much used as far as I'm aware (being familiar with US and UK law, but not overly so, and being unfamiliar with the relevant law of other English-speaking jurisdictions). But they're truer to the meaning of the German, obviously. I would prefer "sham" to "fake" as "fake" is more likely to imply that there was no marriage at all (e.g. a forged marriage certificate) whereas "sham" implies that there was a marriage but it was concluded under false pretenses.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:06
  • There have been cases in the UK. None that I heard of were “fake” (pretending you married when you didn’t) but many “sham” marriages where two people have no intention to be a married couple, but do it just to get legal advantages. A registrar in the UK must not perform the marriage if he knows or suspects it is a sham marriage, or they get into legal trouble as well.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 18:44

It depends on the jurisdiction where the marriage was concluded and on the jurisdiction where citizenship is sought.

In the United States, immigration and citizenship are controlled by federal law while marriage is not. Therefore, federal law says nothing about the validity of the marriage, but it prevents the parties in such a marriage from petitioning for immigration (8 USC 1154(c)):

no petition shall be approved if (1) the alien has previously been accorded, or has sought to be accorded, an immediate relative or preference status as the spouse of a citizen of the United States or the spouse of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, by reason of a marriage determined by the Attorney General to have been entered into for the purpose of evading the immigration laws, or (2) the Attorney General has determined that the alien has attempted or conspired to enter into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws.

Furthermore, entering into a marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws is a felony under 8 USC 1325(c).

Whether the marriage itself could be invalidated is a complex question depending on where the marriage was concluded and on where the couple resides. For example, if the couple had been married in Switzerland (covered in another answer), would the desire to circumvent foreign immigration law satisfy Switzerland's definition of Scheinehe? If so, could the marriage be invalidated in Switzerland? If so, could it be invalidated in Switzerland even if neither party to the marriage were Swiss nor any longer a resident of Switzerland?

  • Good questions you raise there. I'll try to find some sources on this, but I guess this could be difficult. It will probably depend on how long the couple lived in Switzerland. I don't know what other requirements there are for a marriage (e.g. whether it generally needs a residence permit of at least one spouse).
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:34
  • @PMF I meant those questions primarily rhetorically, to demonstrate that it's really impossible to answer generally since there can be many different jurisdictions involved. I suppose Switzerland wouldn't purport to invalidate a marriage that had been concluded elsewhere for the purpose of circumventing Swiss immigration or residence law, but surely they would refuse to recognize it, either altogether or at least for the purpose of immigration or residence.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:50
  • 1
    @hszmv It's a bit complicated (for historical reasons, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_of_origin). The most important citizenship is actually that of the municipality. Details differ, but you can typically apply for that after having lived a few years in a municipality. As a Swiss citizen, you don't have to, and nowadays there are not many benefits in being a citizen of the municipality you live in. In fact, probably most people have never lived in the municipality they call their place of origin, they just inherited it.
    – PMF
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 14:35
  • 1
    "Whether the marriage itself could be invalidated is a complex question depending on where the marriage was concluded and on where the couple resides." In all U.S. jurisdictions that I am aware of, an intent to circumvent immigration laws is not a basis to annul an otherwise valid marriage.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 18:26
  • 1
    Per Wikipedia, in the U.S. "In the 2009 fiscal year, 506 of the 241,154 petitions filed were denied for suspected fraud, a rate of only 0.2%." Wikipedia doesn't mention it, but this low denial rate does not reflect a fairly high rate at which petitions are delayed but not denied because immigration officials require more proof of marriage validity, or the extent to which the conduct of petitioners applying via marriage is influenced to create proof of a valid marriage that would otherwise not have been done (e.g. marriage ceremony arrangements and photos, or documenting where a spouse lives).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 18:33

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