Sham Marriages and US Marriage Fraud: Thailand

by admin on April 30, 2010

The sentencing earlier this year in Seattle’s U.S. District Court of Varee Bradford, the owner of a chain of Thai restaurants, to six months’ imprisonment for arranging sham marriages, has turned the spotlight on marriage fraud as a means of circumventing the provisions of American immigration law to allow foreign nationals to secure a prized “green card” or permanent residency in the United States.

Bradford, herself an immigrant to the US of fifteen years standing, had pleaded guilty in October 2009 to Conspiracy to Commit Immigration Fraud, and three counts of Fraud Relating to Immigration Documents. Her indictment followed a three year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She admitted offering payments of $10,000 to $20,000 to American citizens who were employees of her restaurant chain to marry her Thai-born relatives to make it easier for them to stay in the country.

Almost 2.5 million foreign nationals gained a green card and permanent US residency or LPR (lawful permanent residency status) between 1998 and 2007 by marrying American citizens. In 2006-2007 this was the preferred route for LPR, and accounted for 27 percent of foreign citizens who acquired this status.

The pathway to a green card via marriage to a US citizen is a relatively straightforward procedure.  Applicants for either a foreign fiancée K1 immigrant visa or a foreign spouse K3 immigrant visa follow a similar process. If the documentation is in order, background checks and preliminary local embassy interview and medical examination reports are satisfactory the petition by the American citizen will be approved. An immigrant visa and a conditional green card are issued to the foreign national after a satisfactory visa interview.

Marriage Fraud under the INA

As the law currently stands, marriage fraud is covered by Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 237(a)(1)(G), 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(G).

Any alien who enters into a marriage for the sole or primary purpose of evading U.S. Immigration law is deemed to have engaged in marriage fraud and is inadmissible on that basis.

Despite the publicity around the recent marriage fraud conviction and sentencing of Varee Bradford there are a number of difficulties in identifying the actual levels of such fraud. Although the internet is awash with truly heart-wrenching stories of US citizens duped by unscrupulous Thai ‘gold diggers’, there is a paucity of disaggregated statistical data relating to marriage fraud.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not keep data on the numbers of people prosecuted for marriage fraud. In 2003-2004 although 40,819 people faced immigration charges, only three percent of these charges were related to citizenship, and the number involving marriage fraud is unknown.

The Case of Thailand

What is more, when we consider the absolute number of Thais residing in the United States we can only conclude that the individuals who are involved in marriage fraud – however distressing it is to those who become victims – are miniscule in number.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2007 American Community Survey Estimates, 126,312 foreign-born Thais were resident in the U.S., of whom only 60,703 were not already U.S. citizens. This number represents fewer than 0.2% of the U.S. population. In 2007, a total of 274,358 provisional green cards were issued to foreign nationals. How many of these were Thais is not known, but it is certain to have been a very small proportion.

According to many US immigration lawyers in Thailand, as well as immigration advocacy groups, marriage fraud is “exceedingly rare” and it can generally be identified during the interview processes. Some, however, believe that one red flag of the potential for marriage fraud relates to the inability of couples to communicate in a common language. Consequently the American Embassy in Bangkok has commenced interviewing many local Thai visa applicants only in English and may also request additional proof of relationship documentation as a possible deterrent to the abuse of the immigration system.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Maryann Myers March 8, 2011 at 2:19 am

My brother is about to become involved in this type of scam. He is in poor health and feeling very much alone. He no longer has the capacity to make decisions that are in his best interest. His Thi neighbor is talking him into going to Thailand to marry her sister so she can come here. He has already sent her money, of which he doesn’t have much as he is living on social security in a one room apartment. She has already taken him to get his passport. What can I do to stop him from going. Is there any action that can be taken against the neighbor. Thank you for your help

john moller May 16, 2012 at 12:06 am

I have reported Daniel Joseph Sun Souang who is committing on going Marriage fraud in an effort to collect his Thai wifes sons social security benefits. He entered into a fraudulent marriage for the sole purpose of collecting his wife’s sons SS benefits for more than 10 yrs while living in Hua Hua Thailand. Daniel Joseph Sun Souang is 74 yrs of age and a greedy self serving PRICK.

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