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I Entered Illegally But Married a U.S. Citizen. Can I Get a Visa?

M Mathew Law Firm, PLLC Feb. 17, 2023

Marriage to a U.S. citizen can provide a pathway to obtaining lawful permanent residence for some individuals who entered the United States illegally. However, there is no guarantee that an individual who entered the country illegally will be eligible for a visa if they marry a U.S. citizen, so it’s essential to understand the process involved before taking any steps toward applying for one. 

As an immigration attorney at M Mathew Law Firm, PLLC, I help individuals who entered the country illegally explore their options for getting a visa, including through marriage to a U.S. citizen. From my office in Dallas, Texas, I provide support and legal guidance to immigrants throughout the state, including Irving, Richardson, Garland, Farmers Branch, Lewisville, Mesquite, and Grand Prairie.  

Basic Eligibility for a Visa  

In order to obtain a visa after marrying a U.S. citizen, the individual must first meet the basic eligibility requirements:  

  • The couple must be legally married, and their marriage must not have been entered into solely in order to obtain immigration benefits;  

  • The couple must prove that they have an ongoing marital relationship;  

  • The individual must not have committed any crimes or have engaged in other activities that might make them ineligible for immigrant status; and 

  • The individual must not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States. 

It is highly recommended that people who enter the country and wish to apply for a visa seek legal counsel before attempting to file any applications with U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  

Possible Consequences of Entering the Country Illegally  

Entering the United States without permission can have serious consequences, both legally and personally. Depending on the specifics of your situation, you may face different penalties for being unlawfully present in the country or entering the U.S. multiple times illegally. 

If you are in the United States without permission for a period of more than one year, then you may be barred from re-entering the country for up to 10 years (sometimes longer). This penalty means that if you leave the U.S. voluntarily or are deported, you will not be able to return for at least 10 years after your departure date. This penalty applies even if you were unaware that you were unlawfully present when you left or if your stay was due to circumstances outside of your control, such as an expired visa or an emergency situation.  

If you enter the United States illegally multiple times, then you may also face severe penalties, including imprisonment and hefty fines. Additionally, if it is determined that entering illegally was done knowingly and willingly with no regard to U.S. laws, then this could lead to criminal charges, which can result in jail time and deportation back to your home country.  

Your Options for Applying for a Visa  

Depending on your situation, there are certain exceptions that can allow you to change your status if you entered the country illegally: 

  1. Exceptions that allow you to adjust status. The first option is to apply for a visa under certain exceptions that can allow you to stay and adjust your status without leaving the country. This includes situations such as if you were under 18 years of age when you entered the country or if you were a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking. Finally, if you have been granted deferred action by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), then this exception could also apply.  

  1. Leave before 180 days of illegal stay. Another option is to leave before 180 days of illegal stay in order to avoid any potential consequences that could arise from staying longer than 180 days in the U.S. illegally. This could involve leaving voluntarily and returning with an approved visa or another travel document. Leaving the country would help ensure that an individual has not triggered any bars from an adjustment of status due to their illegal entry into the United States. 

  1. Waivers of your unlawful presence. The final option is to apply for a waiver of your unlawful presence in order to be able to adjust your status despite having previously entered illegally into the country. There are several types of waivers available depending upon an individual’s eligibility and circumstances, such as extreme hardship waivers.  

Consult with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss which exceptions, waivers, or other options are available to you in your particular situation.  

Work With an Experienced Immigration Attorney 

If you entered the United States illegally and wonder about your options for getting a visa, do not hesitate to contact my office. At M Mathew Law Firm, PLLC, I help immigrants understand their rights and options. Contact me today to request a free consultation.