Citizenship Marriage

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Nancy: You realise it's only going to be an administrative procedure?
Jez: The happiest administrative procedure of our lives!

A marriage which occurs solely to allow an immigrant who would otherwise be deported to stay in the country.

Makes up 0.0041% of real-life marriages, and 38% of TV marriages.

Many a Sitcom has resorted to this, but the Soap Opera is not immune, either.

Shows operate on the assumption that once you've married a citizen, you're safe. In reality, becoming a permanent resident alien (a.k.a. getting your Green Card) can take months or worse (even after you're married) and getting actual citizenship takes years. In the US, UK, and some other European Union countries, marriage to a citizen lowers the time you have to have spent as a legal resident of the country to get citizenship from 5 years to 3. In Canada. the Canadian member of the couple can sponsor the non-Canadian member for family-class immigration after the couple are married or have cohabited for a year. (And yes, this applies to same-sex couples too.)

A slight variation is the insurance marriage, wherein an uninhibited, unemployable person without health insurance gets hitched to a working stiff with a good family benefits package, creating a pre-fabricated Odd Couple. If neither feels for the other, expect one to say "It Meant Something to Me" before long.

See also Mail Order Bride, which is a subtrope to some extent.

Examples of Citizenship Marriage include:


Fan Works[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Done in a fanfic by Gunwild where Balalaika has this done to Revy and Rock. Seeing how out of all the things criminal that happen in Roanapur, Immigration is the only thing the Taiwanese government won't look away so easily. It Makes Sense in Context.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in the climax of the film Out Of Rosenheim (Bagdad Café): the main character, a tourist willing to stay in the country she's visiting, is about to be kicked off the country. One of her Nakama then runs to her, proposing her to marry him so she can stay. The trick here is that's actually a completely romantic wedding since they had been flirting a lot before that but were actually too shy to admit their feelings. So immigration laws actually made their love story possible.
  • This trope is the whole premise of the romantic comedy Green Card. However, the movie played this in a semi-realistic way, making the couple marry without even meeting each other before for the same purely egotistical and convenience reasons that people do it in real life-- (he wants the residence; she, money and a document that proves her as married so she can rent her dream home). Even when they move in together in order to disguise the true nature of their relationship (and then fall in love with each other), they can't fool the Immigration Officers, and the movie ends with the (somewhat justifiable) deportation of the male protagonist.
  • Born in East LA stars Cheech Marin as a Mexican-American who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and deported. At the end, he manages to sneak back into the USA and hastily marries his new girlfriend so she will not be deported - she lives in Mexico but is from El Salvador and risks being sent back there as she has had her ID stolen.
  • An example of the Insurance Marriage variant was the recent Adam Sandler film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, where a pair of firemen (an irresponsible womanizing loon and a still somewhat morose widower) take advantage of a domestic partnership ruling to gain insurance for the latter's children.
  • Used in Paul Blart: Mall Cop to explain the titular character's daughter's Missing Mom: She had married Blart only for the green card and abandoned him and her daughter as soon as she was born.
  • Hide In Plain Sight: A criminal marries the ex-wife of the protagonist because the court will be more leniant on a married man (and because she couldn't be compelled to testify). He later disappears into Witness Protection, taking her (and the protagonists) children with him.
  • Les Noces du Papier (1990): A woman agrees to a marriage of convenience with a refugee who narrowly escaped an immigration officers' raid on the kitchen of a Montréal restaurant.
  • The Proposal (not to be confused with The Proposition) features an icy female editor who "marries" her very put-upon, younger male assistant so she won't be deported to Canada. Hilarity Ensues when they are forced to act as a couple in front of his family, who have been imploring him to leave her for some time.
  • In Muriels Wedding, where a South African swimmer needs an Australian wife to get a passport to enter the Olympics (at the time of the sporting boycott of South Africa). He marries Muriel, who gets the dream wedding she wanted, but not exactly the marriage - but it's not a typical romantic comedy.
  • The Wedding Banquet: Wei-wei agrees to a marriage of convenience with Wai-tung because it's the only way she'll get a green card.
  • In the Australian miniseries Marking Time, the protagonist offers to marry his Afghan girlfriend when her family is deported on a technicality. Their lawyer advises them that that would make absolutely no difference.
  • Nicole Kidman plays a Russian Mail-Order bride in Birthday Girl who was presumably motivated by this. Things get more complicated.
  • Ondine: at the end, Syracuse and Ondine marry so she can stay in Ireland, but they're basically in love anyway.
  • The ending of Michael Moore's documentary Sicko combines the citizenship and insurance variations by imploring American viewers to marry Canadians in order to take advantage of their universal health care system, even setting up a spoof website to this effect.
  • In Singles, Linda Powell considers using this to keep her new Spanish boyfriend in the country. Averted when it turns out he just uses the expired-visa story to keep from having to call his hookups after a week.
  • This is the backstory of the male lead in romantic comedy The Rebound, whose French wife leaves him after their marriage. He's too nice to divorce her as she would get deported.
  • Occurs in The Guard with Aiden and Gabriella. He's gay, and she married him for the visa.
  • Apparently the motivation of British bartender Monte in The Linguini Incident. He needs someone to marry him so he can get a Green Card.
  • In Ice House (1989), one character, a Greek immigrant, needs to marry Kay to become a permanent resident. Things get complicated when an old boyfriend also wants to marry Kay.
  • In Legalization (2006), the Liberian couple Jusu and Lorpu must find a husband for Lorpu so they can remain in the U.S. Things become difficult for the couple when the new man develops feelings for Lorpu.
  • Subverted in the film Like Crazy (2011). The main characters Jacob and Anna are actually romantically involved with each other, but Anna overstays her student visa and is banned from entering the U.S. She and Jacob get married in an attempt to get the ban lifted, but they still have to wait six months to see each other, and when the ban is finally lifted both Anna and Jacob have started seeing other people.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Averted in Nadine Gordimer's The Pickup. Julie asks if marrying her boyfriend, an illegal immigrant who goes by the name of Abdu, would help him stay in her country, and is told that it will not because the officials will recognize the ulterior motive behind such a marriage. Later inverted when Julie insists on going with Abdu to his home country and he relents with the condition that they marry so that he can present her to his family as a proper wife, not a freeloader.
  • Played with in the Agatha Christie short story Witness for the prosecution (later adapted into both a play and a movie). A man is accused of murder. His wife claims that she doesn't love him, she never did, and she has no qualms about becoming the titular witness. It then gets twisted around at least twice before the end.
  • Though for legal protection rather than immigration issues, this trope happens in Outlander between the main couple. Briefly again, later, too. Claire needs to be a British citizen again or somesuch, and Jamie is believed dead, so she marries Lord John. (Briefly.)
  • In the Star Trek: Vanguard novel Precipice, T'Prynne marries Pennington so her assumed identity can have Earth citizenship and freely leave Vulcan before the authorities realise who she is.
  • In Shanghai Girls, sisters Pearl and May plan to move to Hong Kong after all of their money is lost in a bet, instead of marrying their husbands who have moved to America. However, extenuating circumstances lead to Pearl and May going to America instead so they can live with their husbands and become citizens.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Prison Break: Nika Volek marries Michael to get her green card. This example is more realistic than other instances since Michael could have easily found a loophole in the law. If Michael could find the human traffickers who brought her into the United States and break out of prison; then fooling the INS would be easy.
  • Dear John: Ralph's Polish ex-wife married him for citizenship.
  • Javier on Felicity.
  • Emma on Dawson's Creek.
  • Diego on Jesse (such plotlines ended both seasons of the latter sitcom).
  • Antonio married Helen on Wings. They were later able to get an annulment when he became a citizen by other means.
  • Fez on That '70s Show, which treated it pretty realistic. After a last minute marriage with resident whore Laurie, who did it just for fun, a government agent comes in to interview the two and the Foremans to determine if the marriage is legit or not. Even once the agent determines it to be legit, Fez still later has to take a test to finally become an American citizen.
  • Rosario on Will and Grace (who goes one step further in the usual "fake marriage" department by marrying an openly gay man). They also had Grace marry one of Will's boyfriends for a green card, but they wind up annulled when it turns out the boyfriend is a jackass.
  • This was the entire premise of I Married Dora. The series lasted 13 episodes.
  • Randy and Catalina on My Name Is Earl. In a common twist, Randy is deeply in love with Catalina, but this is subverted when they consummate the marriage - Catalina does her best to make herself as unappealing as possible so as to make Randy fall out of love with her. It works, but she discovers too late that Randy is a very sensitive lover, and the episode ends with their roles reversed. Unfortunately, this is then never mentioned again.
  • The Drew Carey Show has Drew marry his boss, Mr. Wick, and they pretend to be gay lovers and get a domestic partnership in Vermont to prevent him from being deported back to England, and so that Drew got his job back.[1]
  • The entire premise of the shortlived Dom Com Billy (which was actually a spin-off from Head of the Class).
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch hilariously parodied this concept, with a couple attending marriage counseling only to find that the Eastern European wife has no interest in anything but getting the husband to sign papers proving she's legally married to him.
  • In the Mama's Family episode "Alien Marriage," Vinton, as a favor to his friend Claude, agrees to marry a Portuguese girl named Zenada to help her obtain a green card, but is talked out of it by Mama.
  • The UK soap opera Hollyoaks featured a storyline in which a character was forced to marry an illegal immigrant so he could stay in the country.
  • Subverted in The Daily Show, where John Oliver (British) and Jason Jones (Canadian, and real-life married to another Canadian who is also a Daily Show correspondent) try this after gay marriage became legal in California, and then find out that neither is a U.S. citizen. (However, because of DOMA they would not be eligible for Citizenship anyway, as it is a Federal Right)
  • In The Wayans Bros, Shawn marries an attractive African woman so she can get citizenship. The twist is that they have to convince the immigration official that they're actually in love, which they do by bickering Like an Old Married Couple. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Ben got into one of these on Reaper.
  • Christine and her Bermuda-born friend and business partner Barb enter a Lesbian Citizenship Marriage on The New Adventures of Old Christine.
    • Several months and several pointed complaints from gay rights groups later, the show finally addressed the reality that under current US law, a gay marriage isn't worth squat to the federal government, and Christine had to scramble to find another way to keep her friend in the country.
  • Jeremy and Nancy on Peep Show. Jeremy initially wants to take the marriage seriously, but Nancy isn't having any of it. In a later episode she is shown having forgotten that they ever got married at all.
  • On the UK Queer as Folk, one of the lesbian characters marries a (somewhat unpleasant) male friend so he can stay in the country, much to the displeasure of her girlfriend. In the end, the girlfriend conspires with Stuart and Nathan to send certain letters proving the bride is gay to the immigration authorities and get the man deported.
  • In Friends, Phoebe married an ice-dancer so he could stay in the country. Leading to a hilariously twisted Coming Out Story when he admitted he wasn't gay.
  • Nick and Rachel on Shortland Street are an example of the insurance variation of this trope, though it was student allowances rather than insurance that was the incentive for them to get married. While both were New Zealand citizens, they married so that they could defraud the government into giving them a student allowance. Ironically while they did not fall in love or even consumate the marriage (though they did come close when Rachel suffered a bout of Easy Amnesia), they remained legally married onscreen for four years, longer than any other marriage has lasted on the show to date (that is, not counting other married couples who were Put on a Bus).
  • Latka got one of these in the first season of Taxi. Later he had to get divorced from his prostitute "wife" in order to marry Simka.
  • Phil Mitchell in the UK soap Eastenders once married a woman so she could get citizenship. Naturally, this being Eastenders, complications arose when he needed to get a divorce to marry someone else.
    • Recently, Fatboy and Mercy. Made more complicated because Fatboy's doing it because he loves Mercy, while she remained oblivious up until the wedding day and is only doing it to stay in the country.
  • Pam goes through one of these on Martin for five thousand dollars. Naturally it gets annulled and she isn't paid
  • Parks and Recreation made a recurring story arc out of this trope. Early in the series, we're introduced to Tom's wife, a rich, attractive surgeon. Despite landing a wife who seems incredibly out of his league, Tom continues to make attempts at picking up women. Tom says it's because they have an open marriage, but soon it turns out that they don't love each other and it's actually a green card marriage. Only once they divorce does Tom realize he really loved her after all.
    • Also a bit of an inversion, in that Tom is Lithuanian Indian (his birth name is Darwish Sabir Ismael Gani) and his wife is white, but she's the one who needs the green card, not him.
  • Done in Days of Our Lives on more than one occasion. In fact, it's a favorite trope of Soap Operas. Almost inevitably, the twist is that one member of the couple is usually madly in love with their new spouse. . .who is equally in love with someone else. Complications typically ensue as the "in-love" spouse does everything he/she can to prolong the marriage, especially as the green card is processed and the marriage is no longer necessary for the person to stay in the US.
  • In the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "A Dick On One Knee", Sally is set to marry a French man, though Sally doesn't realize he is only marrying so he can legally stay in the country. When Sally finds out that he's an illegal alien, she says that the plan can't work because SHE'S an alien too (as in, an alien from outer space, but she doesn't clarify that point).
    • He, in fact, tells them outright that's a green card marriage early on, but they're too clueless about Earth to understand. And when the government gets him, the Solomons assume that he's a fellow extraterrestrial about to be subjected to They Would Cut You Up rather than deported.
  • One of these was a major plot point in the 4th season of Big Love. Manic Pixie Dream Wife Margene had one with hunky Serb Goran, ostensibly so that he could remain in the US with his real girlfriend Ana. Ana was pregnant with Margene's polygamist husband Bill's baby. While Margene swore up and down she was only doing it for Bill and the baby, it was also an elaborate Xanatos Gambit to let Margene keep her home shopping business by distancing herself from the polygamous marriage Bill was planning to out to the world at the conclusion of his Utah State Senate campaign. (Margene is not legally married to Bill, being his third wife, and is presented to the world at large as a successful single mom, thus she would have the most to lose by such an outing). It didn't help that Margene and Goran actually developed crushes on each other, and Ana basically invited Marg into an egalitarian polyamorous relationship. And Bill won and outed the family, with Margene and the other wives at his side. So now she could be facing immigration fraud charges. Its Complicated.
  • This is how Mac and Quon Le's marriage got started on Night Court. Mac only meant it as a quick stopgap to keep Quon Le from being exported until her paperwork could go through, but when he realized that a) she hadn't understood that and b) she was in love with him, he suggested that they should get to know each other better and see how things progressed from there. It soon turned into a solid relationship.
  • House does this in season 7 with an eastern European prostitute as part of his downward spiral caused by Cuddy breaking up with him. The woman seems to actually like him, however he lost interest in her and she hasn't been seen since the wedding.
    • She's been making more appearances lately, including one episode where she nearly got deported because the scam was found out.
  • Coronation Street has Tina McIntyre arranging for her boyfriend Graeme Proctor to marry her friend Xin Chiang so that Xin doesn't get deported to China, which leads Xin and Tina having to pretend to hate one another to keep up the charade that Xin stole Graeme from Tina.
  • During the Drop the Dead Donkey season 3 storyline involving a straight version of the trope (when George met Anna, a Polish immigrant who his colleagues went to extraordinary lengths to unmask) the trope was also inverted when Joy confessed to being asked by a Bolivian dissident to marry him. Joy being Joy, she was disgusted when it turned out to be a straight offer of love and romance.
  • In series two of Psychoville, Fag Hag Hattie is asked to do this so that her gay friend's boyfriend can remain in the country after his student visa expires.
  • A subplot of a Law And Order SVU episode in which the victim of the week was a Tibetan immigrant. The detectives suspect her husband, as he's vague about his alibi and when credit card records indicate that she had lunch with another man the day she was killed, they suspect her presumed lover as well. As it turns out, the detectives are wrong on all counts. The man was the husband's lover—the marriage was a sham in order to help her escape the horrific circumstances in her country. He'd lied about his whereabouts to cover up the fraud.
    • Another episode about the murder of an Eastern European mail-order bride implied that while most matches and marriages were good, some women often stayed in bad relationships, knowing that a divorce meant that they would be sent back to poverty-stricken conditions in their native country.
  • Dinosaurs: The government goes after four-leggers, saying they're taking two-legger jobs, and makes all four-leggers move back to their side of the swamp unless they're married to a two-legger. Monica (a Brontosaurus) gets married to Roy (a T-Rex type) in order to not have to move away.
  • Referenced during an episode of Goodness Gracious Me in a song called "Immigration", where a British Pakistani woman who has just married her Pakistani-born boyfriend has to convince the authorities that they did not get married solely so he can have citizenship.

Music[edit | hide]

  • In Belle and Sebastian's song, "The State I Am In":

I got married in a rush to save a kid from being deported
Now she's in love


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Is brought up in Gai-Gin. When Gin is about to be deported from Japan, she brings this trope up. The officer laughs...until he realizes that she's serious.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Rocko's Modern Life episode "Kiss Me, I'm Foreign" had Filburt pretend he was a woman so he could keep Rocko from being deported by pretending they were getting married. Of course, Fil ended up getting a little too into his role...
  • Averted in The Simpsons: Homer tries to convince Selma to marry Apu but fails, leading them to look into other ways to keep him in the country.

Selma: Listen, my name is already Selma Bouvier-Terwilliger-Hutz-McClure. That's long enough without Nahasapema--whatever! From now on I'm only getting married for love--and maybe once more for money.

Mexican woman: Stop! You promised to marry me!
Jay: All right, but I've got to tell you, I'm only marrying you to get to Cuba.
Mexican woman: Well I am only marrying you for citizenship!
Jay: (Starts crying) This is the most honest, caring relationship I've ever been in.

  • In the Drawn Together episode "Foxxy vs. the Board of Education", Spanky Ham gay married Xandir in order to obtain free health insurance.
  • In one episode of Producing Parker, Parker agrees to marry her boss so he can stay in the country. In the end, it turns out the boss was already a citizen.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Drew Barrymore's weeklong marriage to Welsh bartender Jeremy Thomas was mostly a sham so he could become a citizen. Apparently, they remain friends.
  • One step in the Standard Practice for the US: any couple trying to invoke the marriage angle for keeping the non-citizen in the country is a marriage interview; the couple is (separately) asked questions that genuinely married couples would be able to answer, as well as some trick questions that tend to indicate a suspicious level of over-preparedness. Effectively, an episode of The Newlywed Game in which the Consolation Prize is deportation from the country. If DHS decides the marriage is a sham, the foreigner is deported and the US citizen faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $100,000 fine. This may explain why this trope only seems to work in sitcoms.
  • CS Lewis and Joy Gresham: Interesting in that it's an example from real life of the 'married for practicality, fell in love later' variety. Gresham's death from cancer four years after the "proper" marriage they had to cement their feelings had a deep effect on Lewis, leading him to write A Grief Observed. He raised her two sons as his own until his death three years later.
  • William S. Burroughs' first marriage, to Ilse Klapper, was officiated in Croatia solely to help her escape from Nazi Germany - the two were never romantically involved, and eventually divorced after she managed to gain citizenship, but remained friends afterwards.
  • WH Auden (who was gay) married Erika Mann, a German Jewish lesbian, in the 1930s so she could get British citizenship and leave Nazi Germany. They were friends, and remained technically married until she died, but obviously there was no romance involved.
  • Truth in Television for this Guyanese couple on The People's Court. The husband lived in America, but went back to Guyana for a funeral where he met his future wife. This woman took care of his elderly mother, and to repay her he married her to bring her to the U.S. He did love her, but bringing her to the States was the main reason for marrying her. This actually happens, though it's not extremely common due to the security measures.
  • Terry McMillan, author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, based the book on her own marriage to a Jamaican stud half her age that she met on vacation. However, a couple years after the release of the film adaptation, the couple divorced after she found out he was gay and only married her to get out of Jamaica, as the country is notoriously homophobic.
  • Anna Chapman (née Анна Васильевна Кущенко, Anna Vasil’yevna Kushchyenko), one of a group of ten Russian SVR spies unmasked by the FBI in 2010, married British subject Alex Chapman in 2002 – only to divorce in 2006. The UK revoked her British citizenship in the wake of the deportation of the group to Russia for espionage.
  • A family was arrested in 2011 for arranging fake marriages for illegal immigrants. They allegedly recruited homeless people and drug addicts to marry illegal immigrants in order to bring them to the country.
  1. In real life, this would not have worked in the era when the episode aired (before the infamous "Defense of Marriage Act" and well before the 2013 Edie Windsor Supreme Court ruling provided federal recognition of same-sex marriage nationwide). Gay couples could not get US citizenship by marriage for their partners with registered domestic partnership or anything short of legal same-sex marriage, making this a large case of Did Not Do the Research / Artistic License: Law.