There's a Steady Flow of New Spouses Among Those Migrating to the U.S.

By David North on November 28, 2011

We noted in a recent blog that the official viewpoint towards visa-creating marriages is considerably more welcoming in the U.S. – probably too much so – than in the U.K.

With that in mind, it may be useful to note the size of the five principal flows of alien brides and grooms into legal immigration status in the U.S. In recent years, the number of aliens getting permanent resident alien status because of marriage has ranged from 264,000 to 317,000, a sizeable portion of the annual flow of legal migrants to the U.S. (See the table below.)

To whom are these new arrivals married? To a surprising degree these are citizen-alien marriages, not alien-alien marriages, with many of the citizens being naturalized ones, of course.

I suppose this is understandable, because there are far more citizens of the U.S. than permanent resident aliens, so one might expect that the first group would bring more overseas spouses to the U.S. than the second; on the other hand a much larger percentage of the permanent resident aliens must have spent a more significant part of their lives in other countries than the citizens did, and might be expected to have a higher percentage of their romantic attachments linked with aliens than citizens would.

Those two factors, however, do not balance off, at all, with more than 13/14ths of the spouses with the new green cards in 2010 heading into the arms of citizens rather than into those of PRAs, as the data at the top of the table indicate.

The other major finding from the table is that most of the spouses are not new arrivals at all; they are in the nation in some other status (legal or illegal) and so, in immigration-speak, they "adjust status" here, rather than come through the ports of entry.

There are some children involved in these migrations as well, but since most people are childless when they marry, those numbers are relatively modest (and not always easy to find).

We know that with the relatively modest annual flows of fiancé(e)s that while the adults number just about 30,000 a year, the alien spouses bring with them about 4,500 children from earlier liaisons, or about .15 child per alien spouse on average.

In terms of immigration policy and administration, the new brides and grooms of citizens are a population unlikely to be reduced by any new laws or regulations, the political attraction of this group being so powerful. What might be done, however, as implied in the previous blog, is to administer the law rather more carefully, and for our officials to be more alert than they seem to be to the incidence of marriage fraud, a subject covered in another recent blog.

The table also suggests the visa-creating technique that is most likely to be subject to fraud, and that is the program that grants green cards to aliens marrying citizens, the first of the five listed marriage-related pathways to legal status in the U.S.

This is the case because it is much the most traveled path, as the table indicates, but it also has a simpler process than all the others, and lacks the waiting periods that are hallmarks of the program for spouses of PRAs.

Did you ever hear of a marriage fraud case involving a K-3 or V-1 visa, two of the minor pathways used by some seeking visas through marriage and mentioned in the table? No? Neither have I.

In general, visa-creating marriages turn out to be much more numerous, more complex in their pathways, and more of a challenge to authorities that I had realized when I first started writing these blogs a couple of weeks ago.

Visas Created by Migrating Spouses and Fiancé(e)s, FYs 2008-2010
FY 2008
FY 2009
FY 2010
Spouses of US Citizens264,062317,129271,909
Spouses of PRAs (2FA)35,60826,62220,635
Immigrant totals 296,670343,751292,544
% of all immigrants27.1%30.4%28.1%
Fiancé(e)s of USCs (K-1)29,91627,75430,445
Nonimmigrant Visa for Spouses of USCs (K-3)12,84912,93725,615
Nonimmigrant Visa for Spouses of PRAs (V-1)3,6092,4823,620
Nonimmigrant totals46,07443,17359,680

Note: Data above are calculated from Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics for the years shown (tables 7 and 25). The total admissions of these nonimmigrants and of these immigrants are not to be summed, as the nonimmigrant admissions will usually become immigrant admissions later. Data on immigrants reflect the total of both admissions from overseas and adjustments of status of spouses already in the U.S.; adjustments are more common than admissions from overseas, for example, among the 271,909 spouses of USCs securing status in 2010, 58.3 percent of them were adjustees. USC = U.S. citizen; PRA = Permanent Resident Alien (i.e., green card holder).