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Will USCIS recognize a religious or traditional marriage?

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2022 | Family Based Immigration

You’re a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, and your spouse is seeking to immigrate to this country – but there’s just one problem: You don’t have a civil record of your marriage, which is what the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) expects. In your country of origin, religious or traditional marriages are the norm, so civil records are either rare or nonexistent.

What can you do? Well, the good news is that religious and traditional marriage can be recognized for the purposes of immigration. The bad news is that each case is individually decided – and it’s on you and your spouse to provide proof that your marriage is valid.

The “place-of-celebration” rule and your evidence

Generally speaking, a marriage is valid for the purposes of immigration to the U.S. so long as it was deemed valid under the laws of the place where it was performed (with a few exceptions, such as polygamous marriages, which are never recognized in the U.S.).

When scrutinizing your situation, immigration authorities will consider various factors, including things like:

  • The availability of civil records (or lack thereof) in the place you married. For example, if you married in a country where religious marriages don’t require a civil certificate to be valid, that’s definitely a point in your favor.
  • Any explanation you have for why you don’t have a civil record if one was likely created. For example, if the building where records were stored was destroyed in a military action, making it impossible for you to replace missing documents, that can be taken into account.
  • Any religious, traditional or personal documentation you have of your wedding. For example, an Islamic Nikkah, or marriage contract between a husband and wife, may be solid evidence of your union. Other helpful items would include photos of your wedding and affidavits from friends and family members who were in attendance.

In short, civil records of your marriage are ideal when it comes to a spouse’s immigration, but the law does recognize the fact that these records sometimes don’t exist or can be destroyed. Find out more about how you can make your immigration dreams a reality.