Under the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, there is no minimum marital age limitation when U.S. citizens seek spousal visas. In a report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, it seems that the lack of age limitation may be encouraging the exploitation of children as a way to gain legal entry into the United States. The report provided that approximately 8,600 petitions for visas in the past eleven years has involved a child spouse and in 95% of those cases the child involved was a girl. Salt Lake City family immigration attorneys have recently reviewed related reports and senate efforts to close these child marriage loopholes in visa applications.
How these marriages happen
These marriages typically happen when girls are forced to marry men in a different country in order for the men to gain legal U.S. entry or when girls from other countries marry a U.S. citizen and enter the United States on a spousal visa. The motivation for these children to marry is usually family pressure or financial need. The committee’s report described a U.S. citizen child who was forced to marry her first cousin when she went on a trip to Pakistan in order to achieve legal entry into the United States for her cousin.
Children married to adults
According to the committee report, some of those visa applications that were granted involved girls as young as 13 years old. Significant age differences involved one case of a 14 year old U.S. citizen and a 48 year old Jamaican spouse and another involved a 17 year old Guatemalan spouse and a 71 year old U.S. citizen.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the part of the Department of Homeland Security that facilitates the United States immigration and naturalization program. USCIS surprisingly runs its program on a paper based system as budgetary and other problems have prevented it from switching over to a computer operated system. This has led to difficulties in preventing fraud, trafficking, and other system vulnerabilities. The other major problem is that in-person meetings with spousal applicants are not required and parents are not required to sign the petition for minor spouses.
Preventing child marriages and protecting children
Due to concerns that U.S. immigration policies and lack of marital age restrictions increas the potential for child trafficking, exploitation, marriages, and fraud, legislators have worked to find a solution to this problem. Recently legislation was introduced by several senators that would set a minimum age of 18 for spouses and fiancés applying for U.S. visas. The senators who introduced the bill stated that the intent is to close a loophole that leads to the abuse and exploitation of children.
As it stands now, there is little preventing these child marriage visa applications that are frequently approved in the United States. Salt Lake City family immigration attorneys at Familia America Immigration are immigration experts and regularly help clients with visa applications and other immigration matters. Contact our immigration attorneys for any of your immigration needs. Our goal is to keep families together and protect immigrant rights.