Follow TV Tropes


Citizenship Marriage

Go To
Not your typical wedding album shot

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.
The Critic episode "Marty's First Date"

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

Shows operate on the assumption that once you've married a citizen, you're safe. In reality, becoming a permanent resident foreigner can take years even after you're married, although in the US at least one will probably receive a "green card" (permanent residence permit) in less than a year as long as paperwork is in order and the government doesn't suspect fraud.note  In the US, UK, and some other countries in The European Union, it simply lowers the time you have to have spent as a legal resident of the country to get citizenship from 5 years to 3. note  In Canada it allows the Canadian member of the couple to sponsor the non-Canadian member for family-class immigration after the couple is married or have cohabited for a year.

This trope has been made notorious by xenophobic portrayals of the foreign party, who can quite easily be made out to be coldly (even gleefully) manipulating the poor, foolish national and dumping him at the first opportunity (extra points if they're saddled with the evil foreigner's children). Don't expect the circumstances which encouraged the foreigner to migrate in the first place to be mentioned, especially if the national's country is in any way responsible for it — e.g. the myriad US-Vietnamese marriages that arose from The Vietnam War and its aftermath.

Alternatively, Romantic Comedy films are also famous for popularizing a more positive variant of this trope, where the arrangement leads to Marriage Before Romance between the two leads (in which case it is also a Romantic Fake–Real Turn).

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 couple tries to maintain the facade in front of the INS and as the "in-love" spouse turns into a Foot-Dragging Divorcee, especially as the green card is processed and the marriage is no longer necessary for the person to stay in the US.

A variant of this trope, popular in the USA, is when couples get married for insurance benefits or tax breaks involved in getting married. Occasionally involves a Mail-Order Bride, who may or may not be a Gold Digger.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • A variant in Create Your Own Fate. Kanril Eleya abuses the fact that, under Federation law, the child of a citizen is a citizen in order to get Pamela Bentine's six-year-old twins transported to Bajor to be with her. The twins were fathered by a currently incarcerated ex-Starfleet officer when Bentine was a child prostitute. (Bentine's citizenship is up in the air: technically she was born in the Federation, but her home planet seceded and she was part of the independence movement.)
  • ginger_mosaic's Fidelity envisions one of these where Loki marries Verity for US citizenship. A Romantic Fake–Real Turn ensues.
  • In I Can Only Stay If You've The Will To Keep Me Here, Ginger agrees to marry Baljeet after his father's visa expires; they had previously broken up over his attempt at a polyamorous relationship with her and Buford.note 
  • Done in Marriage of Chaos 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.
  • This is basically the reason John Sheppard and Elizabeth Weir married in "Before and After". Her torture while she was being held by the Replicators left her with serious mental problems and she spends most of her time catatonic, but since she is only truly lucid in Atlantis, other members of the expedition proposed that if she was married to John the current plans to make the city a true colony would basically force the IOA to let her stay so that her former colleagues can work on treating her condition. When circumstances send John and Elizabeth travelling back through their lives and they arrive at this moment, Elizabeth- her mind restored by the time travel- is struck by the notion that John is doing all this for her without ever knowing for sure if she loved him in return, and takes the opportunity to make it clear that she genuinely wants to marry him despite the current circumstances.
  • Kalash93 wrote a story called Relax, which included a discussion of how to how to get around immigration restrictions.
  • In Always You, Abby proposes to Strange after discussing how getting married would allow her to get an American visa and allow the two of them (and Thursday the Long Furby) to have a life together.
  • This world wasn't created by us by Pavel Shumil. Noon Universe fanfic. Variant of trope: Slave Rrrumiu was gifted to leader of team of progressors (they worked openly here). Local ruler who did this have his own reasons to do so, both personal and political. Rrumiu can't be anything but slave due to local laws. Rrrumiu was given Earth citizenship as family member because procedure is mostly automatic and she was accepted as wife of team leader. She was later officialy hired as team member. It doesn't matter that everybody understood that people from Earth can't have own children with humanoid cat-like locals.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in the climax of the film Bagdad Cafe (Out Of Rosenheim): 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 friends then runs to her, proposing she 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.
  • In Beetlejuice, Betelgeuse has to marry someone in order to be free from the Neitherworld and do whatever he wants. So, he plans to marry a very reluctant Lydia Deetz.
  • Nicole Kidman plays a Russian Mail-Order bride in Birthday Girl who was presumably motivated by this. Things get more complicated.
  • Born in East L.A. stars Cheech Marin as a Mexican-American who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and deported. In 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.
  • Come Live with Me (1941), where a Viennese refugee asks an American writer to marry her so she can stay in the United States.
  • Desert Flower: Waris marries Neil to avoid deportation back to war-torn Somalia.
  • French comedy Épouse-moi mon poteTranslation  (2017) is about a Moroccan student studying in France, who becomes an illegal immigrant due to a streak of bad luck, and marries his (male) best friend in order to get French citizenship (both are heterosexual).note 
  • Frieda: Frieda is a German woman who helps English airman Robert to escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp as the Second World War nears its end. She loves him; he is only grateful to her. In a church between the Russian-German lines, however, Robert marries her, so that she can obtain a British passport.
  • 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.
  • Occurs in The Guard with Aiden and Gabriella. He's gay, and she married him for the visa.
  • A variation in Hide In Plain Sight (1980). A low-ranking Mafia hood is dating the ex-wife of the protagonist Thomas Hacklin. When the mafiosi gets arrested, he marries her because the court will be more lenient on a married man (and also so she couldn't be compelled to testify against him). Then he decides to testify against his boss and the Feds put him in Witness Protection along with his family which include Thomas's children, and their father spends the rest of the movie trying to track them down.
  • Hold Back the Dawn (1941), in which a European gigolo romances a gullible American schoolteacher in order to gain entry into the United States.
  • 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.
  • An example of the Insurance Marriage variant was the Adam Sandler film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & 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.
  • Background plot to the Czech dramedy Kolya (1995), set in the final year of communist Czechoslovakia. A curmudgeonly old loner who works as a freelance viola player for a living agrees to marry a young Russian gal just so she could get temporary Czech citizenship and more easily emigrate to Western Europe later on. (In return, the old bachelor can buy himself a Trabant.) Within barely a few weeks, the mock-bride runs off abroad but has to leave her eponymous 5-year-old son Kolya in the care of her fake Czech husband.
  • 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.
  • Apparently the motivation of British bartender Monte in The Linguini Incident. He needs someone to marry him so he can get a Green Card.
  • Margarita: To obtain residency in Canada, Gail proposes that Ben marry Margarita (because though Gail and Ben are a long-time couple, they haven't legally married). Deciding that would be awkward, Gail then says she can marry Margarita (as Canada has same-sex marriage). Margarita declines, but then her actual girlfriend Jane accepts her previous marriage proposal, resolving the problem anyways.
  • This trope dates at least as far back as 1928 and The Mating Call. Les, who is in need of a wife, just strolls right into Ellis Island and picks Catherine, a lovely refugee who is having trouble getting past border patrol. He marries her right there in the building and takes her home.
  • In Muriel's 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.
  • Katharine and Yasar Gun are accused of this in Official Secrets, but they were from all indications already in love when she married him to keep him from getting deported. He's once nearly deported anyway as retaliation for her leaking GCHQ documents.
  • Ondine: at the end, Syracuse and Ondine marry so she can stay in Ireland, but they're basically in love anyway.
  • Downplayed in Past Lives: Nora and Arthur were already in a serious relationship, but they moved up their wedding plans to get her a green card after visa issues arose.
  • 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.
  • This is the setup for The Proposal. Sandra Bullock's character is a Canadian citizen and bullies her put-upon assistant into agreeing to marry her to allow her to remain in the US. He uses her desperation to get her to agree to treat him better and publish his book. Of course, being a Rom Com, they wind up developing genuine feelings for each other and she calls off the sham wedding.
  • 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.
  • In Shadowlands, Confirmed Bachelor C. S. Lewis agrees to marry Joy in a civil ceremony so she can stay in England, as a personal favor. He eventually falls in love with her, and they have an actual wedding.
  • Red Heat. Soviet-era gangster Viktor "Rosta" has paid Cat Manzetti to be his wife so he can carry out his criminal activities. She dies once You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
  • 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 (which seems to be undergoing Defictionalization) to the 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.
  • Stromboli: Karin marries Antonio so she can get out of the Displaced Persons camp and live in Italy. It doesn't work out, although it's probably still better than getting deported to the Soviet Union where she'd probably go to the gulag.
  • Tower Heist: Odessa is desperately wanting a husband so she won't be deported back to Jamaica.
  • 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. He agrees because he's secretly (to his parents, who live in Taiwan) gay and it'll get them to stop setting him up with prospective brides.

  • In Bloodsucking Fiends, Tommy's five illegally-immigrated (male) Chinese neighbors try to woo him for this purpose, having heard that same-sex marriage is legal in San Francisco.
  • A plot point in Glory in the Thunder. Vahagn schemes to marry Barsamin to Princess Katarosi because in four years Bars will gain citizenship, at which point he can assassinate Katarosi and gain complete control of the country.
  • The Island in the Sea of Time (Series) makes use of this trope a few times:
    • In Island in the Sea of Time, Marian Alston marries Swindapa so that Swindapa can legally participate in Nantucket's civic life. This turns out to have benefits, as it also gives Alston citizenship among the Fiernan.
    • William Walker makes a point of taking a wife from the Iraiina in order to cement his ties to the community in advance of taking it over to create his empire.
    • In Against the Tide of Years, the Republic of Nantucket reluctantly agrees to allow Kat Hollard to marry King Kashtiliash in order to cement an alliance with Babylon.
  • Gert from The Kitchen Daughter married Umberto at a young age so she could get out of Cuba. By the time she realized how abusive he was, it was too late — leaving him would mean being a single mother in an unfamiliar country with two young sons, so she stayed. She was eventually able to leave with the help of Ginny's ma, who paid her enough that she could afford her own place.
  • Jack (native Australian) and Juliet (immigrant to Australia from Canada) in the Newsflesh novella How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea. This is apparently a common practice in their world since Australians are noted for their survival skills and a rather more level-headed approach to zombie outbreak safety than in most of the world. Another Aussie character, Hotaru (apparently with some Japanese ancestry) comments that it's common for people to assume she's looking for a native to marry, until they hear her speak, when she's then asked if she's in the market for a spouse. (She isn't since she already has a husband and a wife.)
  • In G.B. Gordon's Operation Green Card, an American man agrees to marry a Russian man so that the latter can get a green card to the U.S. to escape persecution in his home country for being gay. This being a romance novel, the marriage gradually becomes not-so-fake.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 realize who she is.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga novel Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan Vorpatril marries a Mafia Princess from a clan destroyed in a Mob War to keep her from being arrested by local immigration authorities, which might have betrayed her location to the rival clan. Bonus points are given for the ceremonynote  taking place as the authorities are breaking down the barricaded door to Ivan's apartment.
  • 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.
  • Zara Hossain Is Here: Zara's friend Nick says he will marry her so she can stay in the US when it looks like her visa is going to be revoked.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played with in 2 Broke Girls when Oleg loses his papers and is afraid Sophie thinks he only wants to marry her for his green card.
  • A memorable plotline from 21 Jump Street had Doug Penhall marry an El Salvadoran refugee to allow her to stay in the country. The two had genuinely fallen in love, but the judge still declared their marriage void and had her deported. Doug later learned that she had been killed by an El Salvadoran death squad.
  • 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 her 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).
  • The reality show 90 Day Fiancé deals with this often, being about people marrying foreigners. It's a common assumption that they're in it for the green card. Usually, there are some couples that are very obviously this trope, with attractive men/women marrying less attractive or significantly older people.
  • All My Children: Brian marries An Li so that she won't be sent back to China. The fact that she was a student who could have gotten a visa, as well as employed by people who could have sponsored her somehow escaped both of their notice. But possibly not An Li's, as she was of course, madly in love with Brian and hoping that he would reciprocate, even trying to pull The Baby Trap in order to hang onto him.
  • As the World Turns: Katie married Simon so that he could stay in the country to be close to Lily, who he had fallen in love with, but unusually, Katie and Simon eventually fell in love. A few years later, Noah married Ameera, a girl from Afghanistan, whose family his father Colonel Mayer was trying to help. This ends up failing and the girl gets arrested.
  • Awkwafina is Nora from Queens: Nora's grandpa became an American citizen through a convoluted example. His sister took on the last name of her American sponsors, then married him for only one day. After he became a citizen, they promptly divorced, so that he could resume dating Young Grandma.
  • In Baskets Frenchwoman Penelope explicitly agrees to marry the titular character just for the green card and to escape from her famous father's background and expectations while telling him that she does not love him, going on to live separately and to her mother-in-law's surprise, keeping her maiden name. Just to prove it further she even hooks up with a Farm Boy in a later episode.
  • 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 plan 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.
  • In Big Time Rush, when Buddha Bob was about to get sent back to Canada, Katie lies to the immigration officer and tells him that Buddha Bob is engaged to her mom. They end up getting married and pass the immigration interview. Buddha Bob is allowed to stay in the US, but Bitters' marriage license actually expired eight years ago, therefore Buddha Bob and Katie's mom were not legally married.
  • The entire premise of the shortlived Dom Com Billy (which was actually a spin-off from Head of the Class).
  • Jamie Reagan's plot in the Blue Bloods episode "Exiles" has him and his partner encounter a Polish-American girl trying to overcome a Parental Marriage Veto from her father so she can marry her Syrian boyfriend. At the end of the episode, it turns out to be this trope: the boyfriend is actually gay and his life would be in danger if he returns home after his student visa expires (pictures of him partying with other men turned up on Facebook), so he's marrying his platonic friend to get around ICE. (No explanation is given for why he didn't try applying for refugee status; besides his being gay, the Syrian Civil War was well underway at the episode's airdate.)
  • The Bold and the Beautiful might be the only example where the couple in question was genuinely in love with each other and had to convince the INS that their Fourth-Date Marriage wasn't an example of this trope.
  • 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.
  • In Crash Landing on You after protagonist Se-ri gets stuck in North Korea, she finds out that Alberto, the guy her brothers wanted her to marry, is there too. He’s a dual U.K. / South Korean citizen there on the run and offers to marry her so she can get a British passport to get out.
  • 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.
  • Emma on Dawson's Creek.
  • Days of Our Lives several times.
  • Dear John: Ralph's Polish ex-wife married him for citizenship.
  • 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.
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • One episode of Elementary has two of the suspects be one of the college professor victim's graduate students and the woman who was publicly his wife but was really his illegally imported Sex Slave. The two of them had met and fallen in love, so unusually for this trope, the citizenship marriage between them is a love match. Once Sherlock proves they're both innocent he and Captain Gregson arrange for a friendly judge to rush through the marriage so the woman won't be deported.
    • In another episode, Joan realises the guy she's currently seeing lied to her about being married. Sherlock does some digging and confirms the man has a still-valid marriage registered. When Joan confronts him the guy admits that he married a woman he met while volunteering for a charity so she wouldn't get deported back to her war-torn country. He stresses that they have no real relationship and are waiting until they can quietly divorce without risking her citizenship. Joan is impressed by his compassion but he dumps her when he learns how she found out about the marriage.
  • Ellery Queen: A major plot point of "The Adventure of the Blunt Instrument". Magda is an illegal alien; Edgar Manning knew about this and held it over her, which is what provides her potential motive for his murder. When Magda reveals that Cliff Waddell had proposed marriage to her, Ellery realizes that Cliff also knew Magda was in the country illegally, and used this knowledge to frame her for Manning's murder.
  • Happens in an episode of Flodder, where Johnny is hired by a pimp to marry a foreign woman, so she could get Dutch citizenship and get to work in his (illegal) brothel. The woman, unfortunately, did not understand the marriage was supposed to be temporary and tried to come and live with the Flodders, much to the pimp's chagrin.
  • In Friends, Phoebe married a gay ice dancer so he could stay in the country. He shows to ask her for a divorce so he can get remarried for real to another woman.
  • A bizarre version on General Hospital, when the British Holly feared she would be deported and the Australian Robert offered to marry her. How this would have helped her stay in the United States is never explained.
  • The first season finale of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme revolved around this: Tom married a lesbian friend so she could stay in England with her lover.
  • 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.
  • Grey's Anatomy has the insurance variation in which Teddy marries Henry, who is ill and needs multiple surgeries so that he will be able to get treated. He quickly falls for her, but she isn't interested at first. They eventually start a real relationship before he dies in surgery.
  • The UK soap opera Hollyoaks featured a storyline in which Jacqui McQueen, who owed a gang money, was forced to repay her debt by marrying an Eastern European man so he could get a visa to remain in the UK.
  • Hardy Bucks does this, when The Boo agrees to marry Koffi so that he can stay in Ireland. The Guarda is looking for evidence to stop the wedding since he does not believe that either man is gay, and pulls a Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace interruption, with evidence of both men's straight pornography. This leads to a HeartwarmingMoment when Eddie leads the rest of the people in attendance to protest and continue the wedding, not caring about their orientation.
  • House does this in season 7 with an Eastern European woman 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 left after the wedding. She came back when immigration came looking for her, and because of his newly-acquired criminal record, House had to play along instead of throwing her under the bus (and admit his original complicity). The "couple" seek help from serial monogamist Wilson, who disapproves but hates the idea of House going to jail even more. It almost works, but Wilson goes overboard, tries to impersonate a neighbor to give a sterling reference, and is caught. The two are forced to cohabit for real under the threat of deportation for her and prison for him. House kinda sorta falls in love with her or at least appreciates the domestic services she provides enough that when the notice comes that her permanent residency has been approved he throws it away before she can see it. She discovers this eventually. She's not pleased, and while the show had been teasing that she might be having some feelings for him too, this pretty much ends the relationship.
  • Subverted by How I Met Your Mother. When Robin learns her work visa is about to expire, the gang frantically try to come up with ways to keep her in the USA and this is one the first things they think of. Barney, who's secretly in love with Robin, drops to one knee about to propose when Marshall realizes that there isn't enough time to process the paperwork on a marriage before the visa expires at the end of the week.
  • This was the entire premise of I Married Dora. The series lasted 13 episodes.
  • Diego on Jesse (such plotlines ended both seasons of the latter sitcom).
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
    • A subplot of an 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 countrynote , and his caginess was to cover up the fraud. The victim and the husband's partner were both aware of the whole situation and had lunch together to bury the hatchet.
    • 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 divorce meant that they would be sent back to poverty-stricken conditions in their native country.
  • 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.
  • Pam goes through one of these on Martin to Martin's landlord Luis for five thousand dollars. Naturally it gets annulled and she isn't paid. Turns out the groom didn't need to get married; he was born in the U.S. and didn't know it.
  • Narrowly averted on M*A*S*H: A GI who is going home wants to bring a South Korean girl home with him, ostensibly to be his wife but it's pretty clear that she's being sent to become a prostitute; her pimp is even paying the GI to marry her. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for the pimp) the doctors discover that she has TB and is therefore barred from entering the US.
  • In season 2 of Melrose Place, Matt marries a Russian woman named Katya so she can stay in the United States with her young daughter. However, she later decides to move back to Russia to be with family.
  • Izzy Moreno from Miami Vice claims it's a "tragic coincidence" that he and his wife got divorced shortly after he got his green card.
  • Mo (2022): Mo's friend Hameed marries an American woman primarily to gain a green card. He pointedly does so in a cowboy suit and extols her bottle-blonde hair.
  • Mork & Mindy: Due to a series of miscommunications Mork receives a notice from Immigration Services who believe he's an immigrant from another country rather than another planet. When he can't produce a birth certificate or passport the judge mentions that he might have to get married to stay in America. Mindy offers to marry him so he can gain citizenship but Mork refuses as he doesn't want her to "waste" the experience of getting married. Eventually they settle on having Mork's friend Exidor adopt Mork and gain citizenship that way.
  • In the Murder In Mind episode "Cornershop", protagonist Sanjay's daughter is having an arranged marriage with her wealthy uncle's business associate so that the groom can have a British passport.
  • In My Mad Fat Diary, Rae's mum marries Karim, her live-in lover, so that he doesn't get deported.
  • 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 stheir roles reversed. Unfortunately, this is then never mentioned again.
  • The Nanny: In "Green Card", Fran gets engaged to a sleazy French guy who was hired to be Brighton's tutor. However, it is later revealed that he was only using Fran to get a green card to stay in the US and almost made a pass at C.C., causing Fran to dump him.
  • Christine and her Bermuda-born friend and business partner Barb enter a Lesbian Citizenship Marriage on The New Adventures of Old Christine.
  • 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 deported 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.
  • No Tomorrow: Kareem's brother Rohan and his fiancee Sofia turn out to be engaged for this reason, though Rohan then reveals to Kareema that he's fallen in love with her. This makes it awkward as Kareema's fallen for Sofia (and slept with her) as well.
  • One Big Happy begins with one of these between Luke and Prudence, though they've also got Love at First Sight so it's not an issue. What is an issue is when they find out that their Vegas marriage was never actually legal and they only have a few days to get married for real or else Prudence will get deported. In the season finale, Luke can't get to the ceremony in time, so his lesbian best friend Lizzy marries her for him.
  • Parks and Recreation made a recurring story arc out of this trope. Early in the series, we're introduced to Tom's wife Wendy, 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 because she's from Canada. Only once they divorce does Tom realize he really loved her after all.
  • 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.
  • Port Charles paired this with Honor-Related Abuse when a man married a woman to prevent her from being deported back to the Middle Eastern country that she fled after being raped, knowing that her family would seek to kill her to restore their reputation.
  • 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. This turns out rather badly, as Nina falls in love with Michael for real, while he is in love with Sara Tancredi and never sees his relationship with Nina as anything other than one of convenience. The hurt she feels over this ultimately leads her to betray him.
  • Inverted in The Professionals where it's used to threaten someone with deportation. CI5 has arrested a mercenary but there's no evidence against him. Unfortunately he used this trope to gain papers of convenience into Angola, and there's nothing stopping the British government from repatriating him to his last known address. Faced with being returned to Angola—and execution or a Hellhole Prison courtesy of the new regime—the mercenary becomes a lot more cooperative.
  • 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.
  • On Queer as Folk (UK), 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.
  • Ben got into one of these on Reaper. In order to maintain the facade, his British wife refuses to allow him to date the woman he eventually falls for, even as the wife freely dates (and gets pregnant). This fails, she goes on the lam with money she said was for a lawyer, and he gets sentenced to 30 days of jail time.
  • 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.
  • On Scorpion, it turns out that Happy's mystery husband is Walter, whose visa expired and was going to be deported.
  • On Shameless (US), Jimmy ends up married to Estefania because her South American drug lord father wants her to become a US citizen and makes Jimmy An Offer You Can't Refuse. Jimmy is handsome and from an affluent family and Estefania is smoking hot so most people would not see anything suspicious about them getting married. However, they both happen to be in love with other people so upon arriving in the US they go their separate ways. Estefania lives in luxury with her boyfriend and Jimmy moves in with Fiona. When he finds out, Estefania's father is not happy because this arrangement is bound to arouse suspicions from immigration. To correct the situation, he has Estefania's boyfriend killed and threatens to do the same to Jimmy if he fails to convince people that he and Estefania are really married.
  • 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 consummate 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).
    • Truth in Television: At the time of the wedding (1995), many New Zealand students were getting married to defraud the government into giving them a student allowance. Being married exempted students from having their parents' income means-tested - if your parents earned over a certain amount, your student allowance amount was cut.
  • Smallville: Luthorcorp had a female scientist using this to come to America.
  • Superstore has Jonah offer to marry Mateo, who is undocumented. Mateo decides he’d rather obtain a visa via the route of being violently assaulted.
  • 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.
  • In the future presented in Terra Nova, there are apparently "lottery marriages", where single men who are lucky enough to win a ticket to one of the Pilgrimages are offered marriage by single women who are desperate to get a ticket for themselves.
  • Fez on That '70s Show, which treated it pretty realistically. After a last-minute marriage with the Really Gets Around Laurie, who did it just for fun, a government agent comes in to interview the two and the Formans 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. When Laurie and Fez first tell the Formans of this, Red gets so shocked that he suffers a heart attack (which was made worse when Fez says "Hang in there, Dad").
  • 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.
  • Will & Grace:
    • Jack and Rosario get married at the end of the first season so she can stay in the country. Jack even moves in with her to maintain the charade. They almost get busted when it turns out the INS agent assigned to their case is one of Jack's former flings, and thus knows Jack is very gay. They ultimately break up when Rosario falls in love with Karen's gardener.
    • In the final season of the original run, Will hits it off with a Canadian guy whose visa is about to run out. Grace agrees to marry him so he and Will can have more time together. After the ceremony, they discover the guy is a complete Jerkass that Will can't stand. Grace immediately annuls the marriage and it's implied the guy will probably be sent back to Canada soon afterwards.
  • Antonio married Helen on Wings. They were later able to get an annulment when he became a citizen by other means.

  • 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
  • The subject of Gogol Bordello's "Greencard Husband". Eugene Hutz and his family are Ukrainian and his family fled to the US after the Chernobyl disaster, and were given US Citizenship as refugees. Eugene became for all intents and purposes an American. In Greencard Husband, he creates a bizarre situation. Due to not being able to make any money for some reason, he marries a Chinese lesbian purely because she'll pay him anything to get citizenship. She becomes his $10 grand' wife but brings six fellow Lesbians with her. He only lives in a half bedroom apartment and cannot afford anything more. The cops are completely aware it's a sham marriage and are watching the two. To avoid that becoming obvious, Eugene and his Chinese wife cannot split up.
  • Briefly mentioned in hip-hop group Divine Sounds' 1984 song "What People Do For Money":
    A girl got married against the law
    She married a man she never seen before, huh
    And then she split, ain't that a myth
    'Cause it was all done for citizenship

  • In Beetlejuice, just like in the movie, BJ's ultimate plan for Lydia is this. If he marries someone alive, he can stay in the world of the living; he flat-out calls it "a green-card type of deal" in an effort to reassure Lydia when she's grossed out by the idea.
  • Kimberly Akimbo (2021): In "Better" Debra sings that she married a possibly gay man to give him citizenship (she got paid for it).
  • In Margin for Error, Denny promises to marry Sophie so she won't be extradited to Germany for murdering her husband.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, if Hawke pursues a relationship with Merrill, she earns permission from the Kirkwall authorities to move out of the alienage.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Imperial Agent PC has to marry a Voss (a family member of their main on-planet contact) in order to gain permission to view relics important to their storyline on the planet since only Voss citizens are permitted. Optionally, they may have been flirting beforehand, and Cipher Nine has the option of taking their spouse's virginity, though they don't stay together.

  • In Cheap Thrills Gladys bluntly suggests that Jeordie's parents did this since his father met his mother while he was an exchanges student. It's never confirmed either way if this was actually the case, though they do truly love each other.
  • 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.
  • In Kevin & Kell, when Dip proposes to Caniche shortly after she's had problems with immigration, she says she doesn't want to get married just to resolve them. He explains that he wants to marry her because he doesn't want them to be separated for any reason.
  • Let's Get Divorced!: Baek-hui and Han-gyeol plan to marry long enough for her to obtain permanent residency in Australia.
  • Hastuki Winters nee Asagawa is accused of this not long after her marriage in Moon Over June, with the INS inspector outright dismissing her long-standing Green Card from her university professor position ("For all I know, you're about to be fired....") and demanding to see pictures of a wifely/non-platonic nature immediately. So Hats pulls out her smartphone... sending the Immigration Agent fleeing with a nervous "You pass," within moments.
  • In PHD, Tajel marries Khumalo partly in order to finally resolve her visa issues. They do love each other, but Tajel is a Granola Girl who doesn't believe in marriage.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In American Dad! episode, Klaus tries to pull this off with Hayley in order to prevent ICE from deporting him. The problem is, he's stuck in a goldfish's body. So, Hayley puts her mind in a female goldfish's body and pretends to get married, much to Jeff's displeasure. Unfortunately, ICE later catches onto the scheme and sends both Hayley and Klaus to Mexico despite Hayley's United States citizenship and Klaus being from Germany.
    Hayley: Why are we in Mexico? You're from Germany!
    Klaus: You know ICE. They think anyone with an accent is from Mexico.
  • In The Critic:
    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.
    • From the second episode, when two foreign cab drivers crash into each other.
      Male Cab Driver: What do you think you're doing!?
      Female Cab Driver: It's called "driving", you pig-eyed smell-stick!
      Male Cab Driver: My're stunning!
      Female Cab Driver: Marry me, and make me a citizen!
      Male Cab Driver: Uuuh, we have a problem here...
  • In the Drawn Together episode "Foxxy vs. the Board of Education", Spanky Ham gay married Xandir in order to obtain free health insurance.
  • Family Guy:
  • A variation occurred in one episode of The Jetsons where a new robot law required Mac to marry Rosie to gain a legal permit and avoid being melted down.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • Subverted 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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. 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.
  • C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham: Interesting in that it's an example from real life of the Marriage Before Romance variety. Gresham's death from cancer two 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.
  • W. H. Auden and German-Jewish Erika Mann were mutual beards who got married in 1935 so she could get British citizenship to leave Nazi Germany. They were friends and remained technically married until she died from a brain tumor in 1969, but for obvious reasons, 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 so quickly. This actually happens, though it's not extremely common due to 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 of 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.
  • 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.
  • In 1958, Scottish folk musician Alex Campbell married US folk musician Peggy Seeger so she could stay in the UK with Ewan MacColl, who was still married to his second wife at the time. Seeger and MacColl finally got married in 1977. (According to Campbell, the whole thing was made even more surreal because Seeger was pregnant. The priest was lecturing him about getting this girl into trouble, and he just wanted to say "I'm not the guy you want to be talking to here...")
  • According to the BBC, sham gay weddings are now being used in this way in the UK.
  • When the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, they expelled the entire population of the capital city to the countryside, specifying foreigners and Cambodian women married to foreigners wouldn't be submitted to this massive deportation (Cambodian men married to foreigner women would, though). At this time, the only foreigners still in the city were members of the French diplomatic staff, and several of them married Cambodian female friends (or just friends' friends), solely to provide them French passports and make sure they could leave the country unharmed.
  • Van Morrison and his American girlfriend Janet Rigsbee (aka Janet Planet) married in 1968 to keep him from being deported. Ilene Berns, the widow of Bert Berns, who produced Morrison's first solo work, apparently held Morrison responsible for her husband's fatal heart attack at the end of 1967 (Morrison and Berns clashed frequently in the studio) and discovered that Berns hadn't properly obtained a work permit for Morrison, so Morrison was in the US illegally, and Ilene tried to turn him in.
  • One of the crazier examples of this involves a woman known as Angela Harkness. Born Fatemeh Karimkhani in Tehran in 1976; she was the youngest child of a military officer in Iran who ended up forced to flee with her family to Germany when the Shah was toppled in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. She would then arrive in the United States where, after finding work as a stripper, she ended up marrying a Rayford Tyler Jr. as part of a citizenship scam; eventually catching the attention of a judge named Dion Harkness, who she married despite not being divorced from Tyler (thus adding bigamy to the mix) only for that marriage to turn toxic in a hurry, with Harkness - after being falsely accused of domestic violence - being removed from the bench and disbarred; ultimately leading him to take his own life while his wife, now using the name Angela Harkness, continued her life of scamsnote .


Video Example(s):


Andrew and Margaret

To avoid getting deported to Canada, Margaret claims that she is marrying her assistant Andrew.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / CitizenshipMarriage

Media sources: