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Vietnam, US women recall ‘success’ of sham marriages

Thursday, August 01, 2019, 21:11 GMT+7
Vietnam, US women recall ‘success’ of sham marriages
Sham marriage schemes in the U.S. may result in imprisonment, renunciation of citizenship, or deportation. Caricature by Tuoi Tre

Two women, one Vietnamese and one American, have agreed to share with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper how they managed to pull off bogus marriage arrangements that allowed the fake ‘partners’ to become U.S. citizens.

Many Vietnamese who involve themselves in sham marriage schemes to immigrate to the U.S. begin as students studying at American universities.

One of them, a woman who has agreed to speak to Tuoi Tre under the pseudonym “Van," said that she first visited the U.S. ten years ago as a student and is now an American citizen residing in Orange County, California.

Now 30 years old, Van shared that she paid US$30,000 to an American in order to marry him for citizenship several years ago.

Today, the going rate has doubled, yet many Vietnamese are still unable to find U.S. citizens willing to participate in a bogus marriage scheme.

This is due, in part, to increased vigilance from American authorities on the lookout for Vietnamese students who hope to stay in the U.S. through sham marriages after their study visas expire.

It couldn’t have been simpler

In 2008, when Van found out her university offered financial incentives to international students with green cards, as well as married students, she figured that she would take a shot at arranging her own sham marriage.

A marriage license and green card would also make it easier for her to apply for financial support from the U.S. government through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program.

According to, marriage is the fastest route to qualify as an independent, rather than dependent, while applying for FAFSA. 

Those who are able to file as independents are eligible for federal student aid based on their income rather than their parents'.

Because applying as an independent could mean $13,000 in annual financial support, Van consulted her family and got their support. 

Through friends and personal networking, she eventually found a Chinese American who agreed to marry her for $30,000.

In September 2009, after just four months of marriage, Van obtained her green card. Three years later she was granted citizenship.

“After the interview with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I paid [my Chinese-American husband] 50 percent in advance and promised the rest when the green card arrived,” she said.

“Once I became a U.S. citizen in early 2013 and could bring my parents over, we filed for divorce,” she said.

“It couldn’t have been simpler.”

According to Van, around 70 percent of female Vietnamese students she knew while in university refused to return to Vietnam after their visas expired. 

Many attempted to enter into bogus marriage agreements until U.S. authorities tightened their stance once they had realized the growing trend.

Helping a Vietnamese man

“Tiffany," not her real name, an American woman who entered into a fake marriage with a Vietnamese man, also agreed to share her story with Tuoi Tre.

The ‘couple’ got married in 2013 and divorced in spring 2016 when the ‘husband’ received his ten-year green card.

Back in mid-2013, Tiffany was dating a guy, but found herself in need of money.

That was when she went looking for a prospective ‘client’ and found a Vietnamese man named Steve.

Steve had to divorce his wife in Vietnam in order to marry Tiffany, but he looked forward to a family reunion once his sham marriage with the American woman earned him permanent residency status in the States.

“My job is simple,” said Tiffany.

“It’s not much really. Just like making friends. We never had to get intimate and didn’t even kiss at the wedding reception.”

“As per Vietnamese tradition, we don’t have to be intimate in public, so no one questioned us.”

Throughout the entirety of the bogus marriage, Tiffany was extra careful with her social networking life, especially with posting intimate pictures of herself with her real boyfriend.

After the marriage certificate was issued, Steve paid his U.S. partner $10,000, which she put toward buying a house for her and her real boyfriend.

Steve paid Tiffany an additional $15,000 when he got his two-year green card, and cleared the final $5,000 when his ten-year green card was approved.

The couple then went their separate ways.

According to Tiffany, she and Steve never got into trouble with authorities because they were both educated and working people.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

“We made it through the interviews because we were employed and were decent taxpayers.”

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