Utah Marriage Over Zoom Is Valid for Immigration Purposes

Generally speaking, a proxy marriage is a wedding in which one or both of the individuals being united are not in the physical presence of the officiant. An absent party may be represented by another person (“proxy”). If both partners are absent, a “double proxy marriage” occurs.

A Utah marriage via video conference is valid for purposes of U.S. immigration, if consummated.

Historically, some reasons for proxy marriage have included separation due to military service, imprisonment, or travel restrictions; or when a couple lives in a jurisdiction in which they cannot legally marry (e.g., Israel, where only religious marriages are allowed).

During COVID-19, proxy marriages have proliferated because lockdowns and international travel restrictions have made it harder for couples to get to the same place to marry.  Since the pandemic began, our law firm has represented more clients with proxy marriages, including Utah marriages over Zoom.

Most U.S. states do not allow proxy marriages. But Utah does. The officiant must be present in the state of Utah, but the couple may reside and be physically present out of state, including abroad. The marriage license application can be signed electronically. The ceremony can be held over video conference. For more, see the website of the Clerk/Auditor of Utah County, Utah on “Getting Married via Video Conferencing in Utah.”

U.S. immigration law generally follows the ancient legal maxim of lex loci celebrationis, under which a marriage will be recognized as valid if it was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was performed, so long as it does not violate the the public policy of the couple’s state of planned or actual residence (e.g., polygamous marriages, marriages involving certain relatives, marriages involving a minor). Matter of W-, 4 I. & N. Dec. 209 (BIA 1950). U.S. courts have held that proxy marriages do not violate public policy. Tshiani v. Tshiani, 56 A.3d 311 (Md. App. 2012); State v. Anderson, 396 P.2d 558 (Or. 1964); Barrons v. U.S., 191 F.3d 92 (9th Cir. 1951). See Kathryn Rae Edwards, Kicking the INA out of Bed: Abolishing the Consummation Requirement for Proxy Marriages, 22 Hastings Women’s L.J. 55 (2011).

One caveat to the rule of lex loci celebrationis, not discussed here, is that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not recognize marriages entered into solely for purposes of qualifying for a visa, meaning sham marriages that are not entered into by the couple in good faith for purposes of making a life together. See Guide to Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and Top 11 Ways to Prove a Valid Marriage for Immigration.

Another caveat is that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not recognize proxy marriages unless consummated, i.e., unless the couple has had “marital relations” after the ceremony. The statute provides:

The term “spouse”, “wife”, or “husband” does not include a spouse, wife, or husband by reason of any marriage ceremony where the contracting parties thereto are not physically present in the presence of each other, unless the marriage shall have been consummated.

– INA 101(a)(35), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(35)

The State Department further explains:

A marriage where one or both parties was not present (proxy marriage) is not valid unless the marriage was consummated.

(1) Consummated: For the purpose of issuing a visa to a “spouse,” a proxy marriage that has been subsequently consummated is deemed to have been valid as of the date of the proxy ceremony. A proxy marriage consummated prior to the proxy ceremony cannot be considered a valid marriage for visa adjudication purposes unless it has been consummated subsequently.

(2) Unconsummated: A proxy marriage that has not been subsequently consummated does not create or confer the status of “spouse” pursuant to INA 101(a)(35)…. [A] party to an unconsummated proxy marriage may be processed as a nonimmigrant fiancé(e). A proxy marriage celebrated in a jurisdiction recognizing such marriage is generally considered to be valid; thus, an actual marriage in the United States is not necessary if such alien is admitted to the United States under INA provisions other than as a spouse.

9 FAM 102.8-1(D) Proxy Marriages

Evidence of consummation could include evidence that the parties were in the same location on a particular date after the marriage (e.g., airplane tickets and any admission stamps in passport(s), hotel bills, photos taken together) and a declaration (without graphic details) explaining that the couple had “marital relations.”

The consummation requirement applies to all definitions of “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, such as:

  • Naturalization as the “spouse” of a U.S. citizen;
  • Qualification for a green card as the “spouse” of a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or a principal beneficiary of an immigrant petition.
  • Qualification for a nonimmigrant visa as the “spouse” of certain nonimmigrants (e.g., F-1 student, J-1 exchange visitor, H-1 temporary worker, L-1 intracompany transferee).

Another example, recently reported on in the New York Times, is a man from the United Kingdom denied admission to the U.S. because his marriage had not been consummated. His girlfriend had visited him in UK, become pregnant, and then returned home to Texas. They subsequently had a Utah County wedding over Zoom, after which he tried to fly to the U.S. to visit her but was turned away because they had not consummated the marriage after the wedding. With an unconsummated proxy marriage, he did not qualify for the “spouse” exception to the COVID travel ban. Happily, he applied to the U.S. Embassy in London for a “national interest exception” to the COVID travel ban on humanitarian grounds, was approved, and was able to fly to the U.S.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has focused on proxy marriages since 1924, when the terms “wife” and “husband” were defined to exclude a spouse “by reason of a proxy or picture marriage.” Congressional intent was to ensure that marriages were in good faith, and more generally, to limit immigration of women from Japan and Eastern/Southern Europe. See Kerry Abrams, Peaceful Penetration: Proxy Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage, and Recognition, 2011 Mich. St. L. Rev. 141. Given the Immigration Fraud Amendments of 1986, which took a number of steps to deny immigration benefits to marriages that are not in good faith, the consummation requirement may be out-of-date. But for now it remains on the books.

It has been our firm’s pleasure to successfully represent couples with proxy marriages under Utah law. Please feel free to contact us to discuss representation in your case.

38 comments

    1. Lynn: If you are asking about first having a Utah video conference wedding then having the U.S. citizen file a USCIS Form I-129F for the foreign fiancé(e), what is the goal you are trying to accomplish?

      1. I was trying to speed up the process.
        I filed a k1 fiancé visa several months ago. I was wondering if getting married by zoom would speed up the processing of the visa?

        1. Anitra: If you enter into a marriage that is recognized as such for U.S. immigration law purposes (for example, a Utah Zoom marriage which is subsequently consummated), then the K-1 visa can no longer be issued because you are no longer the fiancée of a U.S. citizen. If you enter into such a marriage, it would be an option to have the U.S. citizen spouse file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on your behalf. But whether that option would speed your immigration would turn on a number of factors. Feel free to schedule a consultation to discuss.

  1. My fiancée and I are really happy to have found this article. She lives in Fushun, Liaoning, China and I live in the state of Florida. We want to begin our new life together, and due to COVID everything has stopped us from our new beginning. You have rekindled our hope of finding a solution. And will look to your law firm for counseling and guidance. In anticipation of that breakthrough,
    Jay

  2. After a proxy marriage, can the non-US citizen spouse travel to the United States under the exception to Presidential Proclamation 10143 (the COVID regional travel ban for the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa) for the “spouse” of a US citizen, or are they not considered a “spouse” until the marriage has been consummated?

    1. Brian: Generally, terms used in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as well as in regulations and related rules, should be interpreted consistently throughout, so agencies presumably would interpret the word “spouse” in Presidential Proclamation 10143 consistently with INA § 101(a)(35), which states that the term “spouse”, “wife”, or “husband” does not include a spouse, wife, or husband by reason of any marriage ceremony where the contracting parties thereto are not physically present in the presence of each other, unless the marriage shall have been consummated.

  3. Is consummation ex post facto the only way to legitimize a marriage in the eyes of the Feds? What about consummation BEFORE the marriage? And since when has the Federal government taken it upon itself to interfere with civil law of the various States as pertains to marriage?

    1. D.M.: Consummation before a proxy marriage is not sufficient to constitute a valid marriage for immigration law purposes. That was the holding in Matter of W-, 4 I. & N. Dec. 209 (BIA 1950), where the bride appeared at the wedding just two weeks before giving birth to the groom’s child.

      As to whether the Federal government improperly interferes in the States, I’ll leave the question for another day, except to mention that in 1996 Congress created a federal definition of “marriage” in the the Defense of Marriage
      Act (DOMA) as meaning a union between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court subsequently held that to be unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

    2. Hi. My girlfriend of 10 years just recently moved to the US and is in New York under H1B visa. We wish to get married so we can start a life together in the US. I am from the Philippines where same sex marriage is not legal. If we marry through this process, is it possible? Will the embassy recognize our marriage? Are we even qualified? Praying for your response. Thank you.

      1. Frances,

        A Utah Zoom marriage which has been consummated (for example, if your girlfriend visits you in Philippines), can be recognized under the Immigration and Nationality Act, allowing an H-4 visa application by you.

  4. Dear Sir: Difficult situation here…. My Chinese girlfriend and I have proof we have been communicating online for 15 months and spend several hours each day on video. If we marry online in Utah, will this improve her chances of immigration?

    1. Jack: As mentioned in the above article, the online marriage in Utah won’t count for immigration purposes until it has been consummated. Do you have a plan to get together in person for that purpose?

  5. I just want to point out that although “marriage” requires consummation for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, maybe no consummation is required for other purposes:
    1. The US Treasury/IRS definition of married for federal tax purposes is legal if recognized by the state it was performed in. Therefore if you get married this way, you could and probably would be required to use a married filing status, and could possibly benefit for some favorable tax rates or benefits, might have to declare your fiancé’s income, and also might generate FBAR/foreign asset filing requirements.
    2. You might be able to use this strategy to guarantee your fiancé was covered by your health benefits the moment he/she arrived. I can’t imagine a health insurance plan requiring consumption.

  6. If you get a Utah video conference marriage ceremony, and then apply for a K-1 visa, do you risk being accused of consummating the marriage if you meet in person after the ceremony but before the K=1 visa is approved?

    1. Zhou Yu: That sounds like a reasonable line of questioning by the consular officer. Why would you want to have a Utah video conference marriage ceremony then apply for a K-1 visa?

      1. Hello Gary. I am an H-1B visa holder with an approved I-140. During COVID, I met “the one” online. Would I be eligible to do a Utah proxy marriage and file for their H-4 visa?

        1. Shradha S: Yes, a Utah Zoom marriage, so long as it is consummated, could be recognized by USCIS and the State Department for purposes of qualifying for a nonimmigrant visa as the “spouse” of certain nonimmigrants (e.g., F-1 student, J-1 exchange visitor, H-1 temporary worker, L-1 intracompany transferee).

  7. If you do a Utah Zoom wedding, consummate the marriage, and file a Form I-130 for your spouse, can your spouse come visit you in the US? Will your approval chances be greater?

    1. Nila: During the COVID geographic travel bans, many travelers were unable to visit the U.S., but spouses of U.S. citizens were exempt from the travel bans. So marriage was critical to qualify for that exemption. But the travel bans are expiring Nov. 8, 2021, so that issue becomes moot.

      Obtaining a B (visitor) visa to the U.S. when married to a U.S. citizen isn’t necessarily easier than entering the U.S. for other purposes, such as attending a business meeting or going to Disneyland. For a summary of related issues, including meeting the requirement to prove nonimmigrant intent, see Can I Visit the U.S. While Waiting for My Immigrant Visa?

  8. Hi!
    I have a J-1 visa, and my girlfriend (with a German passport) came to visit me here in the U.S. on ESTA. We thought about to get married at the online Utah marriage system, this is can help her to stay here longer than just 90 days?
    Thank you!

    1. Dear O: If you are in the U.S. and your girlfriend visits you, you may be eligible to get married in the state where you are located, or in Utah. If you get married, your new wife may be eligible for J-2 status as your dependent. However, that would likely require departing the U.S. to apply for the J-2 visa abroad because ESTA entrants are not typically eligible to apply to USCIS within the U.S. for change of nonimmigrant status. One advantage of J-2 status is that her status would be valid for as long as yours. One disadvantage is that she may become subject to the J-1 two-year foreign residence requirement. If you’d like further guidance, feel free to Schedule a Consultation.

  9. Gary if you have a Utah online marriage, how fast do you have to consummate the marriage…is there a legal time by which it has to be consummated…or can we apply for the visa and then consummate it before it is reviewed by state department? thank you~

      1. Can you apply for the marriage visa as soon as the proxy marriage takes place and then have proof of consummation before immigration department interview?

        1. Don: Great question. No, a U.S. citizen petitioner cannot file the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, after the proxy marriage but before consummation. The reason is that a petitioner must meet the requirements for a benefit at the time of applying. But if the proxy marriage is unconsummated, the parties do not yet qualify as “spouses” within the meaning of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

  10. Good morning, I am a US citizen currently in Guatemala and would like to Marry a Guatemalan. Can we do a Utah zoom wedding? And will it be legal for immigration purposes?

    1. Liliana: A Utah zoom wedding can meet the requirements to qualify you as spouses under the Immigration and Nationality Act despite the fact that neither of you is present in Utah. What makes you consider this option rather than marrying in Guatemala?

  11. Hi there,
    I am the fiancée to a US citizen. Currently I am in Hong Kong. Due to HK’s strict Covid restrictions, my fiancé can’t come here unless we get a legal marriage certificate in the States. Can we have a Utah Zoom wedding, get the marriage certificate, allowing him to enter HK?

    1. L: That sounds like a plan. Of course, you are asking a question of HK law (i.e., whether HK Immigration will recognize a Utah Zoom marriage as valid), so you should get this question answered by a HK attorney.

  12. Hi Gary – great article!

    I have a question, if I may? I am due to have a B1/B2 (visitor) visa interview in March. My visa application form discloses that I have a U.S. citizen fiancée. She would like to get married during my visit.

    We are considering the Utah marriage by proxy online, and I wonder if disclosing this plan to the consular officer could lead to denial of the visa application, perhaps by raising suspicion that I would seek to adjust status in the U.S.

    Thanks in advance.

  13. So let me get this straight…

    I, a US Citizen in Wisconsin, can get married online via Zoom to a woman living in the Philippines – then travel to visit her – and at that point, the marriage is 100% valid for purposes of the CR1 spousal visa? Is this marriage valid in the other country too (Philippines in this case)?

    Are any special documents required in the CR1 because this was a proxy wedding? Do you have to provide much proof the marriage was consummated?

    I want to make sure everything is understood and covered.

    1. Andy: A valid Utah Zoom wedding, once consummated, would be recognized by U.S. immigration authorities. (I can’t comment on whether it would be recognized under Philippines law, as I am not an expert on Philippines law). See the above article for examples of evidence couples can submit to prove consummation.

    2. Hey Andy: To answer your question on whether a Utah Zoom wedding is recognized as valid under Philippines law, the answer is yes. Still, you must report the marriage to the nearest Philippines Consulate, which is in San Francisco. Also, make sure you request an Apostille because you will need that to send to the Consulate along with other supporting documents. A list of the documents needed to report the marriage to the Consulate is on their website. Not mentioned there but still required is a recent photo of your fiancée holding a current newspaper from the Philippines with the date visible, evidencing that she is in the Philippines.

      I myself am a US citizen that married online through Utah Zoom wedding and was able to process everything smoothly regarding the report of marriage to the Philippines. I haven’t yet met her in person since the wedding to meet the consummation requirement for purposes of applying for the US CR1 visa.

      1. Hi! Thanks for this info! My fiancée and I met and live in South Africa and want to get married and travel to the US. I am a US citizen. What type of visa is he eligible for once we are married via Utah Zoom?

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