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”).

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.”

Sample Utah marriage certificate

Is a Utah Video Conference Wedding Really a “Proxy” Marriage?

The Immigration and Nationality Act excludes from the definition of “spouses” couples who were not both physically present with the officiant at the wedding ceremony, unless the marriage was subsequently consummated:

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’s internal rules, called the Foreign Affairs Manual, refer to marriages where the couple were not both physically present with the officiant at the wedding ceremony as “proxy marriages”:

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

9 FAM 102.8-1(D) Proxy Marriages

The USCIS’ internal rules, found in the USICS Policy Manual, are similar:

USCIS does not recognize the following relationships as marriages: … Relationships where one party is not present during the marriage ceremony (proxy marriages) unless the marriage has been consummated.

12 USCIS-PM G.2(A)(1)

The historic rationale for treating proxy marriages different than other marriages is the concern that the absent party is not able to directly manifest their voluntary to consent to the officiant. See Kathryn Rae Edwards, Kicking the INA Out of Bed: Abolishing the Consummation Requirement for Proxy Marriages, 22 Hastings Women’s L.J. 55, 60-61 (2011).

The Consummation Requirement

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 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, supra.

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. This is a statutory requirement, as discussed above.

The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual further explains the consummation requirement:

(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). For IV cases, 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 for proxy marriages 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).

Concluding Thoughts

Many persons have asked whether a proxy marriage will help them qualify for a B1/B2 (visitor for business or pleasure) visa. Being the spouse of a U.S. citizen is not a requirement for that visa. For more on proving the required nonimmigrant intent for that visa, see Entering the U.S. as a Visitor When Engaged or Married to a U.S. Citizen.

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 in U.S. immigration matters many couples, including same-sex couples, with proxy marriages under Utah law. Please feel free to contact us to discuss representation in your case.

74 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.

        1. I’ve read an article about this on The New York Times and it stated: “The consummation requirement raises more questions than answers, said Rebecca Davis, a history professor at the University of Delaware and host of the podcast “Sexing History.” When the consummation requirement was written into the law, she said, “immigration administrators understood marital consummation as male-female sexual intercourse.” “How does this apply to same-sex couples?” she asked.

          1. I agree that it would be folly for USCIS to try to define what “consummation” or “sex” means for same-sex couples. So far, I am unaware of any attempt to do so.

  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?

  14. Hi Gary, your article is a silver lining to my future! Thank you so much.
    I have a short question to ask: my partner and I are non-US nationals, both from asian countries and none of our home countries allow same sex marriage. We’re planning to go forward with the online marriage in Utah. Would this provide a legal and valid marriage certificate to get him a L-2 visa (since I recently got a job offer in the US with L-1B visa)?

    1. Evan: Yes. A Utah marriage over Zoom, once consummated, would be recognized as a valid marriage under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

      Same-sex marriages have been recognized as valid since 2015, when in an historic 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriages, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing that gay couples have a right to exercise “the fundamental right to marry.”

      You will also need evidence of marriage in good faith, as explained above.

  15. Hi Gary! My fiancé is an American living in Utah, I am Mexican, and what you’ve shared with us is a light of hope. Approximately how long would the process take for me to immigrate to the USA?

  16. Planning to wed with the Utah Zoom marriage.

    We’ll both be in the Philippines at the time of the marriage, so we would consummate it at that time, correct?

    Do we need to report the marriage to the Philippines government before filing the I-130?

    1. Andy: Yes, the rule is that an otherwise valid proxy marriage becomes valid upon subsequent consummation. Reporting the marriage to the Philippines government shouldn’t be a prerequisite to filing the I-130.

  17. I’m already a green card holder in the US and my same sex partner in is Qatar. I heard about Utah’s online marriage option. Can I apply for a spouse visa after we get married online? Or do we need to wait for my citizenship?

  18. Hi. I’m from India, and my partner is a US citizen. We both have an 18 month-old child. We got married through a Utah video conference wedding a couple days ago. Prior to that, we were engaged in person in India and wen through religious marriage rituals, but we didn’t have a civil marriage registration. He has filed I-130s for me and our child, unaware of the consummation policy. What should we do now?

    1. Durga: I’m going to assume for the moment that your religious marriage isn’t recognized as legal in India because it wasn’t registered. The Utah video conference wedding wouldn’t be recognized as valid under the Immigration and Nationality Act either, unless it was subsequently consummated.

      That was the holding of Matter of W, mentioned above. In that case, a U.S. citizen was stationed in Italy from 1946 1948, living with a family, including the beneficiary. Although the couple had considered marrying before he left Italy, they took no actual steps toward this end. When he later learned she was pregnant, he began to plan a proxy marriage. The marriage took place in 1949, in a Church ceremony in Italy with petitioner being represented by an Army friend to whom he had given a power of attorney. At the time, the petitioner was in Colorado. The couple’s child was born 10 days later in Italy. The Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the agency’s denial of the visa petition because by statute a proxy marriage was not recognized unless subsequently consummated.

      You may want to consult with us or another immigration lawyer about the option of filing another I-130 once you do consummate the marriage, or of filing a K-1 fiancée petition.

      1. Sir, Thank you so much for your detailed and prompt response. Will definitely consult you about the filing options. Thanks again

  19. Hi Gary:
    I am a Chinese citizen but a U.S green card holder. I plan to marry through remote appearance video-conference weddings by Utah County to help my fiancé who I have been seeing for 9 years, getting a B2 visa or applying for the green card? I read your article and feel like USCIS or Consulate will not recognize it since it was not consummated? If I file an application with your law firm, what is your advice?
    thank you!

    1. Minghao: Being the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is not a requirement for a B1/B2 visa. It may, however, impact an officer’s determination about whether the applicant has the required nonimmigrant intent. For example, having a U.S. citizen spouse who is an expat with strong ties abroad may be evidence the applicant intends to live abroad too, not immigrate. But having a spouse living in the U.S. may be (but is not necessarily) an indication that applicant intends to immigrate.

  20. Hello Gary:
    My fiancee and I filed for a K1 visa, then 2 years later we grew tired of waiting and completed a proxy marriage through Utah. The proxy marriage has not been consummated. Is it still possible to continue our K1 visa? Thank you,
    John

    1. John: The above-referenced section of the Foreign Affairs Manual does confirm that “[A] party to an unconsummated proxy marriage may be processed as a nonimmigrant fiancé(e).”

  21. I understand that a Utah Zoom marriage can be used if the couple are in two different locations. My same-sex partner and I live in the Philippines. Can a couple who lives together abroad get married this way?

  22. I am from Iran. My partner, from Philippines, has an H-1B visa. We decided to have a Utah Zoom marriage. His U.S. job health care job is critical. It’s best for him NOT to travel to Iran. And neither of our home countries allows same sex marriage. Is there any national exception to the requirement that we consummate the marriage before it is recognized for U.S. immigration purposes?

  23. Hello, I am a US citizen living in Vietnam and I would like to marry my Vietnamese partner whom I’ve lived with for the past 2 years. Since we are both out of the country, is it possible to apply for a marriage license in Utah while abroad? If yes, would it be best to file a K-1 fiancé visa application or to marry and file for a CR1 spouse visa? (We are a same-sex couple).

  24. Hi, I appreciate this article. I’m applying to immigrate through the diversity immigrant visa program. My country doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. Can my girlfriend immigrate with me if we enter into and consummate a Utah marriage via video conference?

    1. Kim: A Utah marriage, once consummated, constitutes a valid marriage under the Immigration and Nationality Act. If you have follow-up questions, please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with our law firm.

  25. I met my fiancé online. We have never met in person. Would we be able to do a Utah zoom wedding having never met? I am traveling to his country in a month so it would be consummated at that time.

  26. Hi Gary,
    For purposes of U.S. immigration, are Utah marriages valid indefinitely, or do they need to be submitted to U.S. immigration authorities within a limited period of time after they are issued?

  27. Hi Gary
    We’re planning on doing this as part of our immigration (we live together in England and have been together 15 years). Would the state of Florida accept this as an official marriage?

    1. Jo,

      As an immigration lawyer, it is my judgment that a consummated Utah Zoom marriage is valid for immigration purposes. I am not a Florida lawyer, so I wouldn’t offer any opinion about whether the marriage would be viewed as valid by Florida officials for purposes other than immigration. But my guess is yes. The U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 1 reads:

      Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

      This Full Faith and Credit clause requires every state, as part of a single nation, to give a certain measure of respect to every other state’s laws and institutions. There are a few potential exceptions, such as when one state’s public policy barring marriages involving minors or close relatives would be violated by recognizing another state’s marriage. See https://repository.uchastings.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3810&context=hastings_law_journal. I am unaware of any court decision holding that a consummated proxy marriage celebrated in one state violates the public policy of another state.

  28. Gary, I just wanted to say thank you very much for publishing these articles and for taking the time to thoughtfully answer all of these questions posed by the readers. I had several questions but they were all asked by other readers and answered very clearly and helpfully by you. You are providing an incredible service simply in answering these questions and it has been invaluable for my South African fiancé and I as we navigate these waters. Thank you!

  29. Hi Gary,
    what if we both currently are in the same state, yet would prefer to do the video call with Utah, since our witnesses live in different states/countries?
    Planning this as part of immigration in the future.

  30. Hi Gary,

    I am from the Philippines and my Fiance is a US citizen from Florida we are in a same-sex relationship. We met last September and we just recently found out about online weddings. We are considering doing an online wedding, however, my country which is the Philippines does not recognize same-sex marriage, since the online wedding will be officiated in Utah county, will this be valid to apply for a CR1 visa?

    1. A Utah video conference wedding will be valid for U.S. immigration law purposes once consummated. I can’t comment on the legal effect of the marriage under Philippines law because I don’t know.

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