What is the Punishment for Committing Bigamy as a Green Card Holder?

January 14, 2020

Despite being acceptable in other areas and cultures, the practices of bigamy and polygamy are both against the law in the U.S. Both have serious implications on the visa status or naturalization prospects for immigrants. Bigamy and polygamy are two situations that involve marriages between more than two spouses. They are often confused.


Bigamy is the illegal act of intentionally being married to more than one person at the same time. This happens when one person marries for a second time without divorcing from the first spouse. This has been known to be perpetrated by one person marrying multiple spouses, often without the spouses being aware of the arrangement. Most intentional bigamists live separate lives with each spouse, lying to keep up the charade.


Polygamy is a cultural or religious practice whereby all spouses knowingly enter the marriage as a way of life. For example, a man who marries more than one wife, whether they live all together or he lives separate lives with each spouse, is a polygamist if all the parties recognize the arrangement. The wives are also considered polygamists.

Another polygamist arrangement could involve a man who legally marries just one woman, but lives with multiple other women deemed as wives. The U.S. is full of many traditions and cultural norms, some of which have histories or current beliefs supporting polygamy. Believing in polygamy is not illegal, but it is illegal to practice in the U.S.

Immigrant Issues

Those who wish to immigrate to the U.S. from areas of the world where polygamy is commonly practiced should be aware that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes the issue very seriously. USCIS officers are taught to look out for indications that an immigration applicant may be a practicing polygamist or bigamist. If this turns out to be true, the immigrant will be considered to lack the moral character to obtain naturalization status. It can also be the basis for deportation and even criminal charges. The U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse could also face criminal charges.

While polygamy or intentional bigamy, with or without a conviction, will certainly prevent an immigration from becoming a U.S. citizen, even an unintentional bigamist, such as a lied-to spouse, may see immigration consequences if they are unable to clear the issue.

History of Bigamy

If a bigamous nature of a marriage ended more than five years ago, it is not reason enough to bar an immigrant from applying to become a naturalized citizen, as long as the legal resident status was not obtained by way of a bigamous marriage and the practice of bigamy did not take place in the U.S. Immigrants with intentions to apply for naturalized status should speak to an immigration lawyer to be sure the issue is cleared before applying.

Vineland Citizenship Lawyers at the MC Law Group, LLC Help Clients with Marriage-Based Immigration Issues

If you believe a bigamist or polygamist history might affect your chances of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, contact the Vineland citizenship lawyers at the MC Law Group, LLC. We help immigration applicants with marriage situations that would otherwise bar them from becoming naturalized. Contact us online or call us at 215-496-0690 to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.