Bigamy and polygamy are different forms of being married to multiple people at the same time. Either bigamy or polygamy can result not only in the denial of a citizenship application but also in deportation proceedings. A foreign national will need to disclose on Form N-400 whether they have ever been married to more than one person at the same time. This question may not be as straightforward as it looks. Even if you have not been legally married to more than one person at the same time, the USCIS definition of polygamy may cover your situation.
Bigamy is narrower than polygamy. It involves being intentionally and legally married to more than one person at a time, and it can be charged as a crime because it usually is based on deception. Intentionally committing bigamy, regardless of whether you were actually convicted, will mean that you lack the good moral character to become a citizen. If you intentionally committed bigamy, you probably will not be barred from citizenship on this basis if you wait for five years after the end of the bigamous situation, as long as your green card was not based on a bigamous marriage. Unintentional bigamy can occur if a person believes that the first spouse was dead or that they were legally divorced. This type of bigamy may not bar you from citizenship if you address the situation by dissolving the later marriage. You may not even need to wait for five years after dissolving the marriage before filing your application.
Citizenship Bar Based on Polygamy
Questions of polygamy are often prompted by a review of the applicant’s children or any legal name changes, as well as an applicant’s affiliation with a culture or religion that practices polygamy.
Under immigration regulations, polygamy covers any situation in which an individual has more than one spouse at the same time. (A “spouse” can be anyone whom you consider a spouse, even if they are not technically a spouse under U.S. law.) All of the people involved must be aware of all of the relationships and consent to them for cultural or religious reasons. Polygamy is widely accepted in many regions and religions, most notably Islam. USCIS may carefully examine the relationships of an applicant from a region where polygamy is widespread, or an applicant who practices a religion that recognizes polygamy. You do not need to be legally married to the other people in the polygamous relationships, and you do not need to be the person who has multiple partners. If you have only one partner, but they are practicing polygamy, USCIS will consider you to be practicing polygamy as well. This is true even if the partner who was practicing polygamy lived in a foreign country. However, believing in polygamy is not forbidden, as long as you are not actually practicing it.
USCIS most often discovers polygamy when it reviews the information regarding the children of the applicant. Form N-400 requires an applicant to list all of their children, as well as when and where they were born. Name changes, especially for women, also can raise red flags.
A prior history of polygamy in a foreign country before you got your green card should not affect your application for naturalization. Problems will arise only if your spouse or you have practiced polygamy since gaining legal permanent resident status. Practicing polygamy as a green card holder can result in deportation, even if it occurred a long time ago. If you decide to apply for citizenship, you must make sure to end any polygamous relationship and make sure that your partner ends any polygamous relationship. Then, you will need to wait for five years after the end of a polygamous relationship before applying for citizenship so that you meet the good moral character requirement, unless you can show that you did not intend to practice polygamy when you entered the relationship.