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I have a friend who is married to an Indian from Pakistan. She is from NYC and wants to put single on her passport application, will there be any trouble? She is a US citizen born and raised in the Bronx.

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  • 28
    What is her motivation for doing so?
    – Kyralessa
    Apr 3 at 7:33
  • 34
    Lying on official documents can have unintended consequences in the future. Is this a passport renewal or a first time application? Why does she want to hide her legal marital status?
    – Traveller
    Apr 3 at 7:49
  • 36
    Indian from Pakistan ??
    – RedBaron
    Apr 3 at 11:25
  • 22
    Would the question be any different if her spouse was a Mexican from Guatemala? Apr 3 at 12:16
  • 24
    Note that US passports, unlike for some other countries, do not list marital status anywhere on the passport itself. So if it's a concern like "I don't want certain people who might see my passport to know that I am married", that should not be an issue. (Indian passports apparently do list it. I think we had a previous question from an Indian citizen who feared trouble if certain relatives found out they had married, and who wanted to lie about it on their Indian passport application in case those relatives should get a peek at their passport.) Apr 3 at 16:10
61

Lying on a passport application is a serious crime punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 or up to 10 years in prison. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1542

will there be any trouble?

No one knows. Maybe she gets away with it, maybe she gets caught. Even if it works today, she still can be found out later. Maybe in ten years when she renews. Maybe in 20 years Pakistan, India and the US have a shared marriage date base, who knows?

Given that it's a serious crime with potential heavy penalty it is really NOT something she should do. Whatever the reason for hiding her status, she should consider alternatives in dealing with it. Talking to a lawyer might help: maybe her marriage can be annulled or can be considered "invalid" for US purposes.

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  • 3
    Does the statute of limitation allow prosecuting a lie from 10-20 years ago? Apr 3 at 18:37
  • 7
    @FedericoPoloni "Once someone is deemed to have committed marriage fraud, they are banned for life from getting immigration benefits based on a marriage". Apr 3 at 18:43
  • 2
    @SpehroPefhany that's not the same thing as being prosecuted for a crime and sent to prison.
    – barbecue
    Apr 3 at 19:14
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    @FedericoPoloni the Statute of limitations for this regulation is ten years, so prosecution after that is very unlikely, but there are other consequences besides criminal prosecution that could be just as devastating for some.
    – barbecue
    Apr 3 at 19:18
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    It could also lead to the application being denied, because her data does not match the information the government already has from before.
    – Aganju
    Apr 3 at 19:42
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If the Indian spouse is not a legal US resident, it may be possible to get residency on the basis of the marriage to a citizen. Lying on the passport application will make that possibility unlikely—but at great cost to the liar.

However, if the marriage was done with the intent of helping an immigrant get a green card, and she now regrets it, lying on the passport application is one way to get both of them in trouble quickly. Better to own up to the mistake and get the marriage ended. And the false motivation is grounds for doing so.

For what it’s worth, here is text copied from the actual DS-11 (06-2016):

WARNING: False statements made knowingly and willfully in passport applications, including affidavits or other documents submitted to support this application, are punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under U.S. law including the provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1001, 18 U.S.C. 1542, and/or 18 U.S.C. 1621. Alteration or mutilation of a passport issued pursuant to this application is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1543. The use of a passport in violation of the restrictions contained herein or of the passport regulations is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. 1544. All statements and documents are subject to verification.

1001 may be construed as limiting the prohibition to “material” facts.

1542 has no such limitation, but prescribes punishment only for certain motives.

So, while the answer is “yes, you must,” others are correct in suggesting you might get away with it. But those who suggest you’re likely to regret doing so are also correct.

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  • Why would the US spouse's false passport application prevent the foreign spouse from becoming a US resident?
    – phoog
    Apr 4 at 5:29
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    @phoog Making a statement on your passport application that you aren't married is going to look pretty suspicious when your spouse applies for a visa to the U.S. on the basis of you being their spouse with a marriage date prior to the date of your passport application.
    – reirab
    Apr 4 at 6:06
  • @reirab sure, and then when the marriage certificate shows that the US citizen lied on her passport application, that will establish that the immigrant visa application is truthful, so there's no reason to think it would be refused.
    – phoog
    Apr 4 at 6:41
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    @phoog But it may raise a lot of questions about whether the marriage is a legitimate one or a sham one done only for purposes of getting the spouse into the U.S. (which is common and illegal.) When marriage fraud is suspected, they tend to err on the side of denying admission. And if the investigation determines that the marriage was indeed conducted for purposes of the spouse entering the U.S., both the foreign spouse and the U.S. citizen spouse can potentially face federal felony charges (and the foreign spouse will definitely be banned from entering the U.S.)
    – reirab
    Apr 4 at 7:31
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    If you lie about the marriage, you are definitely committing a crime. If it were a 'sham' marriage, at least the application would be truthful about being married. If lying, then it was A) definitely a sham marriage, and B) you lied about being married. If not lying then A) maybe it was a sham marriage, and B) you telled the truth about being married. There is no case where lying here will help out either you or your spouse. Apr 4 at 8:24
3

The other answers are rather alarmist. Whether the false statement is illegal depends on whether it is material to the passport application, which it likely is not, but in any event this would be a question for the jury at trial.

A false statement is material if it has "a natural tendency to influence, or is capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it was addressed."

(From the Justice Department's Criminal Resource Manual)

The decision to grant a passport does not depend on the marital status of the applicant, so the statement is arguably not material. But the passport authority is likely to take a dim view of that argument. Is she prepared to go to court to present it in her defense in a perjury prosecution?

I haven't found a case bearing directly on a materiality requirement in 18 USC 1542, because few US citizens if any are prosecuted for lying about marital status on passport applications, but US v. Alferahin shows that there is such a requirement in the very similarly worded 18 USC 1425. Further, it finds that a false statement about marital status is not material to the case at hand. If such a statement is not material to naturalization, it cannot be material to a passport application.

The only evidence I've found so far related to prosecutions under 18 USC 1542 are cases in which the defendant is accused of having used a false passport application to obtain a passport under a false identity. Lying about marital status does not approach that level of fraud.

I have asked a question over at Law in the hope of finding some better references to support this answer: Does 18 USC 1542 contain a materiality requirement?

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    That quote is talking about perjury in general. So yes it seems that you possibly couldn't be pursued for perjury, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any other laws applicable that could be stricter.
    – Voo
    Apr 4 at 9:36
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    I’d be careful with this.. aside from the fact that the motivation for asking the question seems to make so little sense, US federal agencies are actually required to provide reasons for collecting the information asked for from the public. It would not surprise me if marriage status was deemed (at least administratively/internally by OPM) to be material to issuing a passport. Probably not the main reason OPs “friend” would face legal trouble, but could certainly be complicating in some situations
    – John-M
    Apr 4 at 15:59
  • 2
    Whether it is material is irrelevant to the fact that it is officially a crime. Whether they choose to prosecute also doesn’t change that.
    – WGroleau
    Apr 4 at 16:20
  • 2
    This answer is just plain wrong.
    – eps
    Apr 4 at 18:13
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    @QuoraFeans it isn't a good idea. But we don't know the perceived benefit for this person. Maybe that benefit would outweigh the risks.
    – phoog
    Apr 5 at 16:00
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There is no realistic circumstances where lying will help her or spouse.

Now, what might be helpful is that the name on the passport doesn’t match her spouses. If that is what your friend is after, she can just continue to use the name she was born with (or make up another name entirely, she’s not stuck with the one she was born with, in some states she can change it entirely simply by starting to use a new nam).

Lying to the government is always lying to the government, and it naturally takes a dim view of it. But saying your last name is Chewbacca is only a lie if you don’t go by Chewbacca in at least some circumstances.

If there’s something else your friend is after, I would suggest consulting an attorney.

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  • 1
    "in some states she can change it entirely simply by starting to use a new name": New York is one of those states, but you can't get a US passport without some other documents showing the name you want to use in the passport. Acquiring those documents for a new name without a court order or marriage certificate is difficult and time consuming.
    – phoog
    Apr 5 at 15:58
  • @phoog: in my case I got a passport with two signed affidavit’s (mother and grandmother) saying they had known me my entirely life and that was the name I had used for the last X number of years. The only problem I have ever had with it was when an immigration officer didn’t believe me and I had to send in documentation showing that it was legal, before she would process my wife’s adjustment of status.
    – jmoreno
    Apr 6 at 11:26

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