The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) reviews a variety of security clearance denials based an applicant’s romantic relationship with a current or former foreign national.  Often, these clearances are denied under Guideline B, Foreign Influence, because

“…If an applicant or their spouse has a close relationship with even one relative, living in a foreign country, this factor alone is sufficient to create the potential for foreign influence and could potentially result in the compromise of classified information.”

However, your romantic relationship with a foreign-born person is not, as a matter of law, disqualifying under Guideline B.  Clearance adjudicators will look at a variety of factors when making their determination.  Consider the following scenarios.

Your spouse isn’t American…and s/he is an illegal alien.

Marriage to an illegal alien may suggest you have a flippant regard for US law, and thus disqualify you for a clearance under Guideline E, Personal Conduct.

Consider this case of a clearance applicant who married an undocumented Mexican woman.  The applicant knew his wife was undocumented (prior to and following their marriage), but considered the green card and visa processes “an inconvenience.”  His clearance was denied and on appeal the court affirmed the denial, saying: “An Applicant who is involved in a relationship with an individual who is in the United States illegally displays questionable judgment because of his continuing association with a person involved in criminal activity.”

Your spouse isn’t American…but s/he is a legal resident.

Close contact with any foreign national is relevant for security clearance purposes if it creates a heightened risk of foreign influence, under Guideline AG ¶ 7(a).  However, your spouse’s foreign citizenship will not disqualify you, as a matter of law, disqualification to your clearance.

In one case, the clearance applicant was a native U.S. citizen who, during the course of her work as a Top-Secret-level DOD contractor, met and married an Israeli man.  The two met online and following several visits to the U.S. to meet, the couple married.  Afterward, the applicant sponsored her spouse’s application for U.S. permanent residency.  The court allowed the applicant to maintain her security clearance, finding that her foreign husband did not pose a threat.  The court identified several factors for its finding:

  • The country of Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with a “close friendship” to the U.S.
  • The applicant’s spouse complied with all U.S. immigration law when navigating his visits and finally permanent move to the U.S.
  • When applicant’s relationship with her foreign national boyfriend became serious, the applicant disclosed it to her facility security officer and supervisor.
  • After examining the applicant’s in-laws in Israel, the court found “no evidence that…family members in Israel have been targeted or pressured” by the government “to obtain sensitive information” from the cleared applicant.

Your live-in boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t American, and you remain unmarried.

Just because you aren’t legally married, you won’t avoid heightened scrutiny when applying for a clearance.  Sharing living quarters with a foreign national, regardless of citizenship status, creates a heightened risk of foreign inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion, according to Guideline B ¶ 7(d).

You were married to someone who wasn’t American, but have since divorced.

Adjudicators will want to know: How long have you been divorced?  Have you maintained contact with your ex and/or his family?  The answers will determine the potential for foreign influence.

In one case, a female applicant was married to a Cuban citizen, who at that time was residing legally outside the U.S.  After four years of marriage, the couple split and the applicant entirely cut off contact with her ex-husband and  former in-laws.  At the time of her appeal, she had no contact with them for over one year.  The court approved her security clearance, stating that she had refuted the allegations of foreign influence because “the nature and extent of Applicant’s foreign contacts were greatly attenuated after her divorce.”


Is your spouse from Canada or Cuba?  The country matters.  Adjudicators will look at the country’s diplomatic relations with the U.S., its degree of democratic government, whether it engages in state-sponsored terrorism, and its record of supporting human rights, among other things.  According to the court, “The risk of coercion, persuasion, or duress is significantly greater if the foreign country has an authoritarian government; a family member is associated with, or dependent on, the foreign government; or the country is known to conduct intelligence operations against the United States.”

How friendly are you with your in-laws abroad?  Sporadic contact with your foreign in-laws will lessen the risk of you running afoul of Guideline B.  When interactions with foreign nationals are casual and infrequent, adjudicators consider you less likely to be subject to foreign influence or exploitation. Guideline B, ¶8 (c)

Did your foreign spouse comply with US immigration laws during the course of your relationship?  Failure to conform to the law and associations with those who don’t, strikes against you under Guideline E, Personal Conduct.  Consider the above example of the clearance applicant who married an Israeli citizen.  The court favorably cited the couple’s lengthy efforts to abide by the law, including seeking legal assistance to ensure that he was in the United States legally, and reporting their marriage to the Israeli consulate.

Does your spouse still own property or have a bank account in his/her home country?  Your significant other’s divesting of assets in his or her home country could help you maintain your clearance.  According to Guideline B ¶ 7(e): “a substantial business, financial, or property interest in a foreign country, or in any foreign-owned or foreign-operated business….could subject the individual to heightened risk of foreign influence or exploitation.”

Are your in-laws employed by the government in their native country?  Are they pensioners, or otherwise relying on that government for assistance?  The court has noted “the risk of coercion, persuasion, or duress is significantly greater if…a family member is associated with or dependent upon the government.”

In the case of a clearance applicant whose father-in-law in Pakistan was a retired high-level Pakistan government official with a security clearance, the court noted in affirming denial of his clearance: “If terrorists in Pakistan wanted to expose Applicant to coercion, they could exert pressure on his in-laws in Pakistan. Applicant would then be subject to indirect coercion through his spouse and classified information could potentially be compromised.”


Legal Disclaimer – None of the above analysis is offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice.  Furthermore, the information above may or may not reflect the most current legal developments, and thus should not should not be regarded as complete or as an indication of future results. Please consult a licensed attorney for guidance on your matter.

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