Category Archives: bona fide marriage

What Triggers a Notice of Intent to Revoke an I-130 or I-129F Petition and What Can You Do About It?

popped balloonWhen USCIS finds that it approved an I-130 (immigrant visa) or I-129F (K-1 visa) petition in error, it will issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) to the petitioner. A NOIR is a letter to the petitioner fully explaining why USCIS intends to revoke a previously approved petition. Typically, the petitioner has 30 days to respond to the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS decides whether to revoke or reaffirm the petition approval.

What Factors Usually Trigger a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

In marriage-based green card cases, the two most common factors that trigger a revocation notice are:

USCIS Discovers Prior Marriage Fraud Determination

A common reason for a NOIR is when USCIS overlooked a prior marriage fraud determination that prevents the approval of a subsequent petition for the same beneficiary.

Section 204(c) of the Immigration & Nationality Act states that no visa petition may be approved if the beneficiary was previously accorded, or sought to be accorded, an immediate relative or preference status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, by reason of a marriage determined by USCIS to have been entered into for evading immigration laws (i.e. a sham marriage for immigration benefits).

It is not enough for the Consulate to have denied a prior immigrant visa or K-1 visa based on suspicion of a sham relationship. Rather, for section 204(c) to apply, USCIS must make an independent conclusion that the prior marriage was fraudulent.

If USCIS later discovers it should have denied the petition under section 204(c), due to an official determination of prior marriage fraud, it may issue a NOIR.

U.S Consulate Finds Lack of Evidence Showing Bona Fide Marriage

Although the U.S. Consulate has no authority to revoke a petition, it has the final say in whether to grant you an immigrant visa or K-1 visa to enter the United States. The doctrine of consular nonreviewability severely limits judicial or administrative review of a consular officer’s visa denial.

Furthermore, a consular officer who has doubts about the bona fide nature of the relationship between the petitioner and visa applicant, or observes material discrepancies in the record, may return the petition to USCIS for possible revocation.

At the immigrant visa or K-1 visa interview, the consular officer may question the visa applicant and conduct its own investigation. It may also require additional documentary evidence of the relationship, even though USCIS has already approved the petition.

If you do not communicate well, submit insufficient documents, or provide answers that cause the Consulate to doubt the bona fide nature of your relationship to the petitioner, this could lead to a NOIR citing lack of evidence to keep the petition approval. If you raise issues that conflict with the existing record, this could lead to a NOIR citing fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits.

Because the Consulate has no authority to re-adjudicate the petition, it must support the return of the petition with factual and concrete reasons that USCIS did not fully consider.

The Consulate should seek revocation only if the consular officer knows, or has reason to believe, that the petition approval was obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or other unlawful means, or that the visa applicant is not entitled to the benefits sought in the petition.  Generally, Consulates are instructed to not return the petition unless it discovers new information or evidence not known to USCIS at the time of approval.

What Can You Do to Avoid or Overcome a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

In marriage-based green card cases, the documentary evidence and testimony you present is essential to getting and keeping a petition approval. You cannot obtain an immigrant visa, a K-1 visa, or adjustment to permanent resident status without an underlying petition approval.

Avoiding a Notice of Intent to Revoke starts with filing a strong petition with USCIS and preparing thoroughly for the visa interview at the U.S. Consulate. Overcoming a Notice of Intent to Revoke lies in submitting a timely and convincing response to USCIS.

The key stages to exercise caution and seek sound advice from an experienced immigration attorney are:

Filing the Petition

USCIS approves an I-130 for a spouse and an I-129F for a fiancé(e) only when it is convinced the couple more likely than not shares a bona fide relationship, i.e. a marriage or engagement based on mutual intent to establish a life together, and not just for immigration benefits.

In support of the petition, the couple may present documentary evidence such as email correspondences, telephone records, stamped passport pages, travel itineraries, hotel receipts, photos of the two of them together, and affidavits from relatives and friends demonstrating they have a bona fide relationship.

When reviewing a stand-alone I-130 or I-129F petition, USCIS does not interview the petitioner or beneficiary, or conduct independent investigation, but generally relies on the documentary evidence submitted with the petition.

USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) if initial evidence is missing. USCIS will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) if initial evidence is mostly present, but: (a) the filing does not appear to establish eligibility by the preponderance of the evidence; (b) the case appears to be ineligible for approval but not necessarily incurable; or (c) the adjudicator intends to rely for denial on evidence not submitted by the petitioner.

Even when USCIS approves the petition, it may later issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke at any time before the immigrant visa or adjustment of status is granted. If the petition did not contain much evidence of a bona fide relationship or eligibility for the benefit sought, it’s a lot easier for USCIS to revoke the petition approval.

Obtaining guidance from an attorney on the appropriate forms and supporting evidence to submit is essential to getting a petition approval and avoiding a NOIR.

Attending the Visa Interview

In many cases, revocation proceedings are initiated by consular officers who suspect the couple do not share a real relationship. Consular officers often rely on their opinions about the nature of a genuine relationship, in light of cultural norms, local customs, and other factors.  In turn, USCIS may depend on the findings of a consular officer who has interviewed the visa applicant, verified documentary evidence, and performed investigation abroad.

Do not take the petition approval for granted or treat the visa interview as just a formality. The doctrine of consular nonreviewability severely limits administrative or judicial review of consular decisions. The visa applicant (beneficiary of the petition) must prepare fully for the visa interview, respond consistently, truthfully and appropriately to questions, and provide any requested or missing documents.

Having counsel prepare you for the visa interview, including questions and concerns that are likely to be raised by the consular officer, is critical.

Responding to a NOIR

Even couples who share a bona fide relationship can end up with a Notice of Intent to Revoke. If USCIS issues a NOIR, it means it found good and sufficient cause to revoke the petition approval. When responding to a NOIR, it’s important to rebut each and every issue raised, including allegations against the bona fide nature of the relationship.

USCIS must provide derogatory information unknown to the petitioner or applicant in the NOIR. The petitioner typically has 30 days to respond to the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS makes a decision.

Due to the time constraints, multiple issues raised in the NOIR, and the petitioner’s lack of experience with complicated immigration matters, it’s important to get counsel’s help. An experienced attorney can advise you on the rebuttal documents and information to submit, prepare a persuasive legal brief, and submit the best possible response within 30 days.

Challenging a Revocation Notice

If USCIS agrees to sustain the petition approval – following review of the response to the NOIR –  it will issue a reaffirmation notice to the petitioner. After receiving the reaffirmation notice, the Consulate may accept the petition as valid, schedule a second interview, and issue the immigrant visa or K-1 visa.

If, however, USCIS decides the petition should not have been approved, it will issue a revocation notice to the petitioner. The petitioner may appeal an I-130 or I-129F revocation to the higher agency, or file a motion to reopen or reconsider with USCIS, within 15 days. If the petitioner does not challenge the revocation, the decision becomes final and the petition may no longer be used to continue the immigration process.

When the couple is already married, the petitioner may file a new I-130 petition, but must include evidence to rebut any claims that led to the NOIR or revocation notice in a prior petition. When the couple is engaged, filing a new K-1 fiancé(e) petition is not a cure-all solution because USCIS and the Consulate will be aware of problems in the prior petition. Getting married and filing an I-130 petition is a more effective, but not foolproof, course of action.

A petitioner who files a new I-130 or I-129F petition still has to overcome issues listed in a Notice of Intent to Revoke a prior petition approval, or address concerns raised by the U.S. Consulate.

If you receive a revocation notice, consult an immigration attorney to determine whether to file an appeal, a motion to reopen or reconsider, and/or a new petition, and help you pursue your options.

To learn more about the revocation process, read our other article, Notice of Intent to Revoke I-130 or I-129F Petition: Big Stumbling Block to Overcome in Marriage-Based Green Card Case.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Quinn Dombrowski

Notice of Intent to Revoke I-130 or I-129F Petition: Big Stumbling Block to Overcome in Marriage-Based Green Card Case

big wall

In marriage-based green card cases, USCIS’ approval of an I-130 petition does not entitle you to an immigrant visa or adjustment to permanent residence. Likewise, mere approval of an I-129F petition does not necessarily mean you will get the K-1 fiancé(e) visa. Until you are admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant or you adjust status, USCIS may revoke the approval of the petition at any time, for good and sufficient cause.

Some petitions may be automatically revoked, such as when the petitioner withdraws the petition, divorces the beneficiary, or dies and section 204(l) survivor benefits do not apply. Other petitions may be revoked on notice when USCIS determines it issued the approval in error. A Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) is a big stumbling block to overcome when seeking to immigrate to the United States.

Why is the Notice of Intent to Revoke a Big Stumbling Block?  

An approved I-130 petition by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse allows you to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate or file for adjustment of status within the U.S. (if eligible). An approved I-129F petition permits you to apply for a K-1 visa to come to the U.S., marry the U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of arrival, and then file for a green card. Getting the petition approved is just a preliminary step.

USCIS may seek to reverse its decision and revoke the approval based on information or evidence that it did not previously consider. The information or evidence need not have been unavailable or undiscoverable at the time the petition was approved. A NOIR may be based on plain USCIS error, such as overlooking a prior marriage fraud determination or lacking information or evidence discovered by the U.S. Consulate.

Receiving a Notice of Intent to Revoke is disheartening, especially when you have already completed the visa application process and attended your visa interview. Even if the NOIR is based on misinterpretations of the facts, false allegations, or erroneous conclusions, a full and timely response is still required to keep the approval of the petition and continue with the green card process.

How Does the Revocation Process Work?

Once you are permanent resident, revocation of the petition approval is no longer possible. Instead, the U.S. government must use rescission or removal (deportation) proceedings to take your green card away.

The revocation process may begin at any time after the petition is approved, but before you adjust to permanent residence or before you are admitted to the U.S. on an immigrant visa.

When USCIS, on its own initiative,  determines it approved an I-130 or I-129F in error, it retrieves the petition from the USCIS office, consular office, or National Visa Center (NVC) for possible revocation.

In other cases, the U.S. Consulate initiates revocation by sending the case back to USCIS for further review, due to negative information it obtained during review of the visa application or during its interview of the visa applicant.  The consular officer typically denies the visa application under INA section 221(g) (temporary refusal of immigrant visa), pending USCIS’ review of the returned petition. The Consulate returns the petition to USCIS with a  memorandum explaining why it believes the petition should not have been approved or is no longer approvable.

Consulates return immigrant petitions to the National Visa Center, which then route them to the appropriate USCIS offices.

Case Status Information

When a petition is returned and relocated to USCIS, the status of the petition is logged into the national USCIS database system, which in turn updates the Case Status Online system on USCIS’ website.

Not all the USCIS service centers issue receipt notices to petitioners, informing them that the petition is now at a particular USCIS office. For many months (sometimes six months to over 12 months), petitioners often cannot obtain specific case status information through the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) or Case Status Online, until USCIS issues a decision reaffirming the approval or a Notice of Intent to Revoke.

Notice Reaffirming Approval or Notice of Intent to Revoke

Upon receipt of the returned petition, USCIS prepares the case for additional review and forwards it to the adjudications officer who will evaluate the reasons provided by the Consulate for the return.

If USCIS finds the petition is not revocable for the reasons stated by the Consulate, it will reaffirm the petition and return it to the Consulate with an explanation of its decision not to revoke the petition.

If USCIS agrees with the Consulate’s reasoning, it will issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke to the petitioner. A NOIR must be based on “good and sufficient cause.” This means there is evidence in the record, if unexplained and unrebutted, would support a denial of the petition.

A NOIR is a letter to the petitioner fully explaining why USCIS intends to revoke a previously approved petition. USCIS must provide derogatory information unknown to the petitioner or applicant in the NOIR. The petitioner has an opportunity to rebut the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS makes a decision.

USCIS gives the petitioner a specific time frame (usually 30 days) to respond. Petitioners may request additional time if they need it for legitimate reasons, like obtaining documentation from abroad.

If the petitioner does not provide a full and timely explanation on why the petition should not be revoked, and support it with additional evidence, USCIS will revoke the petition. When the approval of a petition is revoked, you may no longer use it to immigrate to the United States.

K-1 visa petitions are especially problematic because they expire after four months from the date of approval by USCIS (or date of last action by U.S. Consulate).  An expired petition may be revalidated by USCIS or the U.S. Consulate in four-month increments upon finding that the K-1 beneficiary is free to marry and intends to marry the petitioner within 90 days of arrival in the United States. The decision on whether to revalidate the petition is discretionary.

What are the Steps for USCIS to Decide on a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

USCIS will review the petitioner’s response to a NOIR before it decides whether to revoke the petition.

Reaffirmation Notice

If USCIS agrees to sustain the petition approval – following review of the response to the NOIR – it will issue a reaffirmation notice to the petitioner. It will also return the petition to the National Visa Center for transfer to the Consulate with the reaffirmation notice, a copy of the NOIR, and the petitioner’s response.

The Consulate may accept the petition as valid, schedule a second interview, and issue the immigrant visa or K-1 visa. In rare cases, however, the Consulate may return the petition again to USCIS with new evidence that was not previously considered. In that event, the revocation process begins again.

Revocation Notice

If the petitioner does not provide a satisfactory response or fails to timely respond to the NOIR, USCIS will issue a revocation notice to the petitioner.

The petitioner may appeal an I-130 or I-129F revocation to the higher agency, or file a motion to reopen or reconsider with USCIS, within 15 days. If the petitioner does not challenge the revocation, the decision becomes final and the petition may no longer be used to continue the immigration process.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney from Start to Finish

An experienced immigration attorney can help you get an I-130 or I-129F approval by advising you on the appropriate forms and supporting documents to submit. Before you attend the visa interview, it’s best to have the attorney prepare you for likely questions and requests for documents, as well as potential actions by a consular officer.

If a NOIR is issued, you typically need counsel’s guidance in filing a timely, complete and satisfactory response to obtain a reaffirmation notice. If USCIS revokes the petition approval, consult an immigration attorney to determine whether to file an appeal, a motion to reopen or reconsider, and/or a new petition, and help you pursue your options.

To learn more about the revocation process, read our other article, What Triggers a Notice of Intent to Revoke an I-130 or I-129F Petition and What Can You Do About It?

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Joe Murphy

 

Notice of Intent to Deny I-130 or I-129F Petition: Huge Hurdle to Clear in Marriage-Based Green Card Case

The filing of an I-130 or I-129F petition is the first step for a foreign national to obtain a marriage-based green card. When U.S. citizens or permanent residents file an I-130 for a spouse, they must submit evidence proving the marriage is not only legal, but also bona fide. Similarly, when U.S. citizens file an I-129F for a fiancé(e), they must present evidence of intent to enter into a good faith marriage.

If USCIS finds the initial evidence is not persuasive, it may issue a Notice of Intent to Deny  (NOID), which is more problematic than a Request for Evidence (RFE).

A response to the NOID is necessary to overcome USCIS’ doubts about the bona fides of the marriage or the couple’s intent to enter into a bona marriage. Typically, the petitioner has 30 days to respond to the NOID, which explains why the initial evidence is not persuasive and why USCIS is intending to deny the petition.

The most common reasons for USCIS to issue a Notice of Intent to Deny an I-130 or I-129F petition are described below:

1. Insufficient Evidence of a Bona Fide Relationship

Evidence of termination of prior marriages (e.g. divorce decree or death certificate of prior spouse) is required to show the couple is legally free to marry. In I-130 cases, the submission of a marriage certificate showing the validity of the marriage is also a must. But it’s not enough to prove the marriage is legal (in immigrant visa/green card cases) or the couple is legally free to marry (in K-1 fiancé(e) visa cases).

In a NOID, USCIS usually points to the lack of evidence of a bona fide relationship, i.e. the marriage was created (or will be created) with good faith intent to establish a life together as spouses, and not for the purpose of circumventing U.S. immigration laws.

USCIS also often raises concerns about the evidence that was submitted. Examples: photographs of the couple together are all taken at a single event, instead of at different events; joint billing statements are only from the last two months; joint bank account statements fail to show regular deposits and withdrawals.

The response to the NOID must address the deficiencies with additional evidence, such as:

  • Photos of the couple together and with family and friends taken over the course of their relationship, including before the marriage/engagement and long after the marriage/engagement
  • Federal income taxes showing the filing status as married (filing jointly or separately)
  • Joint residential lease or mortgage statements showing shared residence
  • Joint health, dental, disability, automobile, life, home, and renter’s insurance.
  • Joint bank account statements, joint credit card statements and other documentation of active comingling of financial resources
  • Receipts for shared purchases (e.g. furniture, motor vehicle)
  • Affidavits from third parties attesting to the bona fide nature of the marriage
  • Birth certificate for child born of the marriage, or evidence that the couple is expecting a child

Typically, it is harder to prove a bona fide relationship when you are living overseas and applying for an immigrant visa or K-1 fiancé(e) visa at the U.S. Consulate, instead of a green card within the U.S.  Alternative evidence includes:

  • Receipts of wire transfers or bank transfers from one person to the other
  • Evidence of international travel or visits to see each other, e.g. hotel reservations and bills; travel stamps in passports; travel itineraries; boarding passes; photographs of the trip
  • Records of written communication between the couple or between one spouse and a third party mentioning the other spouse, e.g. emails, letters,  and cards
  • Printouts of text messages or messages exchanged on social media
  • Telephone records showing regular conversations between the couple

2. Inconsistent Testimonies or Incomplete Answers Given at the Interview

When the spouse of a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) is in the U.S. and is eligible for adjustment to permanent residence, he or she may file an I-485 application concurrently with the I-130 petition.

USCIS will schedule both the petitioner and beneficiary for an interview at the Field Office that has jurisdiction over where the couple lives. At the interview, the officer will ask questions to determine whether the marriage is bona fide. The officer also observes the couple’s general demeanor, body language, and interactions with each other during the interview.

In some cases, the couple may be separated and questioned individually. Generally, the officer asks each person the same questions, takes notes, and later compares the answers to see if they match up.

In a NOID, USCIS may list out discrepancies or inconsistencies between the testimonies. Examples are: one spouse claims she has met the other’s siblings, while the other spouse says no such meeting occurred; one spouse states the premarital courtship lasted for six months, while the other says it was one month; one spouse recalls they traveled during the last July 4th holiday, while the other spouse notes they celebrated in town.

USCIS may also describe incomplete or deficient answers given at the interview. For example, one spouse doesn’t know the other’s birthday, parents’ names, work schedule, model of motor vehicle owned, or other personal information USCIS believes a bona fide married couple should know.

In the response to the NOID, both parties must address each and every one of USCIS’ concerns about their testimonies. Discrepancies and incomplete answers may be due to a variety of factors, including the USCIS officer’s misunderstanding of the answers, the foreign national’s limited English proficiency, different expectations about what couples should know about each other, and outright fabrication in testimonies.

3. Adverse Information Gathered in USCIS’ Investigation

In I-130 cases where the foreign national beneficiary is in the United States, USCIS expects the couple to live together. A legal separation of the couple gives USCIS solid ground to deny an I-130 petition. If there is no legal separation, but the couple simply resides separately, USCIS may not deny the I-130 merely because of lack of cohabitation. Maintaining separate residences, however, is relevant to determining the couple’s intent at the time of the marriage. USCIS also considers no cohabitation since the marriage as one factor indicating a sham marriage.

If the officer suspects the marriage is a sham, USCIS may conduct further investigation. This includes USCIS investigating officers showing up at the parties’ claimed residence to verify if they live together as a married couple. The “bed check” or “site visit” can occur at any time after the interview — sometimes as long as one to two years later — while the case is pending.

The site visit is unscheduled and typically occurs very early in the morning.  The USCIS officers will knock on your door and ask to enter your home so they can look around and ask questions. While the parties may refuse to admit the officers into their home, this could raise more suspicion and trigger other types of investigation. If no one is around to admit the officers inside the home, they can keep coming back or take a look around outside the home.

USCIS officers may also talk with your neighbors or your landlord/rental manager to verify whether you live together at your claimed residence. They may request records from your employer or school to confirm your reported marital status, residence, emergency contact, etc.

USCIS also often checks Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) records, court records, social media, and other miscellaneous sources to  see if there is any adverse information, such as the parties claiming different residences or failing to hold themselves out as a married couple.

In a NOID, USCIS may describe adverse information gathered during its investigation, which indicates the marriage is a sham or at least raises doubts about its bona fide nature. Examples include: lack of personal belongings of one spouse in the shared residence; neighbor or landlord claims the couple do not live together; or DMV records lists an address other than the shared residence.

In the response to the NOID, the couple must tackle issues that arose during USCIS’ investigation. One spouse may keep his clothes in a separate room due to limited closet space. The neighbor or landlord might have been misquoted by USCIS. One spouse may have neglected to report an address change to the DMV after moving in with the other.

4. Fraudulent Marriage Prohibition Against Approval of I-130 or I-129F Petition

Section 204(c) of the Immigration & Nationality Act states:

…no petition shall be approved if (1) the alien has previously been accorded, or has sought to be accorded, an immediate relative or preference status as the spouse of a citizen of the United States or the spouse of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, by reason of a marriage determined by the Attorney General to have been entered into for the purpose of evading the immigration laws[,] or (2) the Attorney General has determined that the alien has attempted or conspired to enter into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws.

Basically, USCIS cannot approve an I-130 or I-129F petition when the foreign national beneficiary is found to have previously entered into or conspired to enter into a sham marriage solely for immigration benefits.

When USCIS raises section 204(c) in an I-130 or I-129F petition, the case gets very complicated. The issue is not so much whether the current I-130 or I-129F petitioner and beneficiary share a bona fide relationship, but whether the beneficiary previously committed or conspired to commit marriage fraud.

In the response to the NOID, the couple must provide favorable facts and rebuttal evidence indicating the prior relationship was not a sham and section 204(c) does not apply. If USCIS finds the rebuttal is insufficient, and concludes there is substantial and probative evidence of a prior sham marriage, it cannot approve the I-130 or I-129F petition, even if the beneficiary has a bona fide relationship with the current petitioner.

More Points to Consider

1. A NOID is more appropriate than a RFE when initial evidence is mostly present, but: (a) the filing does not appear to establish eligibility by the preponderance of the evidence; (b) the case appears to be ineligible for approval but not necessarily incurable; or (c) the adjudicator intends to rely for denial on evidence not submitted by the petitioner.

2. The petition belongs to the U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Although the beneficiary may contribute to the response to the NOID, only the petitioner may file the response. The beneficiary has no standing to pursue an I-130 or I-129F alone.

3. USCIS examines the bona fides of the marriage, not its “viability” (i.e. the probability of the parties staying married for a long time). Nevertheless, once a NOID is issued, it becomes much more challenging to prove the marriage is bona fide.

4.  USCIS does not conduct interviews, prior to issuing a decision on the I-130 or I-129F, when the beneficiary will apply for an immigrant visa or K-1 visa abroad. But discrepancies or inconsistencies may arise later when the U.S. Consulate conducts the visa interview. If the consular officer finds, during the visa interview, that USCIS should not have approved the petition, it may return the case to USCIS with a memorandum explaining why the approval should be revoked. Marriage fraud issues can be raised by the Consulate. USCIS may then issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke the I-130 or I-129F approval, to which the petitioner has 30 days to respond.

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If the response to a NOID is not handled properly, the likelihood of receiving a denial is almost certain. In the denial notice, USCIS may not only find the petitioner failed to prove the bona fides of the marriage, but further rule the marriage is a sham (i.e. entered into solely for immigration benefits).

The NOID provides a taste of denial without its immediate consequences. It gives the petitioner an opportunity to address doubts about the relationship. Enlisting the help of an experienced immigration attorney is crucial to providing a timely, complete and effective response to a NOID.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by:  JanetandPhil

Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 Visa?

A foreign national who is living overseas and is in a relationship with a U.S. citizen has two main visa options to come to the U.S., get married, and apply for a green card: the B-2 visitor visa and the K-1 fiancé(e) visa. Each route has advantages and disadvantages.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE B-2 VISITOR VISA

The B-2 visitor visa is for temporary visits only. Entering the U.S. on a B-2 visa and then applying for a marriage-based green card carry benefits and risks.

Benefits of the B-2 to Green Card Route

1. B-2 visa applicant or visa holder does not need a sponsor

An invitation letter or Affidavit of Support from an American sponsor is not required for a B-2 visa. Unlike K-1  fiancé(e) visa applicants, B-2 visa applicants are not required to prove a bona fide relationship with a U.S. citizen significant other.

B-2 visa applicants must instead qualify on the basis of their own residence and ties abroad.  There is no medical exam to complete or immigration-related petition for a U.S. citizen relative to file. They just need to file the online nonimmigrant visa application and pay the application fee.

Legitimate purposes of the B-2 include tourism, vacation (holiday), and visits with friends or relatives. Getting married to a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) during your visit is not prohibited – as long as you intend to leave the country before your authorized period expires.

2. General desire (and even preconceived intent) to immigrate  – in and of itself – does not prevent B-2 visa holder from adjusting status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen

The B-2 to green card route works best when the foreign national decides to get married to the U.S. citizen only after entering the country. The couple might be undecided about the future of their relationship until they spend more time together during the visit. If the U.S. citizen surprised the B-2 visitor with a marriage proposal after he or she entered the U.S., the visitor could show the original intent was truly a temporary visit.

A general desire to remain in the U.S ., when there is an opportunity to do so legally, is not a problem. Furthermore, a fixed intent to immigrate does not bar immediate relatives (e.g. spouses) of U.S. citizens from adjusting status — unless there are other adverse factors that allow USCIS to deny adjustment as a matter of discretion.

3. Concurrently filing the I-130 and I-485 application (one-step petition/application) is the most streamlined way to get a marriage-based green card

Under normal circumstances, a B-2 visitor who is physically present in the U.S., after lawfully entering the U.S., may file a Form I-485 adjustment of status application at the same time the U.S. citizen files the Form I-130 immigrant petition with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). The B-2 to green card route is commonly used by immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

The one-step filing of the I-485 and I-130 is a much more streamlined process than applying for a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, K-3 nonimmigrant visa, or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate overseas, based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. You may also stay with your spouse in the U.S. while your green card application is pending, instead of being separated from each other.

Drawbacks of the B-2 to Green Card Route

1.  B-2 visa applicant or visa holder must show non-immigrant intent

To get the B-2 visa or to enter the U.S. as a visitor, the foreign national must have nonimmigrant intent. You need to prove you have strong ties to your home country that you will not abandon and you will leave the U.S. before your authorized stay expires.

The B-2 visa to green card route works best if you are not yet engaged to the U.S. citizen or did not make specific plans to immigrate to the U.S. after entering the U.S.

Entering the U.S. as a visitor simply to marry a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) does not violate U.S. immigration law, as long as you leave before your authorized stay expires. While this purpose is legitimate, it still carries risks and may lead to your being denied a visitor visa or entry into the U.S. as a visitor.

If you are applying for a visitor visa, you will be asked on the nonimmigrant visa application, and possibly at the visa interview, whether you have any immediate relatives in the U.S. This includes a fiancé(e). If the consular officer learns you have a U.S. citizen fiancé(e) or believes you will marry the fiancé(e)  during your visit, you will likely be denied a visitor visa. This is because the consular officer might suspect you have no intent of leaving the U.S., but will overstay, get married, and apply for a green card to live permanently in the U.S. with your American spouse.

At the U.S. port of entry, the customs officer may deny your entry for the same reason, even if you present a valid visitor visa. If the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) finds that you cannot show nonimmigrant intent and therefore lack the proper travel documents, it has two choices. It will either (a) allow you to withdraw your application for admission (and likely revoke your visa) OR, (b) issue an expedited removal order, which bars you from returning to the U.S. for five years, unless you obtain a Form I-212 waiver. Either way, you will be instructed to return home on the next available flight.

In certain situations, the CBP might also find that you willfully misrepresented the purpose of your visit to gain entry into the U.S. as a visitor. It may then deny your entry and issue an expedited removal order on this additional ground. If you cannot convince CBP to refrain from issuing (or to vacate) a charge of willful misrepresentation, you face a lifetime bar to getting a green card or immigrant visa. You will then need to qualify for and obtain an I-601 [INA § 212(i)] waiver of inadmissibility.

I-601 waiver applicants must show  their qualifying relative (U.S. or permanent resident spouse or parent) will suffer “extreme hardship” if they are not admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant. This waiver is challenging to get.

2. Fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits prohibits B-2 visa holder from getting a green card

Lying about the purpose of your visit or about whether you have an American fiancé in the U.S. could be deemed to be fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits.

The U.S. Department of State adopted a 30/60 day rule when a foreign national violates his nonimmigrant status. When a B-2 visa holder marries a U.S. citizen or applies for permanent residence within 30 days of entry,  the DOS presumes that he misrepresented his intent in seeking a visitor visa or entry. If the marriage or green card application occurred between 30 and 60 days of entry, the DOS does not presume, but may content there was misrepresentation. If the marriage or green card application occurred after 60 days, the DOS does not consider such conduct to constitute fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits.

USCIS is a separate agency from the DOS and the Board of Immigration Appeals has held that immediate relatives are exempt from the 30/60 day rule. Nonetheless, USCIS may use it as a guide.

If USCIS finds you committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to get the B-2 visa or to enter the U.S. as a visitor, this presents a permanent bar to getting a green card. You may also be placed in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.

You may challenge the finding by showing you did not engage in immigration fraud or willfully misrepresented material facts when you applied for the visa or when you sought entry into the U.S. If you are unable to overcome the finding, you will need to apply for and receive an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility.

3. Concurrent filing of the I-130 and I-485 (one-step petition/application) involves strict eligibility requirements

The visitor visa is often misused as a way to enter the U.S., get married, and then apply for adjustment of status (green card) to avoid the longer process of applying for a K-1, K-3 or immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate.

USCIS officers will carefully scrutinize your marriage to confirm it’s bona fide, i.e. entered into with the intent of establishing a life together as spouses, and not to circumvent U.S. immigration laws. You need to present documentary evidence of your shared residence, commingling of financial resources and other factors showing you have a real marriage. You also have to testify consistently and credibly as to the nature of your relationship and courtship.

As the I-485 applicant, you must show you are not inadmissible due to criminal convictions, health-related reasons, immigration violations, or other factors. The USCIS officer may conduct a full review your records (including your visitor visa application) and ask you questions at the interview to verify you are admissible to the U.S. It may investigate your true intent when you applied for the visa or sought entry on the visa.

An immigrant visa must also be available to the I-485 applicant.  If your spouse is a permanent resident, he or she may file an I-130 petition for you, but you may not file for a green card right away due to the backlog in the F2A (spouse of permanent resident) category.

When you are not in the immediate relative (e.g. spouse of U.S. citizen) category, you must be in lawful nonimmigrant status when you file an I-485. You will need to extend or change status to remain lawfully in the U.S. during the wait. Or you might have to wait until your permanent resident spouse becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen. Because adjusting status as the spouse of a permanent resident carries many obstacles, you likely will have to timely depart the U.S. and apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate when one becomes available.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE K-1 FIANCE(E) VISA

The K-1 fiancé(e) visa is for the specific purpose of entering the U.S. to get married to a U.S. citizen and filing for adjustment of status. Entering the U.S. on a K-1 visa and then applying for a marriage-based green card carry benefits and risks.

Benefits of the K-1 to Green Card Route

1. K-1 visa applicant is not required to show nonimmigrant intent

When you apply for a K-1 visa, you are declaring immigrant intent. Getting married to a U.S. citizen and applying for permanent residence are expected. Unlike B-2 visa applicants, K-1 applicants are not required to present evidence of nonimmigrant intent or strong ties to their home country.

2. K-1 visa is the most appropriate visa for marrying a U.S. citizen in the U.S. and applying for a marriage-based green card

As a K-1 entrant, you bear no risk of being found to have committed visa fraud if you marry the U.S. citizen petitioner and apply for a green card, as you indicated you would.  Because you are required to marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days, the Department of State’s 30/60 day rule does not apply at all.

The K-1 to green card route is the most direct path to obtaining a marriage-based green card when you are engaged to a U.S. citizen.

3. Adjustment of status process for the K-1 entrant is generally simpler

A K-1 visa holder who completed the medical exam within the past year to get the visa is not required to do a medical exam for the I-485 application. You just need to submit the vaccination supplement, and not the entire medical report.

The U.S. citizen also does not have to file an I-130 immigrant petition after the marriage occurs. You simply file the I-485 application based on the approved Form I-129F petition, as long as the marriage occurred within 90 days of arrival in the U.S.

USCIS also has discretion to waive adjustment interviews for K-1 and K-2 entrants, i.e. fiancé(e) of U.S. citizen and children of fiancé(e). If the National Benefits Center (NBC) determines that the I-485 application qualifies for an interview waiver, and the Service Center agrees, the K-1 entrant may be granted a green card without an interview at the USCIS Field Office. This is never the case with the B-2 entrant, who must complete a marriage-based green card interview.

Drawbacks of the K-1 to Green Card Route

1. K-1 visa applicant must prove bona fide relationship with U.S. citizen

The K-1 visa option is available only if you are engaged to a U.S. citizen. It is not available if you are not committed to getting married (or you are already married), or if your fiancé(e) is just a permanent resident.

To get the K-1 visa, you must prove you have a real relationship with the U.S. citizen, communicate with each other often, and intend to marry within 90 days of your arrival in the U.S. Documentary evidence includes written correspondences, telephone records, and airline tickets and travel stamps showing the U.S. citizen has visited the K-1 visa applicant.

2. K-1 visa involves strict eligibility requirements

In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting on December 2, in which 14 people were killed after married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at a holiday party, Congress began to review the K-1 visa application process. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, opined that USCIS “sloppily approved” Farook’s K-1 visa petition for Malik.  Goodlatte noted that USCIS failed to verify whether the Pakistani national had met her U.S. citizen husband in person before applying for the K-1 visa.

The K-1 visa process requires the couple to meet in person at least once during the two years before the U.S. citizen files the Form I-129F petition for the fiancé(e). Waiver of the in-person meeting requirement is very hard to get.

For USCIS to approve the Form I-129F petition and for the U.S. Consulate to grant the visa, both the U.S. citizen petitioner and foreign national beneficiary must meet other strict eligibility requirements.

For example, a U.S. citizen who has filed two or more K-1 petitions at any time in the past or had any K-1 petition approved within the prior two years may not file a new K-1 petition unless USCIS grants a waiver of these limitations as a matter of discretion. No waiver will be given to a petitioner with a history of violent offenses except in limited circumstances.

3. K-1 to green card route involves a longer, three-step process

You cannot live with your U.S. citizen fiancé(e) in the U.S. until you get the K-1 visa to enter the U.S. The first step of filing the Form I-129F petition and getting it approved usually takes at least 4 to 6 months. The U.S. citizen has to submit a filing fee with the petition.

After USCIS approves the petition, the K-1 applicant must then submit the online nonimmigrant visa application, pay a visa application fee, complete a medical exam, and attend the visa interview.

The U.S. Consulate usually takes several months to schedule a K-1 visa interview. At the visa interview, the U.S. Consulate may require additional documents to confirm the applicant is still in a bona fide relationship with the U.S. citizen. Administrative processing and background checks by the U.S. Consulate can add several more months to the process.

After you enter the U.S. on a K-1 visa, you must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of your arrival. Then you must file your I-485 application and pay the filing fee to complete the green card process. If you fail to marry within 90 days, the U.S. citizen spouse will need to file a Form I-130 petition, following marriage outside the 90 days, so you may file a Form I-485 application. If you do not marry at all, you become removable from the U.S. and you cannot adjust through marriage to another U.S. citizen or through any other means.

Although USCIS may waive the adjustment of status interviews for K-1 entrants, it usually does not. Following the San Bernardino shooting, USCIS is expected to waive even fewer interviews. At the interview before USCIS, the couple must prove they have a bona fide marriage and the I-485 applicant must show he or she is admissible to the U.S.

Want to hear about this topic? Check out this video:

WHICH IS BETTER: B-2 or K-1? 

Whether to use the B-2 or K-1 to join your significant other in the U.S. depends on your situation. You need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each route when deciding which to take.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney to help you determine whether the B-2 or K-1 is more appropriate for you. Although both can lead to a marriage-based green card, each carries benefits and drawbacks.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Dennis Skley

Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 Visa?

In this video, immigration attorney Dyan Williams describes two types of nonimmigrant visas: B-2 visitor visa and K-1 fiancé(e) visa. She summarizes what you need to know about each visa when using either to come to the U.S., get married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and apply for a green card.

Read about Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 visa?  here.

For more information, read these articles:

Contact Dyan for specific advice and guidance on the B-2 visitor visa or K-1 fiance(e) visa to green card process.

This video provides general information and is for educational purposes only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Immigration laws, regulations and policies are subject to change. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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