Tag Archives: green card interview

5 Benefits of Having Immigration Counsel at Your In-Person Interview with USCIS

When you receive notice of your in-person interview with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), you might be tempted to attend it without counsel to save on legal fees.  Many applicants, however, end up spending more money down the line because they did not have a qualified attorney helping them deal with unexpected problems at the interview.

If you filed the application or petition on your own, you could tell yourself the wait is over and the interview is just a formality before USCIS grants the immigration benefit. If you had counsel helping you with the filing, you might decide her presence at the interview is excessive because your important questions have already been addressed.

But the advantages of having reputable, experienced counsel appear with you at the interview far outweigh the disadvantage of incurring legal fees for representation.

In-person interviews with USCIS are necessary to obtain most immigration benefits, including asylum, permanent residence (green card) and naturalization (U.S. citizenship). The interview usually occurs at the USCIS Field Office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence.

As of October 2, 2017, under the Trump Administration, USCIS began to phase-in interviews for the following:

• Employment-based adjustment of status/green card applications  (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) filed on or after March 6, 2017, in the EB-1, employment based first preference, EB-2, employment based second preference, and EB-3, employment based third preference.

• Refugee/asylee relative petitions (Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition) for beneficiaries who are in the United States and are petitioning to join a principal asylee/refugee applicant.

Previously, except in certain situations such as when a criminal record or unlawful presence existed, applicants in these categories were not scheduled to attend an in-person interview with USCIS for their applications to be adjudicated.

USCIS plans to gradually expand interviews to other immigration benefits. It notes the change is in line with Trump’s Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” and is part of the agency’s  efforts to improve the detection and prevention of fraud and enhance the integrity of the immigration system.

Here are 5 main benefits of having immigration counsel at your in-person interview with USCIS:

1. Provide protection against excessive screening or vetting

The in-person interview is a screening and vetting procedure for persons seeking immigration benefits to reside or stay long-term in the United States. While USCIS officers are trained to be professional, courteous, and respectful of your legal rights, some may turn (or may seem) hostile when there is reason to believe the applicant is committing immigration fraud, is a danger to the community, or is ineligible for or undeserving of the benefit sought.

Interviews with USCIS are not supposed to be adversarial in nature. They are meant to gather complete and accurate information (both favorable and unfavorable) to properly adjudicate the case, not to find a reason to deny the requested benefit.

Nevertheless, due to expansions in immigration enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, there are now more reports of applicants being arrested and detained by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) at their interviews  with USCIS. These cases normally involve beneficiaries attending I-130 interviews who have prior or outstanding removal orders and have remained unlawfully in the country.

Prior to the interview, the attorney can review your criminal record and immigration history to evaluate the risks of interview attendance. While attorneys have no authority to stop ICE from lawfully apprehending or detaining an applicant at the USCIS interview, they may ask critical questions to verify where the applicant will be held and the next steps in the detention and removal process. Unless there is an express agreement, however, the attorney is not obligated to represent you beyond the interview with USCIS.

In less complicated cases — such as where ICE apprehension or detention is unlikely because the only violation is a visa overstay — your having counsel at the interview is still crucial. Attorney appearance encourages the USCIS officer to remain professional and courteous and stick to relevant issues.

2. Clarify unclear questions and complex issues

At the in-person interview, the USCIS officer may ask for any information related to questions on the application forms, your eligibility for the benefit sought, your marital history, your manner of entry into the U.S., your admissibility to the U.S. (such as any arrests, charges or convictions, or misrepresentations made to an immigration official), your educational background, and your past and present employment (including the documents you used to obtain a job in the United States).

When a USCIS officer asks a vague or unclear question, the attorney may request clarification to ensure the applicant understands what is being asked. If the attorney knows the answer is factually or legally incorrect, she may also ask the officer to rephrase the question or point to objective records in the file to show the applicant is mistaken.

3. Help prevent unnecessary delays and complications

USCIS stated the new interview requirement, which became effective on October 2, 2017,  will amount to approximately 17% of the agency’s total workload. Thus, longer processing times and increased delays in all adjudications , especially interview-based applications, are expected.  These days, USCIS is taking one year or more to adjudicate green card and naturalization applications, as opposed to six to nine months in the past.

At the interview, you should strive to present all the necessary information and requested documents to facilitate approval. Otherwise, it may take several weeks or months for USCIS to issue a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny, to which you must respond within a specified time frame (e.g. 87 days and 30 days, respectively.)

Your attorney can help you figure out what you need to bring to the interview, based on the instructions in the interview notice and the unique facts of your case. The attorney is also better equipped to evaluate whether a favorable decision or adverse notice is expected, depending on what occurred at the interview, and prepare you for next steps following the interview.

4. Serve as an advocate

Unlike in court hearings before a judge, interviews with USCIS do not involve your attorney asking you direct questions to solicit testimony. The USCIS officer asks the questions and  you provide the answers.

Questions on issues that may seem inappropriate or unimportant to you might be relevant to your eligibility for the immigration benefit and be in line with USCIS policy. Having counsel at the interview helps you determine when it’s better to answer, ask for clarification, or object (for good cause).

Your attorney cannot respond to questions the USCIS officer directs to you. She also may not coach you on how to lie about facts or hide information that is requested. But she may advise you on legal issues or raise objections to inappropriate questions or, as a last resort, ask to speak with a supervisor (particularly if the interview becomes argumentative or antagonistic).

Having an attorney present at the interview helps to protect and advocate your legal rights. If USCIS instructs you to provide a sworn, written statement on controversial points, the attorney can verify that you understand what you are providing and signing.

Counsel can further help you avoid misrepresenting material facts to the USCIS officer and explain unfavorable information to defuse a difficult situation. They advise you on pitfalls and weaknesses in your case that will likely be at issue in the interview. They determine when and how to best present testimony and documentary evidence to highlight positive factors and offset negative factors in your case.

It is rare for interviews to be  video-recorded. Without counsel, it will just be the USCIS officer and you (and possibly your interpreter) in the interview room. The officer will takes notes for the file, but you typically will not have access to them unless you submit a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request, which normally takes several months to process. Moreover, in the FOIA response, the agency may redact, or black out, any information protected by one of the nine FOIA exemptions to prevent certain harms, such as an invasion of privacy, or harm to law enforcement investigations.

An attentive attorney at the interview will carefully observe the discussion and take informative notes on questions asked and answers given. If USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny or other adverse notice based on purported discrepancies and inconsistencies at the interview, an attorney may provide a credible explanation on what was said in the interview and how it was conducted. It won’t just be your word against the allegations of the interviewing officer.

5. Add credibility to your claim

Having an attorney present does not mean you have something to hide. On the contrary, many USCIS officers prefer applicants to bring counsel to the interview for it to run more smoothly and effectively.

In addition, because attorneys have a duty of candor to the tribunal, their presence generally adds credibility to your claims.  An attorney cannot knowingly present false information or false documents or perpetuate fraudulent claims without running afoul of the professional responsibility rules.

The attorney can help prepare you for interview by describing what questions to expect and which issues are likely to arise, and how to best address them. They can further prepare and submit a legal memorandum to stave off concerns and persuade the officer to approve your case.

Conclusion: Bring Counsel to the Interview

There are many applicants who attend their interviews without counsel and get their applications or petitions approved. But these cases are usually very well-documented with positive information and no adverse factors to consider. The applicant also has to be very fortunate having a relatively short interview where no problems arose. It is hard to know how exactly your interview will go.

Many things can go wrong at the interview with USCIS, which may lead to severe consequences including denial decisions and even a Notice to Appear in removal proceedings before an Immigration Court.

For example, the USCIS officer may conduct separate interviews of the U.S. citizen (I-130 petitioner) and his foreign national spouse (I-485 applicant) and determine they entered into a sham marriage for immigration purposes. The officer may review the entire immigration history and/or criminal record of a naturalization applicant and find that he is not only ineligible for citizenship, but is subject to removal from the United States.

Even if you prepared and filed the application or petition with USCIS on your own, or with the help of an immigration consultant or online immigration service, you may have counsel enter her appearance at the interview by submitting a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney, to the USCIS officer.  Once the G-28 is accepted, the appearance will be recognized until the matter is concluded (absent a withdrawal of representation).

It’s best to secure counsel for the interview at least two weeks in advance to avoid scheduling conflicts and lack of preparation.

In some cases, the interview goes so well that having counsel seems to be an added expense with no benefit. But more than likely, counsel’s presence at the interview contributes to the successful outcome, even though you might not be able to measure the effects. And when the stakes are high, it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared and to err on the side of caution by having counsel at the interview.


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.


Photo by: johnhain

What to expect after your marriage-based green card interview

A marriage-based green card interview before USCIS is required when a foreign national files a Form I-485 (green card) application based on a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) spouse’s I-130 immigrant petition for him or her.  A fiancé(e) who enters the U.S. on a K-1 visa, marries the U.S. citizen petitioner, and then files an Form I-485 may also be scheduled for an interview.

What is the best possible outcome of a marriage-based immigration interview? 

If, at the end of the interview, the officer determines your marriage is bona fide, the I-130 petition can be approved on the spot. The I-485 will be approved as well if the foreign national qualifies for adjustment of status, the background check has cleared, and the marriage is found to be bona fide.

You will receive approval notices in the mail, after which the green card is issued in about three weeks.

What delays may occur following a marriage-based immigration interview? 

Case put on hold due to delays in name check and FBI clearance

Sometimes the FBI and other outside agencies are unable to complete all the background checks on the foreign national before the interview date. The USCIS officer may still approve the I-130 petition, but not the green card application until all the background checks are clear. You may schedule an InfoPass appointment to check on the progress in your case.

Case put on hold because officer is undecided or has other priorities

Sometimes the officer is undecided on whether to approve or deny the case.  For example, the officer is convinced that the parties share a bona fide marriage, but questions whether the foreign national is eligible for adjustment of status. A false claim to U.S. citizenship to gain employment or a serious criminal conviction are two common reasons why an adjustment application can be held up, even if the officer intends to approve the I-130 petition.

The interviewing officer may forward the case to a supervisor for further review and guidance. The sheer volume of petitions and applications being processed at the USCIS field office can add to the delay.

Several months might pass before the officer finally approves the case. In some instances, the officer may approve the petition, but deny the I-485 adjustment application. If the foreign national is placed in removal proceedings, the adjustment application and other forms of relief can be reviewed by an Immigration Judge.

Case put on hold because more evidence is needed or negative information is in the file

When more information is needed to issue a decision in your case, the officer has several options.

Request for Evidence

The officer may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) specifying the additional documents you must submit.  You  will have a set time frame in which to submit the evidence (usually 12 weeks).  Although an RFE does not mean USCIS intends to deny the case,  your failure to file a timely response could lead to a denial.

Site Investigation

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 or ring your doorbell and ask to enter your home so they can see firsthand where you live.  They may look inside your closets, check out your bathrooms and bedrooms, ask about family photos on your walls, etc. to get a sense of whether you really live together as a married couple. They may also ask you questions at the site visit, which you must treat like a formal interview.

While you may refuse to admit the officers into your home, this could raise more suspicion and trigger other types of investigation. If no authorized person is around to admit the officers inside the home, they can keep coming back or take a look around outside the home. In any event, it’s better to have at least one party and preferably both parties, in the marriage, at home when the officer conducts the site visit.

USCIS officers may also talk with your neighbors or your landlord/rental manager to verify whether you live together at your claimed residence.

USCIS does not, as a matter of practice, stake out your home for days. Once they have an opportunity to enter and see where you live, this is usually the end of the site visit. Sometimes they do not come back after the first attempt. Although this can be a daunting experience, go about your life as you normally would.

Source Checks

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 some cases, USCIS may contact your place of employment or school to verify certain information, such as your emergency contacts, marital status and current residence listed. The employer or school, however, does not have to give this information to USCIS, especially if they have privacy policies and rules to follow.

Follow-Up Interview

USCIS may also schedule you for another interview, which could occur as much as 6+ months after the first interview. The follow-up interview is usually to test whether you’re still living together and to question each of you separately. A new interview may also follow after USCIS has conducted a site visit to your home or completed other types of investigation.

When you are asked the same questions individually, the officer will compare your answers to see if they match up.

The officer will ask probing and personal questions to determine whether the parties really know each other and share a married life. Even bona fide married couples have trouble answering questions aimed at detecting fraud, such as:

  • what is the color of the walls in your bedroom?
  • what side of the bed do you sleep on?
  • what type of birth control do you use?
  • what did your spouse wear to bed last night?
  • what did you do for your spouse’s last birthday?
  • how did you celebrate last Thanksgiving?
  • how many rooms are in your home?
  • when was the last time you watched television together?
  • who woke up first this morning?
  • where did your spouse live when you first met?

Fraud interviews are intense and can last for an hour or more. It is rare for each party to provide the exact same answer on every single question, even when the marriage is truly bona fide. Unfortunately,  USCIS may use any discrepancies in your testimonies to support a denial decision.

Notice of Intent to Deny

In extreme cases, USCIS may issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) petition because there is evidence of a sham marriage, i.e. a marriage that is entered into solely for or primarily for immigration benefits.

In addition, USCIS may issue a NOID when the foreign national was the beneficiary of a prior spousal immigrant petition that was denied or found to be fraudulent. This is because section 204(c) of the Immigration & Nationality Act bars the approval of any subsequent petition for a beneficiary who is found to have previously entered into a sham marriage for immigration benefits.

Seek Immigration Counsel

If USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) the I-130 petition, it will be addressed to the petitioner, who will have 30 to 33 days to respond to it. Failure to timely or adequately respond to the NOID will result in a denial of the petition as well as the adjustment of status application. The I-130 decision is sent to the petitioner and the I-485 decision is sent to the foreign national applicant.

As long as the marriage is real and the parties fully rebut the marriage fraud allegations with objective and credible evidence, they can get the petition approved.

An experienced immigration attorney can help you prove the marriage is real, address discrepancies, overcome grounds for suspicion, and prevent a denial of the petition.

You are better off having an attorney present at the interview. And the best time to consult an attorney is before you file the marriage-based adjustment application or K-1 to green card application, not after USCIS issues a Request for Evidence, second interview notice, or Notice of Intent to Deny, when irreparable mistakes might have already occurred.

For more information, read our related article, What to expect at your marriage-based green card interview.

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.


# # #

Photo by: las – initially