Tag Archives: I-130

5 Things to Do to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card

In this video series, immigration attorney Dyan Williams describes the one-step petition (I-130 & I-485) and the five things to do to get your marriage-based green card:

1. Enter into a bona fide marriage
2. Establish a life together and collect evidence of this
3. Provide sufficient evidence of bona fide marriage
4. Take the interview seriously and prepare for it
5. Get help from an experienced immigration attorney

Read about 5 Things to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card here.

Contact Dyan if you need help filing an immigrant petition for a foreign national spouse, responding to a Notice of Intent to Deny I-130 petition, or appealing a denial of an I-130 petition based on failure to prove a bona fide marriage.

This video series 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.


5 Things to Do To Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card

Marrying a U.S. citizen is one of the quickest — but not necessarily the easiest — way to get a green card. USCIS will deny a marriage-based green card case if it does not receive sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage and/or if it determines that the marriage is a sham.

A U.S. citizen’s filing of an I-130 petition with USCIS is the first step to helping the foreign national spouse become a permanent resident. A spouse who was lawfully admitted to the United States or who qualifies for 245(i), and is still in the U.S., may concurrently file an I-485 application to become a lawful permanent resident (green-card holder). One advantage is that the spouse does not have to depart the U.S. to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate.

Submitting the I-130 and I-485 together is known as the one-step petition/application. Normally, USCIS processes and adjudicates both at the same time. The foreign national cannot receive a marriage-based green card unless USCIS approves the I-130 petition.

Here are five things to do to get your marriage-based green card:

1. Enter into a bona fide marriage

USCIS will approve the I-130 petition only if it finds that the parties entered into marriage in good faith, i.e. intended to establish a life together at the time they married.  Normally, it must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the marriage is bona fide. Basically, this means the petitioner must show that it is “more likely than not” the marriage is real. [NOTE: When the marriage occurs while the foreign national is in removal proceedings, the standard of proof is higher: It must be shown by “clear and convincing evidence” that the marriage is real.]

Typically, USCIS expects a bona fide married couple to speak each other’s languages, live together, share common interests, co-mingle their finances, own joint property, and celebrate important events like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

A good faith marriage is one that is entered into for reasons other than for circumventing U.S. immigration laws. It could be arranged or freely chosen by the parties. It may be based on mutual love and affection, shared religious beliefs, a need for lifetime companionship, or a desire to raise children together.

A bona fide marriage is the opposite of a sham marriage, which is when the parties marry solely or primarily to obtain immigration benefits for the foreign national. USCIS’ Adjudicator’s Field Manual lists 10 factors indicating a marriage might be a sham:

  • Large disparity of age
  • Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language
  • Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background
  • Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage
  • Marriage arranged by a third party
  • Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States
  • Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge
  • No cohabitation since marriage
  • Beneficiary is a friend of the family
  • Petitioner has filed previous petitions on behalf of foreign nationals, especially prior foreign national spouses

If any of these 10 factors apply to your marriage, you can expect more scrutiny from USCIS.

2. Establish a life together and collect proof of this

Before the one-step petition is filed, the couple should take steps to establish a married life together and collect documents to prove they are committed to one another. Examples include:

  • Living together (joint residential lease or mortgage statement showing both names, driver’s licenses showing same address)
  • Buying major assets together (motor vehicle title, invoice for furniture)
  • Adding the spouse as a beneficiary to employer-sponsored benefit (life insurance policy, health insurance plan, retirement account)
  • Co-mingling assets and liabilities (joint bank account statements, joint credit card statements, joint tax returns)
  • Sharing household expenses (utility bills in both names)
  • Going on vacations together (travel itineraries, photographs)
  • Participating in shared activities (gym or club memberships)
  • Spending time with mutual friends (affidavits from third parties attesting to the bona fides of the marriage)

The Service will consider the parties’ conduct before and after the marriage to determine their true intent at the time of marriage.

Circumstances might require the couple to live apart temporarily, especially for work-related reasons. If the couple is not living together at the time they file for immigration benefits or at the time of their interview, they need to have a good explanation and gather reliable documentation showing they have a real marriage. Examples include:

  • Letters, emails and greeting cards you have exchanged with each other
  • Airline tickets, hotel bills and other receipts showing trips you made to see each other
  • Telephone records showing calls you made to each other
  • Photographs of the two of you together and with family and friends (or even with pets), taken over a considerable period at different events
  • Correspondences (e.g. bills, letters, cards) addressed to both of you at the same address
  • Receipts for gifts you bought each other
  • Birth certificates of (biological, adopted) children you have together, or evidence that you are trying to have children

3. Provide sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage 

The Instructions for Form I-130 list the types of documents that may show the bona fides of a marriage. They include documentation showing joint ownership of property (e.g. mortgage, car title); documentation showing co-mingling of financial resources (e.g. joint bank account); birth certificates of children you have together; and affidavits from third parties confirming the bona fides of your marriage.

Your marriage certificate and proof of termination of any prior marriages (e.g. divorce decree or death certificate of previous spouse) only show that your marriage is valid. These documents are required, but are not sufficient to show the marriage is bona fide.

Filing a one-step petition is not just about completing the forms and submitting the filing fees. You also need to carefully document the bona fides of your marriage and give USCIS a sense of who you are as a couple.  The more documents you present to show your marriage is real, the easier it will be for the officer to approve your case.

Some types of documents are also more persuasive than others.  For example, birth certificates of your children, mortgage statements for your shared home, and life insurance policies showing one of you as the other’s beneficiary are much more persuasive than photographs of the two of you together, your joint residential lease , and your joint utility bills. They are harder to fake and are practically non-existent in sham marriages.

No matter the circumstances, you must avoid submitting any fabricated, false, forged or altered documents to USCIS. This could lead USCIS to find that you committed fraud or willful misrepresentation of material facts to obtain immigration benefits. This would require you to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility to obtain the green card (even if you managed to get the I-130 approved).

4. Take the interview seriously and prepare well for it

In marriage-based green card cases,  the USCIS field office in your jurisdiction normally interviews you to verify whether your marriage is bona fide.

The officer will place you both under oath at the start of the interview. In addition to getting specific information, the officer will be observing your demeanor and your interactions with each other to determine whether you have a real marriage.

Tell the truth at the interview, even if the answers are less than ideal. Giving false testimony or misrepresenting facts at the interview is grounds for a denial. Discrepancies between your and your spouse’s testimonies and inconsistencies within your testimonies also hurt your credibility. They will cause the officer to doubt the bona fides of your marriage.

At the interview, listen carefully to the USCIS officer’s questions and respond truthfully to the questions you’re being asked. Giving too many details about your courtship and embellishing stories about your shared life can make you less believable.

There’s no need to volunteer information that was not required on the application forms and is not being asked for at the interview. While you should not give misleading information to cut off a line of inquiry from the officer, you also don’t want to open up a line of questions that could unnecessarily bring out negative information.

If you don’t understand a question, ask the officer to repeat it or rephrase it. If you don’t recall information or you’re not 100% sure of your answer, let the officer know.  If you feel you’re being asked inappropriate questions, stay calm and avoid arguing with the officer. (You may ask to speak with a supervisor.)

If your first language isn’t English or if you’re not fluent in English, be sure to bring a qualified interpreter. Otherwise, you could misunderstand the officer’s questions or the officer could misunderstand your answers.

USCIS often interviews you together, but may interview each of you separately. When separate interviews are conducted, the officer will ask you each the same questions and compare your answers. If both of you tell the truth, it’s more likely that your answers will be the same or similar. Consistent testimonies help to persuade the officer that you have nothing to hide and that your marriage is bona fide.

Even bona fide married couples do not always observe, perceive or recall things the same way. For example, would you give the same answers if you were separately asked the following questions:

  • Where did you first meet?
  • How did you meet?
  • Where did you go on your first date? When was your first date?
  • How many people attended your wedding?
  • What did you to to celebrate your marriage?
  • Why did you get married?
  • Who proposed? Where were you when marriage was proposed?
  • What are your spouse’s work hours?
  • What is the color of the wall in your bedroom?
  • Which side of the bed do you sleep on?
  • Where did you go on your last vacation together?
  • Who woke up first this morning?

These are just a few of the many potential questions the officer may ask you. It helps for you and your spouse to prepare for the interview and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your relationship history and shared life together.

Your testimony at the interview can be the deciding factor in whether your case gets approved. Following the interview, the adjudications officer can approve the one-step petition, issue a Request for Evidence, have a site visit conducted at your claimed residence, conduct further investigation, or issue a Notice of Intent to Deny the petition.

5.  Get help from an experienced immigration attorney

You’re better off consulting an attorney from the outset, before you file your one-step petition. Full representation is best, but if you cannot afford this, you want to get limited representation or consult an attorney at least once.

An experienced attorney can determine whether you qualify for a marriage-based green card, review your application forms for accuracy and completeness, advise you on the types of documents to submit to prove the bona fides of your marriage, prepare you for what to expect at the interview, and represent you at the interview. An attorney can also discuss red flags in your case and counsel you on how to address them.

At the interview, a USCIS officer who suspects the marriage is fraudulent may give the U.S. citizen an opportunity to withdraw the petition and write a statement to that effect. Having your attorney at the interview will help protect your rights and make the process more comfortable.

A diligent attorney will take notes, ask clarifying questions, and object to inappropriate lines of questioning. The attorney will also be able to give you an assessment of how the interview went and advise you on follow-up matters.

Want to hear about 5 Things to Do to Get Your Marriage-Based Green Card? Check out the video series:


Entering a bona fide marriage, establishing a life together, submitting documentation of your shared life, successfully completing the interview, and seeking advice from counsel are five key steps to getting your marriage-based green card. If you have a real marriage, you really have little to worry about. It’s just a matter of convincing USCIS that your marriage is bona fide.


USCIS may deny a one-step petition if it receives insufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage and/or if it finds that the marriage is a sham. The immigration authorities may then file removal charges against the foreign national on several grounds, such as failing to maintain lawful non-immigrant status and committing fraud to obtain immigration benefits.

A sham marriage finding is also a permanent bar to obtaining an approval of any subsequent petitions for the foreign national. So the foreign national could never get a green card based on, for example, a second petition by the same spouse or by a new spouse (unless the marriage fraud finding was overturned on appeal or on USCIS’ own reconsideration).

Marriage fraud is a crime. A person who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws is subject to imprisonment (up to 5 years), a fine (up to $250,000), or both.

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: Eva the Weaver

What to expect at your marriage-based green card interview

Before USCIS approves a marriage-based green card application, it will normally interview the couple to determine whether their marriage is real or fake.

Marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically lead to a green card for the foreign national spouse. The U.S. citizen must prove that the marriage is bona fide (i.e. entered into with the intent of establishing a married life together), and is not a sham (i.e. entered into just to gain immigration benefits). The green card applicant also needs to be admissible to the U.S. or otherwise qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility.

To start the process, the U.S. citizen first files a Form I-130 immigrant petition for the spouse. If the couple is not yet married, the U.S. citizen may file a Form I-129F petition to bring a fiancé(e) to the U.S. on a K-1 visa.

A spouse who is already in the U.S. and qualifies for adjustment to permanent residence may file the Form I-485 (green card) application at the same time the I-130 is filed. This is known as concurrent filing or “one-step adjustment of status.” A fiancé(e) who enters the U.S. on a K-1 visa must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of arrival and then file for adjustment.

After filing a marriage-based green card application, the petitioner and foreign national will receive an interview notice to appear at the local USCIS field office at a scheduled date and time. The notice is normally issued two to eight weeks prior to the interview. USCIS may waive an I-485 interview for K-1 entrants, but the documentation must be strong enough to get an approval without an interview.

USCIS will approve the I-130 only after it determines that they truly share a married life together.  In addition to providing documentation of a shared married life (e.g., joint mortgage, joint bills, joint tax returns, birth certificates of children, family photographs), the couple must also give credible testimony confirming their marriage is bona fide.

USCIS will also verify whether the I-485 applicant has any criminal history, immigration fraud or misrepresentationpublic charge or other inadmissibility issues that prevent adjustment.

Knowing what to expect at the USCIS interview is crucial to obtaining an I-130 and I-485 approval and avoiding further investigation, delays in the case, or a denial notice.

What are the basic steps to follow at a marriage-based immigration interview? 

1) You arrive at the USCIS building and present your interview notice to the security guard. Before you can proceed to the waiting room, you go through a metal detector and your personal belongings go through screening. Each USCIS field office has its own protocol, but cameras (including cell phones with cameras) and recording devices are normally prohibited.

(NOTE: Arrive at least 15 minutes early, but no more than 45 minutes in advance of the appointment. If you arrive too early, you may be turned away and asked to come back closer to your appointment time.)

2) You proceed to the waiting area and hand in your interview notice at the window. You then wait for your name to be called by the USCIS adjudications officer assigned to review your case. Although the interview usually starts on time, be prepared to wait for a more extended period.

3) The USCIS officer will normally bring both of you to his or her desk to be interviewed together (instead of question you separately).

4) You will be asked to remain standing while you take oaths to tell the truth. You will need to verify your identity by presenting your driver’s license or other form of ID.

5) The officer will typically review your marriage certificate, divorce decrees (if you had any prior marriages), and passport. Bring the originals with you in case the officer wants to see them.

6)  The officer will go through the application forms to verify basic information such as your address, telephone numbers, and dates of birth.

7) The officer will next ask questions about your relationship and your married life together, such as when and how you met; when and why you decided to get married; who proposed; how many people attended your wedding; and when you moved in together.

8)  You also have the opportunity to present additional evidence of your married life, especially if you had few documents to present at the time of filing the petition and adjustment application.

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 can 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 more evidence is needed

The officer may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) when he or she needs more documents to make a final decision on the case.  The officer will issue an I-72 form listing the missing items and stating the 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.

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.

What  problems can occur at a marriage-based immigration interview? 

Lack of documentation, the couple’s demeanor, discrepancies in the testimonies, faulty translations by an inexperienced interpreter, and other factors can  cause the officer to have doubts about the marriage.

The officer may separate the couple and question each party individually, or schedule the parties for a second interview, which could occur as much as 6+ months after the first interview. Each party will be asked the same questions separately. Then the officer will compare their 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 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, regardless of whether the marriage is bona fide.

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.

Seek Immigration Counsel

If USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) the petition or application, you will have 30 days to respond to it. Failure to timely or adequately respond to the NOID will result in a denial of the petition or the adjustment of status application.

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 one-step 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.

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: Bernard Goldbach