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.
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.
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.
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.
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