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 misrepresentation, public 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 and how was the proposal made; 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.
A joint interview is the best kind. If you have a bona fide marriage, you get an opportunity to show the USCIS officer firsthand how you interact with each other. You also worry less because you get to hear your spouse’s answers to the officer’s questions. Either one of you may also answer the question unless it deals specifically with the other spouse or is posed directly to him or her.
Joint interviews run more smoothly and take less time. When you are interviewed together, it generally means the officer has fewer concerns about the marriage.
Be as natural as you can be, regardless of how nervous you are. Don’t pretend to be the couple you’re not.
Avoid exaggerations and misrepresentations. Lying to a USCIS officer – especially about material facts – to obtain a green card will get you in trouble. If caught, you may be subject to a lifetime inadmissibility bar under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i). (If you have concerns about your case and feel tempted to lie about certain issues, consult an attorney before you go to the interview.)
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 interpreter, the filing of prior spousal immigrant petitions for the same beneficiary, and other factors may cause the officer to have doubts about the marriage.
The officer may separate the couple on the day of the interview and question each party individually. Each person will be asked the same questions separately. Then the officer will compare the 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 and your spouse have for dinner 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?
- how did you get to the interview today?
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.
To learn more about other potential problems, read What to expect after your marriage-based green card interview.
Seek Immigration Counsel
Getting an I-130 approval notice and I-485 welcome notice is the best outcome possible. Short of that, your case could be put on hold for various reasons. But perhaps the worst thing to get is a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID).
If USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny 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.
Working with a reputable attorney from start to finish will help reduce problems and get your case approved. It’s best to consult an attorney 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 mistakes cannot be undone.
For more information, read our related article, What to expect after 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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Photo by: Bernard Goldbach