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.
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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