Category Archives: marriage fraud

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.

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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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What Triggers a Notice of Intent to Revoke an I-130 or I-129F Petition and What Can You Do About It?

popped balloonWhen USCIS finds that it approved an I-130 (immigrant visa) or I-129F (K-1 visa) petition in error, it will issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) to the petitioner. A NOIR is a letter to the petitioner fully explaining why USCIS intends to revoke a previously approved petition. Typically, the petitioner has 30 days to respond to the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS decides whether to revoke or reaffirm the petition approval.

What Factors Usually Trigger a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

In marriage-based green card cases, the two most common factors that trigger a revocation notice are:

USCIS Discovers Prior Marriage Fraud Determination

A common reason for a NOIR is when USCIS overlooked a prior marriage fraud determination that prevents the approval of a subsequent petition for the same beneficiary.

Section 204(c) of the Immigration & Nationality Act states that no visa petition may be approved if the beneficiary was previously accorded, or sought to be accorded, an immediate relative or preference status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, by reason of a marriage determined by USCIS to have been entered into for evading immigration laws (i.e. a sham marriage for immigration benefits).

It is not enough for the Consulate to have denied a prior immigrant visa or K-1 visa based on suspicion of a sham relationship. Rather, for section 204(c) to apply, USCIS must make an independent conclusion that the prior marriage was fraudulent.

If USCIS later discovers it should have denied the petition under section 204(c), due to an official determination of prior marriage fraud, it may issue a NOIR.

U.S Consulate Finds Lack of Evidence Showing Bona Fide Marriage

Although the U.S. Consulate has no authority to revoke a petition, it has the final say in whether to grant you an immigrant visa or K-1 visa to enter the United States. The doctrine of consular nonreviewability severely limits judicial or administrative review of a consular officer’s visa denial.

Furthermore, a consular officer who has doubts about the bona fide nature of the relationship between the petitioner and visa applicant, or observes material discrepancies in the record, may return the petition to USCIS for possible revocation.

At the immigrant visa or K-1 visa interview, the consular officer may question the visa applicant and conduct its own investigation. It may also require additional documentary evidence of the relationship, even though USCIS has already approved the petition.

If you do not communicate well, submit insufficient documents, or provide answers that cause the Consulate to doubt the bona fide nature of your relationship to the petitioner, this could lead to a NOIR citing lack of evidence to keep the petition approval. If you raise issues that conflict with the existing record, this could lead to a NOIR citing fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits.

Because the Consulate has no authority to re-adjudicate the petition, it must support the return of the petition with factual and concrete reasons that USCIS did not fully consider.

The Consulate should seek revocation only if the consular officer knows, or has reason to believe, that the petition approval was obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or other unlawful means, or that the visa applicant is not entitled to the benefits sought in the petition.  Generally, Consulates are instructed to not return the petition unless it discovers new information or evidence not known to USCIS at the time of approval.

What Can You Do to Avoid or Overcome a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

In marriage-based green card cases, the documentary evidence and testimony you present is essential to getting and keeping a petition approval. You cannot obtain an immigrant visa, a K-1 visa, or adjustment to permanent resident status without an underlying petition approval.

Avoiding a Notice of Intent to Revoke starts with filing a strong petition with USCIS and preparing thoroughly for the visa interview at the U.S. Consulate. Overcoming a Notice of Intent to Revoke lies in submitting a timely and convincing response to USCIS.

The key stages to exercise caution and seek sound advice from an experienced immigration attorney are:

Filing the Petition

USCIS approves an I-130 for a spouse and an I-129F for a fiancé(e) only when it is convinced the couple more likely than not shares a bona fide relationship, i.e. a marriage or engagement based on mutual intent to establish a life together, and not just for immigration benefits.

In support of the petition, the couple may present documentary evidence such as email correspondences, telephone records, stamped passport pages, travel itineraries, hotel receipts, photos of the two of them together, and affidavits from relatives and friends demonstrating they have a bona fide relationship.

When reviewing a stand-alone I-130 or I-129F petition, USCIS does not interview the petitioner or beneficiary, or conduct independent investigation, but generally relies on the documentary evidence submitted with the petition.

USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) if initial evidence is missing. USCIS will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) if 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.

Even when USCIS approves the petition, it may later issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke at any time before the immigrant visa or adjustment of status is granted. If the petition did not contain much evidence of a bona fide relationship or eligibility for the benefit sought, it’s a lot easier for USCIS to revoke the petition approval.

Obtaining guidance from an attorney on the appropriate forms and supporting evidence to submit is essential to getting a petition approval and avoiding a NOIR.

Attending the Visa Interview

In many cases, revocation proceedings are initiated by consular officers who suspect the couple do not share a real relationship. Consular officers often rely on their opinions about the nature of a genuine relationship, in light of cultural norms, local customs, and other factors.  In turn, USCIS may depend on the findings of a consular officer who has interviewed the visa applicant, verified documentary evidence, and performed investigation abroad.

Do not take the petition approval for granted or treat the visa interview as just a formality. The doctrine of consular nonreviewability severely limits administrative or judicial review of consular decisions. The visa applicant (beneficiary of the petition) must prepare fully for the visa interview, respond consistently, truthfully and appropriately to questions, and provide any requested or missing documents.

Having counsel prepare you for the visa interview, including questions and concerns that are likely to be raised by the consular officer, is critical.

Responding to a NOIR

Even couples who share a bona fide relationship can end up with a Notice of Intent to Revoke. If USCIS issues a NOIR, it means it found good and sufficient cause to revoke the petition approval. When responding to a NOIR, it’s important to rebut each and every issue raised, including allegations against the bona fide nature of the relationship.

USCIS must provide derogatory information unknown to the petitioner or applicant in the NOIR. The petitioner typically has 30 days to respond to the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS makes a decision.

Due to the time constraints, multiple issues raised in the NOIR, and the petitioner’s lack of experience with complicated immigration matters, it’s important to get counsel’s help. An experienced attorney can advise you on the rebuttal documents and information to submit, prepare a persuasive legal brief, and submit the best possible response within 30 days.

Challenging a Revocation Notice

If USCIS agrees to sustain the petition approval – following review of the response to the NOIR –  it will issue a reaffirmation notice to the petitioner. After receiving the reaffirmation notice, the Consulate may accept the petition as valid, schedule a second interview, and issue the immigrant visa or K-1 visa.

If, however, USCIS decides the petition should not have been approved, it will issue a revocation notice to the petitioner. The petitioner may appeal an I-130 or I-129F revocation to the higher agency, or file a motion to reopen or reconsider with USCIS, within 15 days. If the petitioner does not challenge the revocation, the decision becomes final and the petition may no longer be used to continue the immigration process.

When the couple is already married, the petitioner may file a new I-130 petition, but must include evidence to rebut any claims that led to the NOIR or revocation notice in a prior petition. When the couple is engaged, filing a new K-1 fiancé(e) petition is not a cure-all solution because USCIS and the Consulate will be aware of problems in the prior petition. Getting married and filing an I-130 petition is a more effective, but not foolproof, course of action.

A petitioner who files a new I-130 or I-129F petition still has to overcome issues listed in a Notice of Intent to Revoke a prior petition approval, or address concerns raised by the U.S. Consulate.

If you receive a revocation notice, consult an immigration attorney to determine whether to file an appeal, a motion to reopen or reconsider, and/or a new petition, and help you pursue your options.

To learn more about the revocation process, read our other article, Notice of Intent to Revoke I-130 or I-129F Petition: Big Stumbling Block to Overcome in Marriage-Based Green Card Case.

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: Quinn Dombrowski

Notice of Intent to Revoke I-130 or I-129F Petition: Big Stumbling Block to Overcome in Marriage-Based Green Card Case

big wall

In marriage-based green card cases, USCIS’ approval of an I-130 petition does not entitle you to an immigrant visa or adjustment to permanent residence. Likewise, mere approval of an I-129F petition does not necessarily mean you will get the K-1 fiancé(e) visa. Until you are admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant or you adjust status, USCIS may revoke the approval of the petition at any time, for good and sufficient cause.

Some petitions may be automatically revoked, such as when the petitioner withdraws the petition, divorces the beneficiary, or dies and section 204(l) survivor benefits do not apply. Other petitions may be revoked on notice when USCIS determines it issued the approval in error. A Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) is a big stumbling block to overcome when seeking to immigrate to the United States.

Why is the Notice of Intent to Revoke a Big Stumbling Block?  

An approved I-130 petition by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse allows you to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate or file for adjustment of status within the U.S. (if eligible). An approved I-129F petition permits you to apply for a K-1 visa to come to the U.S., marry the U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of arrival, and then file for a green card. Getting the petition approved is just a preliminary step.

USCIS may seek to reverse its decision and revoke the approval based on information or evidence that it did not previously consider. The information or evidence need not have been unavailable or undiscoverable at the time the petition was approved. A NOIR may be based on plain USCIS error, such as overlooking a prior marriage fraud determination or lacking information or evidence discovered by the U.S. Consulate.

Receiving a Notice of Intent to Revoke is disheartening, especially when you have already completed the visa application process and attended your visa interview. Even if the NOIR is based on misinterpretations of the facts, false allegations, or erroneous conclusions, a full and timely response is still required to keep the approval of the petition and continue with the green card process.

How Does the Revocation Process Work?

Once you are permanent resident, revocation of the petition approval is no longer possible. Instead, the U.S. government must use rescission or removal (deportation) proceedings to take your green card away.

The revocation process may begin at any time after the petition is approved, but before you adjust to permanent residence or before you are admitted to the U.S. on an immigrant visa.

When USCIS, on its own initiative,  determines it approved an I-130 or I-129F in error, it retrieves the petition from the USCIS office, consular office, or National Visa Center (NVC) for possible revocation.

In other cases, the U.S. Consulate initiates revocation by sending the case back to USCIS for further review, due to negative information it obtained during review of the visa application or during its interview of the visa applicant.  The consular officer typically denies the visa application under INA section 221(g) (temporary refusal of immigrant visa), pending USCIS’ review of the returned petition. The Consulate returns the petition to USCIS with a  memorandum explaining why it believes the petition should not have been approved or is no longer approvable.

Consulates return immigrant petitions to the National Visa Center, which then route them to the appropriate USCIS offices.

Case Status Information

When a petition is returned and relocated to USCIS, the status of the petition is logged into the national USCIS database system, which in turn updates the Case Status Online system on USCIS’ website.

Not all the USCIS service centers issue receipt notices to petitioners, informing them that the petition is now at a particular USCIS office. For many months (sometimes six months to over 12 months), petitioners often cannot obtain specific case status information through the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) or Case Status Online, until USCIS issues a decision reaffirming the approval or a Notice of Intent to Revoke.

Notice Reaffirming Approval or Notice of Intent to Revoke

Upon receipt of the returned petition, USCIS prepares the case for additional review and forwards it to the adjudications officer who will evaluate the reasons provided by the Consulate for the return.

If USCIS finds the petition is not revocable for the reasons stated by the Consulate, it will reaffirm the petition and return it to the Consulate with an explanation of its decision not to revoke the petition.

If USCIS agrees with the Consulate’s reasoning, it will issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke to the petitioner. A NOIR must be based on “good and sufficient cause.” This means there is evidence in the record, if unexplained and unrebutted, would support a denial of the petition.

A NOIR is a letter to the petitioner fully explaining why USCIS intends to revoke a previously approved petition. USCIS must provide derogatory information unknown to the petitioner or applicant in the NOIR. The petitioner has an opportunity to rebut the allegations and present additional information or evidence before USCIS makes a decision.

USCIS gives the petitioner a specific time frame (usually 30 days) to respond. Petitioners may request additional time if they need it for legitimate reasons, like obtaining documentation from abroad.

If the petitioner does not provide a full and timely explanation on why the petition should not be revoked, and support it with additional evidence, USCIS will revoke the petition. When the approval of a petition is revoked, you may no longer use it to immigrate to the United States.

K-1 visa petitions are especially problematic because they expire after four months from the date of approval by USCIS (or date of last action by U.S. Consulate).  An expired petition may be revalidated by USCIS or the U.S. Consulate in four-month increments upon finding that the K-1 beneficiary is free to marry and intends to marry the petitioner within 90 days of arrival in the United States. The decision on whether to revalidate the petition is discretionary.

What are the Steps for USCIS to Decide on a Notice of Intent to Revoke? 

USCIS will review the petitioner’s response to a NOIR before it decides whether to revoke the petition.

Reaffirmation Notice

If USCIS agrees to sustain the petition approval – following review of the response to the NOIR – it will issue a reaffirmation notice to the petitioner. It will also return the petition to the National Visa Center for transfer to the Consulate with the reaffirmation notice, a copy of the NOIR, and the petitioner’s response.

The Consulate may accept the petition as valid, schedule a second interview, and issue the immigrant visa or K-1 visa. In rare cases, however, the Consulate may return the petition again to USCIS with new evidence that was not previously considered. In that event, the revocation process begins again.

Revocation Notice

If the petitioner does not provide a satisfactory response or fails to timely respond to the NOIR, USCIS will issue a revocation notice to the petitioner.

The petitioner may appeal an I-130 or I-129F revocation to the higher agency, or file a motion to reopen or reconsider with USCIS, within 15 days. If the petitioner does not challenge the revocation, the decision becomes final and the petition may no longer be used to continue the immigration process.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney from Start to Finish

An experienced immigration attorney can help you get an I-130 or I-129F approval by advising you on the appropriate forms and supporting documents to submit. Before you attend the visa interview, it’s best to have the attorney prepare you for likely questions and requests for documents, as well as potential actions by a consular officer.

If a NOIR is issued, you typically need counsel’s guidance in filing a timely, complete and satisfactory response to obtain a reaffirmation notice. If USCIS revokes the petition approval, consult an immigration attorney to determine whether to file an appeal, a motion to reopen or reconsider, and/or a new petition, and help you pursue your options.

To learn more about the revocation process, read our other article, What Triggers a Notice of Intent to Revoke an I-130 or I-129F Petition and What Can You Do About It?

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: Joe Murphy

 

Notice of Intent to Deny I-130 or I-129F Petition: Huge Hurdle to Clear in Marriage-Based Green Card Case

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.

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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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Photo by:  JanetandPhil

Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 Visa?

In this video, immigration attorney Dyan Williams describes two types of nonimmigrant visas: B-2 visitor visa and K-1 fiancé(e) visa. She summarizes what you need to know about each visa when using either to come to the U.S., get married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and apply for a green card.

Read about Coming to America to Get Married and Get a Green Card: B-2 or K-1 visa?  here.

For more information, read these articles:

Contact Dyan for specific advice and guidance on the B-2 visitor visa or K-1 fiance(e) visa to green card process.

This video 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.

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