PREPARING FOR YOUR IMMIGRATION THROUGH MARRIAGE INTERVIEW (ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS)
When you get married to a United States citizen, you become eligible to adjust your status to that of a Legal permanent Resident of the United States. Once you attain that status you obtain your Permanent Resident card or ’Green Card’ as it is popularly known.
This article focuses on the Green Card through marriage and particularly how the adjustment of status interview is conducted and how to prepare for it. I will also talk about how to collect and present your evidence and how to conduct yourself during the interview. I will discuss common red flags to avoid and how to overcome negative information in the USCIS records.
The process of adjustment of status through marriage begins with the filing of a petition for Alien Relative (form I-130). The petition seeks t classification of a spouse, the beneficiary, as an immediate relative, pursuant to section 201(b) (2) (A) (i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended. Most times the form I-130 is filed together with forms I-485 (Application to register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and form I-131 (Application for travel Document). This bundle of forms is referred to as the Adjustment Package. The decision to file the bundle instead of just the form I-130 first is for convenience so that they can all be adjudicated (decided) at the same time. Though forms I-765 and I-131 may be approved before the interview, the approval will be terminated if the form I-130 ids denied. It is critical to keep your eyes focused on the approval of the form I-130. It is essential to pass the Interview.
An immediate relative means spouses, children and parents of United States Citizens. The adjustment of status interview or the initial interview as they sometimes call it is for the purposes of determining that;
- A bona fide marriage relationship exists in fact and in law between you (beneficiary) and your United States Citizen Spouse (Petitioner).
- The marriage was not entered into solely for the purposes of evading immigration laws. (Note the word ‘Solely’). The law says that immigration can be one of the motivations for entering into a marriage but it should not be the ONLY one).
The approval or denial of the form I-130 determines the adjustment of status process. If it is denied, then the other forms have to be denied because they are all riding on the form i-130. If the form i-130 is approved, then the form I-485 may be approved unless the adjudicator finds you not eligible to adjust status due to some reason like lying on the form, fraud, criminal background, fraudulent entry, entry without inspection (permission), and many others. (The I-485 will be discussed in a separate article).
As I have said before, the approval of Form I-130 is the essential first step.
The important thing to remember is that, the immigration officer’s job is to establish that you entered into the marriage in good faith with the intention to live together as husband and wife’ happily ever after’.
[The law is only concerned with your intentions on the day you said ‘I do’. Not what happened after the marriage? Many things can happen after marriage].
The immigration officer knows this and you will realize that a lot of emphasis is placed on the circumstances surrounding how you met, how you decided to get married and how the marriage itself was conducted.
The only catch here is that the law places the burden for establishing the good faith of the marriage on you. It is up to you to convince the immigration officer that the marriage was entered into in good faith.
HOW DID YOU MEET?
Having represented many clients at adjustment of status interviews, I have come to learn that a lot of energy is devoted to the following questions, or questions similar to the following:
- How did you meet?
- Where did you meet?
- What where you doing when you met?
- Where did each of you live when you met?
- Did you ever visit each other at your respective residences?
- Where were you working when you met?
- Did you introduce one another to your families?
How you answer each of these questions may lead to other questions in the same vein. You need to remember every little detail about the circumstances of your meeting. Think of this for a minute; If you meet someone that you fall in love with, or you later fall in love with, and actually get married to, you will not forget how you met, where you went on your fist date, how you got there, what time you got there, what exactly you did on your first date and how each of you got home after the date. Many times, this is the point at which the immigration officer starts doubting your marriage or even decides to separate you and interview you separately.
Marriage is a very important decision in one’s life. How would you make a decision to get married and you do not inform your family or friends? How could it be that your marriage or wedding is not a big deal? How would it be that you do not remember how you made the decision or when?
If you say at the Interview that your family was uninvolved in the process, or are even unaware that you got married, then that would be one big red flag right there. One question that my client was asked in an interview was:
“Is this your first marriage?” She said “yes”. The immigration officer then went on to ask how is it she does not remember whether she told her parents or not? Why is it that her sister who lives in the same city never knew that she had a boyfriend that she was going to marry? And why is it that she did not attend the wedding? Why was her wedding not a big deal? I am not saying that the wedding should be an elaborate and expensive event. Even if it is performed by a justice of the peace, there should be evidence that it was a special event, even if the event was small and private.
Family involvement on both sides is important especially if close family members live in the U.S. It is also important to have met each other’s available family members before getting married. It might also help to know one or two of one another’s best friend’s names and where they live. People in love can hardly keep it a secret. If no one else was involved in the relationship and subsequent marriage except just the two of you, it would raise many questions.
Many questions are asked about the proposal. The reason for those questions is to establish the intentions of the parties. Here are some sample questions;
- Where did you go on your first date?
- How long after meeting did you decide to get married?
- When and how did you inform your family/friends?
- Who proposed to whom?
- Where were you when you proposed?
- What time was it?
- How did you get there?
- Describe all the circumstances surrounding the day and event of the proposal?
- Did you get engagement rings?
- Where did you buy the engagement rings?
- After the proposal what did you do to celebrate?
In about every interview, the circumstances leading to the first date are intensively explored. You need to remember who asked for the first date, how long after meeting for the first time, where you went to, what time you met for the date, how you got there, what you did on that first date, what time the date ended, how each of you got home and where each was living at the time.
Other questions you need to consider are whether you visited each other at your residences before getting married, if you had keys to each other’s residences, when you decided to move in together(if you did so before marriage), the make, model and color of each other’s cars when you met if you had cars.
It should be noted that the American culture values marriage proposals. Immigration officers are usually American born and your spouse is likely American born too. I believe in 99% of the interviews I have participated in, questions on the proposal were asked. You should have this information down to the slightest detail.
[First, if you marry too soon after entering the United States i.e. within the first three (3) months, you have very high chances of having your application denied. This is unless you have a K-1 visa which means you came into the U.S specifically to marry your fiancé (e). If you came in on another visa and you get married too soon, there will be a presumption that you lied at the U.S Embassy/Consulate overseas about your purposes of coming to the U.S. The presumption will be that you did not come for your stated purposes but the visa you obtained was an excuse to enter the United States and get married for immigration purposes. This is a difficult presumption to overcome in those circumstances.]
A proposal is not something that you would forget. It is a big deal. You will be asked about it. Some people say to the immigration officer that they never proposed. This is another red flag. Why? Not everyone makes a marriage proposal. Circumstances differ from couple to couple. A proposal however does very good for your adjustment of status. At least it shows how serious you were about the marriage. The proposal can be very simple. It does not need to be an elaborate and expensive event, but it is important to establish who asked the other for marriage.
At this point, let me stress the importance of pictures, pictures and more pictures! Pictures are a very good documentation of your relationship and you need to have many of them. Please do not stage pictures. They should be pictures taken in your usual day to day lives and on special events. You need to have various assorted pictures especially at this age where nearly everyone owns one type of camera or another. Do not bring too many pictures of the same event. Start early in the relationship and take pictures at home, outdoors, at parties, at events, travelling together and at various holidays with family and friends. Keep taking pictures until your interview date.
[I had clients who had many pictures of their wedding and could not produce a single picture of their birthday parties, thanks giving, Christmas, with any family member or friends, etc. over a period of three years of marriage. Is it really possible to be married three years and the only pictures you have together are of your wedding day?].
Needless to say, Make sure your marriage is legal in the state in which it is performed. If you were married before, make sure that the divorce from your previous spouse is complete before you get married. If you cannot prove to an immigration officer that you had a completed divorce from your ex-spouse before you got married, the situation can become very, very complicated.
What do excited lovebirds do when they decide on a wedding day?
They inform all their family and friends. They print out invitation cards and they announce to everyone that they are getting married. Please do send out invitations. You can invite people to the wedding or if not, to the reception. I know many ordinary couples may not send invitations to the general public but invitations to family and friends are good. This shows the intention to enter into a good faith marriage.
Unfortunately, immigration officers seem to expect non-citizens to have had a perfect marriage; which is not the usual case with ordinary Americans. Nonetheless they will hold many imperfections against you even if the law does not permit them to do that. The system is cruel, but you cannot argue with it.
Here are some sample questions to expect:
- How did you arrive at your wedding?
- Who did you invite?
- Who attended your wedding?
- Who officiated your wedding?
- Where are your wedding pictures?
- Who were your witnesses?
- After the wedding what did you do?
- Where did go for your honeymoon/ reception? (If there was one).
- How did you get there?
- Describe your reception/Party.
- What time did it end?
- Where did you go after wards?
- Do you have pictures of it?
Remember marriage is a big deal. You cannot simply say you do not remember anything or give conflicting accounts of your wedding. (Surprisingly and sadly many people do).
[Recently an applicant told an immigration officer that he and his wife went to their wedding in a blue Nissan Altima. His wife said that they went to their wedding in a grey Hyundai Sonata that her mother had bought them as a wedding gift!]
If you were the immigration officer what would you think?
If you are a woman, it is a big boost to change your married name immediately to that of your husband, and have it on your Id’s.
EVIDENCE OF A GOOD FAITH MARRIAGE
In determining whether you entered into the marriage in good faith, consideration shall be given to the evidence relating to the amount of commitment by both parties to the marital relationship, including but not limited to, documentation relating to the degree to which the financial assets and liabilities were combined, the length of time during which the parties cohabited after their marriage and any other evidence deemed pertinent by the district director.
This is an area of great concentration by both aliens and the USCIS. What is being sought here is basically proof that your lives are so intermingled that there is no doubt that the parties are married and intend to remain married for all purposes.
When people fall in love and get married, it is expected that they trust each other and they become an item. They bring their resources together and share them. They complement each other. They share duties and responsibilities. They share debts and assets. They live and intend to live together.
Living separately is not by itself a reason to deny a petition or application, separation is acceptable in certain circumstances. The key is that the parties entered into a good faith marriage and intend that it remains so. You can still prove a good faith marriage even if you live separately.
The following are examples of joint documents that you need to bring to prove your good faith marriage:
- Lease, home ownership document
- Driver’s licenses bearing the same address
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Birth Certificates for children
- DNA evidence establishing paternity of the children.
- Evidence of any joint holdings between the petitioner and beneficiary and when they were acquired
- Employment letters showing who the petitioner and the beneficiary list as emergency contacts and when those contacts were established.
- A copy of the deeds to any property that the petitioner and beneficiary own
- Employer-based benefits that show the named beneficiaries and when those beneficiaries were designated.
- Joint insurance coverage for the petitioner and beneficiary
- Bank statements
- Car title/registration/insurance
- Credible sworn statements or affidavits from individuals indicating their knowledge of the petitioner and the beneficiary as a married couple.
- Joint credit cards
- Pictures at different times
- Loan statements
- Utility Bills
- Junk mail addresses to both parties
- Tickets for travel, movies, events etc.
The above list is not at all exhaustive. The key here is how to handle the evidence. One thing to remember is that, the evidence you provide may be your undoing. I will give you an example.
[There is an applicant who brought joint bank statements over a long period of time and thought that those statements would be of great benefit to him. It turned out however that, all the debit card charges, banking and withdrawals occurred in Miami, Florida while the billing address remained in Detroit, Michigan, the claimed marital address].
The applicant thought that just having a joint bank account statement sent to the joint address was enough. He could not explain why his wife never used the bank account and why all the charges were made in stores and gas stations in Florida. How do you explain that?
Documents are important. The contents of those documents are important too. Some points to remember:
- Do not offer false, falsified or altered documents
- Your documents should not be too recent (just before interview).
- Read the documents before you submit them
- Documents should not conflict with information you filled out in the forms
- Documents should all bear the joint address
- Documents should bear both names of the parties
- Documents should cover the duration of your marriage, not just a part.
- Dates on the documents are very important
- There should be regular banking / credit card activity spanning the duration of the marriage.
Remember that if you obtain evidence or documents too close to the interview, you will be flagged for fraud. Start early in the marriage and maintain documents and evidence over the duration of your marriage.
If you are truly married, then your lives should be intermingled as expected of a husband and wife. You should be well aware of your spouse’s daily routine, where they work, where they go to school, what time they wake up in the morning, what time they come back home from work/school, how they get there and back etc.
You will also be asked a ton of questions about your residence. If you do not live together, they will find out here.
Here is a sample of questions to expect:
- What is your address?
- What kind of a house is it? (Apartment/condo/two family house etc)
- Where did you live before you moved here?
- Do you have a garage?
- What type of floors do you have?
- What type of furniture do you have(living room/bed room/kitchen etc)
- Do you have cable
- Do you have a house phone? (Does it work? What is the house phone number?)
- What company is your phone provider/
- How much is the rent?
- Who pays the bills?
- What bills are included in the rent?
- How do you split rent payments?
- How do you share the other bills?
- What household bills do you have?
- Who is your landlord?
- On what days is trash collected?
You will be asked questions which you cannot answer unless you live in that house. You need to be familiar with the house and everything in it. You need to know everything about the house layout, furniture, color of drapes, type and color of furniture in every room , how many windows are there in say the bedroom, if there is a mirror in the bedroom, how many bathrooms etc. You must be able to describe every room in minute detail from floor to roof. The only way to be able to do this is to live in the house. If you do not live there, you will not know the house as well as required.
FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS
If you are married, it is natural to know each other’s family members to some degree. It is unnatural to be married for say, a year and not know the names of your spouse’s siblings and where they live or work. It is not normal and it will be a sign that the marriage may not be true. You will be asked about this. It is also a very bad sign as I said before to say that you never met your spouse’s sibling. This is not normal in a marriage. You should basically know your parents in law names and where they live and if they are alive or not. It would be ridiculous not to know anything about your spouse’s parents.
You also need to have some knowledge of your spouse’s best friend; one or more. You are expected to know your spouse’s hobbies and how he/she likes to spend her time when not at work. You need to know your spouse’s preferences, likes and dislikes and their plans for the future.
You will be asked what major things you are looking to do this year as a family and individually. Married couples usually have plans. Both parties should be aware of what these plans are.
KNOWLEDGE OF EACH OTHER
A question was asked by an immigration officer the other day that I thought is worth sharing. The parties had been separated and they were being asked identical questions separately so that their answers may be compared. (This is called a Stoke’s Interview). The question was:
“Does your wife have any tattoos that are not exposed?”
The husband said no. When the wife was asked the same question, she said she has one on her lower back!
This question shows what you can expect. You need to know your spouse well. Some sample questions are like the following:
- Has your spouse ever been arrested?
- Does your spouse have any tattoos?
- Does your spouse use any prescription medication?
- Did your spouse have any surgery recently?
- Does your spouse have any medical condition (Asthma, Diabetic etc.)
- Does your spouse do sport? What sport?
- What cologne does your spouse use?
- On what side of the bed does he/she sleep on?
- What are your favorite restaurants?
- When did you go out last?
- Where did you go out to?
- How often do you go out?
- What kind of music do he /she like?
You will then be asked in detail how you got to the interview starting from what you had for dinner and breakfast. They want to see if you came in together or you live separately and just met for the interview.
ANSWERING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
During the interview, you will be asked various questions to establish the good faith of your marriage and the eligibility to the benefit sought. A majority of the immigration officers are very professional and courteous. They will make you feel at ease and ask straight forward questions. Some immigration officers sadly are shockingly unprofessional. They try to intimidate parties and treat the whole interview like a criminal interrogation. These few have seriously undermined the integrity of the United States Immigration system. I have had the bad experience of having my clients interviewed by immigration officers who clearly had no understanding of what they were required by law to establish. Some of them have little understanding of the laws governing the process of adjustment of status. These officers will continue asking irrelevant questions and veer off into unnecessary frolics trying to sound important but in the process end up wasting a lot of time, confusing the parties and eventually not achieving the purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act. These officers end up making arbitrary decisions and force parties to file time consuming appeals to have those decisions reversed.
Remember you have sworn to tell the truth. Do not lie. It is much better to say you do not know something than to lie or make something up. If you have a record of arrest, disclose it if you are asked and provide a certified record of the arrest. If you have ever been convicted by any court for a criminal offence or violation do not lie about it. They already know or will find out in a second. There are waivers available for criminal convictions. It is much easier to apply for a waiver than undo a lie. Carry the certified record of court proceedings with you to the interview.
IMMIGRATION FRAUD INDICATORS
Immigration officers during an interview will watch for signs of fraud. These signs come from the documents you provide, the evidence you give and how you interact with the officer during the interview. For your benefit, I have obtained an immigration fraud referral sheet that will benefit you. This will shed some light on why your case may be suspected of being fraudulent even if it really is not.
Japheth Matemu-LL.M (Immigration Law and Policy).
Visit us at: www.Matemulaw.com