One of the most scrutinized, carefully reviewed areas of immigration law is obtaining a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen. Not only is this one of the fastest ways to obtain a green card, but it is one of the fastest ways to obtain U.S. citizenship. With a green card, spouses are free to live, work and travel to and from the United States.

Even in the case of divorce, most green card recipients can retain their lawful status and eventually obtain citizenship. As a result, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials are always on the prowl for fraudulent marriages. If caught in a fraudulent marriage, both the petitioner and beneficiary could be charged criminally, and the beneficiary could be deported.

In order to deter fraudulent marriages, both the U.S. spouse and the immigrant beneficiary must attend a marriage interview. During the interview, USCIS officials will be looking for signs of a “bona fide” marriage – in other words, a real and legitimate marriage, not one that was entered into for the sole reason of obtaining a green card. A USCIS official will carefully review all paperwork submitted and will want to question the parties. Here is what to expect before, during and after a green card marriage interview.

What to Do Prior to the Marriage Interview

Prior to the interview, all applicants and petitioners will need to submit relevant evidence. Required documents include birth certificates, copies of passports, photographs, and a marriage certificate. Married couples will also be asked to submit evidence of a real marriage. It is important to start gathering this evidence prior to filing any applications. Having sufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage before an interview makes a tremendous difference.

Both the petitioner and beneficiary also have additional requirements. A petitioner will have to submit evidence of financial support of his or her immigrant spouse. A beneficiary will have to undergo a medical exam to prove no health-related grounds of inadmissibility. Submitting proof of these requirements before the marriage interview will make the process that much easier.

What to Expect During the Marriage Interview

Unfortunately, due to wait times, couples may actually spend more time in the waiting room than in the actual marriage interview. Once in the actual interview, a USCIS official will review all paperwork and may ask brief questions. Common questions include asking how the couple met, when they got married and where they currently live.

So long as the USCIS official is satisfied, the green card application will be granted. However, some couples by the very nature of their marriage may catch the scrutiny of immigration officials. Common traits that are sometimes given extra scrutiny include:

  • Large Age Gaps: Large age gaps will draw attention of USCIS because different age groups tend to have different interests. USCIS will take notice of a foreign text-savvy millennial married to an old-school baby boomer.
  • Short Engagements: USCIS officials may question the validity of a marriage when a couple had a very short engagement/courtship, or only met in person once or twice prior to a proposal.
  • Vast Social and Cultural Differences: People of all religions, languages, races and socio-economic backgrounds fall in love, but vast differences including one spouse’s extreme religious practice and another’s suspicious cultural beliefs will be questioned.
  • Uninformed Spouses: Understandably, spouses may not know each and every detail about their loved ones. However, not knowing each other’s birthday, the names of their in-laws, or their spouse’s occupation is troublesome.
  • Daily Living Arrangements: Not every spouse can pinpoint exactly where the blender or vacuum is located in the shared house, but all spouses should know how many rooms, bathrooms and garages there are in the home.
  • Too Young & Too In Love: Very young couples sometimes don’t have years of financial stability and matureness to prove a bona fide relationship, or at least one that they intend to last.
  • Marriage in Removal: The most scrutinized marriages are those entered into during removal proceedings. Couples are subject to a second interview involving intense questioning to determine if the sole reason for marriage was to prevent deportation.

Couples tend to show a bona fide marriage through a variety of ways, including submitting photographs, joint bank accounts, and joint rental leases. Even with the submission of these documents, USCIS officials are trained to inquire deeper than the actual documents.

They may ask follow up questions such as when were the submitted photographs were really taken; have there been actual withdrawals/deposits into the joint bank accounts; do both parties truly live at the rental address, and so on. Here, the motto ‘more is less’ comes into play: the more evidence of a bona fide marriage, the less scrutiny it will draw, even if any of the above scenarios apply.

What Happens After the Marriage Interview

If everything goes well, a beneficiary’s adjustment is usually granted and a green card is mailed out shortly thereafter. If USCIS officials remain suspicious, however, the couple may be sent to a second interview known as the marriage fraud interview. The purpose of this interview is to root out serious inconsistencies of the parties’ statements. The parties are usually separated and asked questions which may be very personal and specific, including:

  • What side of the bed does your spouse sleep on?
  • What did you spouse eat for breakfast this morning?
  • Who paid the last electric bill?
  • Who is your spouse’s best friend?

In extreme situations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents may do their own supplemental investigation. Whether your case involves one or two interviews, having an attorney can make all the difference. If you and your spouse cannot submit proof of a bona fide marriage, it may be more difficult to obtain a green card.

Thus, preparation for a marriage interview – or a subsequent marriage fraud interview – is essential. If an application to adjust status is denied, the consequences range from forfeiture of fees to initiation of removal proceedings.

We Represent Clients in Green Card Marriage Interviews

If you are facing a marriage interview at any USCIS office, call us today. We are experienced in all matters of immigration law, including green card applications and marriage interviews. We have offices in Westchester in Chester County, PA, and in Media in Delaware County, PA.

Contact us today at 267-388-3476 to schedule a consultation with one of our immigration lawyers and to discuss your particular case.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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