7 quick tips for the marriage adjustment of status interview

Some immigration officers are more interested in questioning a couple than in paper documentation of the marriage. Even with extensive documentation of the good faith of the marriage they may still put more weight and credibility on what is learnt from the couple’s face to face adjustment of status interview. As there are no magic list of immigration marriage interview questions, preparation for the immigration marriage interview is critical.

Some immigration officers are more interested in questioning a couple than in paper documentation of the marriage. Even with extensive documentation of the good faith of the marriage they may still put more weight and credibility on what they learn from the couple’s face to face adjustment of status interview. As there are no magic list of immigration marriage interview questions, preparation for the immigration marriage interview is critical.

Here are 7 tips for marriage interview success:
  1. Arrive early. Fifteen to twenty minutes early is best. If you have never been to the USCIS Service Office, do a test-run the week before at a similar time to the scheduled interview time to find out about traffic and parking.
  2. Bring originals. Be sure to bring originals and copies of all documents submitted with the application to adjust status including recent pay stubs, and passport.
  3. Wedding rings. Remember to wear your wedding rings to the interview.
  4. Photos. Bring your albums with photos of marriage ceremony, trips and social outings with friends and family to show the interviewing officer. A picture is worth a thousand words. But choose pictures carefully. Avoid any picture that could be seen as culturally offensive or otherwise inappropriate.
  5. Bring your house keys.  Do you each have a copy of the same house or apartment key?
  6. Cell-phones. Bring your cell-phones with each others number on speed dial.
  7. Relax. Act affectionately and naturally with each other. Do not pretend that the marriage is perfect. A real one never is.

I know I said seven tips but here is another important one for those who will have an attorney or representative present at an interview and want to make sure that their interview is fair. If your attorney will attend the interview with you  do NOT agree to an early interview if your attorney has not yet arrived. If the examiner asks you to agree to an early interview before your attorney arrives politely say NO and ask for the interview at the scheduled time when your attorney will arrive. Remind the examiner of the signed G-28 on file indicating that you are represented by an attorney. Your future immigration status may depend on it. This applies to any immigration interview in which you have a right to legal representation.

If you have any questions or concerns about an upcoming green card marriage interview, please consult an immigration attorney for help in preparing you for the issues that could arise from your unique situation.

 

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Passing the Stokes interview and Stokes interview sample questions

If you fail to convince the immigration officer at your first marriage immigration interview that your marriage is in good faith, the USCIS may give you written notice of a marriage fraud interview known as a Stokes interview. A Stokes interview is a taped interview in which the USCIS separates you and your spouse and ask questions. The goal is to decide whether your marriage is in good faith and not solely for gaining an immigration benefit.

If you fail to convince the immigration officer at your first marriage immigration interview that your marriage is in good faith, the USCIS may give you written notice of a marriage fraud interview known as a Stokes interview. A Stokes interview is a taped interview in which the USCIS separates you and your spouse and ask questions. The goal is to decide whether your marriage is in good faith and not solely for gaining an immigration benefit.

At the Stokes interview you and your spouse will be sworn in and questioned separately.  The examiner will compare your answers to the answers of your spouse and look for any discrepancies. If you give the same answers you will pass. If you don’t, you will be given an opportunity to explain any discrepancies.

As you and your spouse are under oath and the interview is taped it is very important that your answers be truthful. Giving false testimony under oath will not just result in denial of your green card but it is also a crime. You should not guess about what your spouse will say. If you do not know the answer or do not remember it is better to say so and not guess or make things us.

What to bring

It is important that the petitioner brings either a U.S. passport or a driver’s license and a social security card. You must bring the original documents  you brought to the first interview to the Stokes interview. Be sure to bring your passport, I-94 and social security card, if you have one. You should also bring any other documents to support the petition as the examiner should consider other evidence besides the interview. Examples are bank statements, lease agreements, rent receipts, mortgage agreements, health insurance policies, utility bills, tax returns and photos. You should also bring your last two pay stubs and statements and employment letters for both of you. The letters should be on company letter head signed by an official of the firms, stating when employment began, salary, dependents claimed and whom to notify in case of emergency.

Types of questions that may be asked

The Stokes interview is similar to the first green card marriage interview except that you and your spouse will be questioned separately. In the weeks before the interview you and your spouse should focus on communicating with each other and spending time together. Pay close attention to the minor details of your marriage.

Stokes interview - what is the color of your spouses toothbrush
Stokes interview - focus on the minor details of your marriage, e.g. the color of your spouse's toothbrush

 

Examples of the type of questions marriage immigration interview questions that may be asked at a Stokes interview are:

  1. How did you meet your spouse?
  2. When did you meet?
  3. How long did you know each other before you got married?
  4. Where did you go on your first date?
  5. Where did you and your spouse live before getting married?
  6. Who was at your wedding?
  7. Did you have a wedding reception?
  8. Describe the lay out of your apartment?
  9. How many TV’s do you have?
  10. What is the last movie you and your spouse saw together?
  11. Where did you go on your honeymoon?
  12. When was the last time you and your spouse were intimate?
  13. Where did you and your spouse first live together after marriage?
  14. What side of the bed do you sleep on?
  15. What brand of cigarette does you spouse smoke?
  16. What is the color of the wall in your bedroom?
  17. Do you have lamps in the bedroom?
  18. What did you have for dinner last night?
  19. What is your spouse’ favorite food and drink?
  20. At which restaurant did you last have a meal together?
  21. What is the color of your spouses tooth-brush?
  22. What is the color of the living room carpet?
  23. How many brothers and sisters does your spouse have?
  24. What are the names of your spouse’s parents?
  25. What did you give your spouse as a birthday gift last year?
  26. What is your spouse’s date of birth?
  27. Is your spouse left-handed or right-handed?
  28. Has your spouse met your mother?
  29. Do you pay the water bill separate from the rent?
  30. Did your spouse sleep at home last night?

You should listen carefully and only answer the questions that the interviewer directs to you personally. Do not answer any questions addressed to your spouse without first asking permission from the immigration officer. Remain calm and answer the questions truthfully. Do not argue with the examiner.

Finally, you have the right to bring an attorney and a translator with you to the interview. In fact you are strongly urged to bring an attorney to make sure that the questions asked are legally relevant to the process. An attorney will also be able to raise objections with the examiner and/or examiner’s supervisor after the interview. Remember it is your responsibility to make sure that you attorney shows up on time as the absence of an attorney by itself is not generally good cause to postpone an interview.

If you have a translator, the immigration officer will also swear in him or her to give exact translations. It is important that the translator translate each question and each answer sentence by sentence. The translator must not explain things or answer questions on your behalf. Before attending a Stokes interview you should consult an immigration attorney as failure to convince the immigration officers that your marriage is in good faith could result in removal proceedings before an immigration court.

If you and your spouse live together and have a bona fide marital relationship you should have no problem passing a properly conducted stokes interview. But consult an attorney. Leave nothing to chance.

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The marriage green card interview – what you need to know

After you have filed your adjustment of status package including the marital petition, form I-130, form I-485 application to adjust status and form I-765 application for employment authorization document, USCIS will send you a biometrics notice to take fingerprints followed by a notice in the mail telling you when and where to attend a green card interview. To be sure you get the interview notice you must change your address with USCIS while your applications are pending by mailing a completed and signed form AR-11 Change of Address form or completing a Change of Address online.

After you have filed your adjustment of status package including the marital petition, form I-130, form I-485 application to adjust status and form I-765 application for employment authorization document, USCIS will send you a biometrics notice to take fingerprints followed by a notice in the mail telling you when and where to attend a green card interview. To be sure you get the interview notice you must change your address with USCIS while your applications are pending by mailing a completed and signed form AR-11 Change of Address form or completing a Change of Address online.

Purpose of the marriage green card interview

The purpose of the interview is to verify your eligibility for adjustment of status, the good faith of your marriage and the financial status of the petitioner. While you should stay calm and stay confident in your marriage you should also prepare for this interview. An immigration officer may deny even people in legitimate marriages who do not convince him or her that their marriage is in good faith and not solely for gaining immigration benefits.

What to do before the interview

You must attend all interviews when you receive a notice. In the very rare event, you cannot attend because of an emergency you must contact the USCIS service office as soon as possible to ask that it re-schedules the interview. Please be aware that requests to re-schedule an interview are often not well received. If you do not know the exact location of the USCIS office and the parking arrangements you should do a test drive to make sure you can get there on time. Collect and organize green card interview documents

Before the interview you must make sure that originals of all documentation submitted with your application including birth certificates, marriage certificates and passports, official travel documents, and Form I-94 (even if they have expired) are well-organized in a file for easy access when requested by the immigration officer. In addition you should include up to date copies of bills and statements that show joint responsibility for living expenses of your home as well as commingling of funds (e.g. joint bank statement). If you have had any child(ren) together you should bring along the birth certificate(s) of the child(ren) and photos of the two of you with the child(ren).

The green card interview - married couple and baby at home

 

In the weeks before the interview: Communicate with your spouse and pay attention to the minor details of your marriage

In addition to organizing the green card interview documents in an orderly file, you should communicate with your spouse about the details or her live (current and past) and the details of yours, when you met and how your relationship developed. You should also pay particular attention to the layout of your house and life together (e.g. who pays what bill). If you are not living together you probably will be found out and you application will most likely be denied. The USCIS is looking for evidence that you are actually living together as husband and wife and trust each other. Remember that it is your responsibility to prove that your marriage is genuine and was not entered into to get around immigration laws.

On the day of the interview

On the day of the interview be sure to carry the interview documents and the USCIS interview notice. Make sure that you and your spouse dress appropriately and arrive for the interview on time. If you do not speak English you should bring along an interpreter with you who is not your spouse. You may also be accompanied by your attorney.

After you have passed security at the USCIS office you will hand in the interview notice at a reception window and wait to be called. When the immigration officer is ready he or she will call you and lead you to his or her office.

The interview

The immigration officer will ask you to raise your right hand and swear (affirm) to tell the truth. If you have a translator, the immigration officer will also swear in him or her to give exact translations. It is important that the translator translate each question and each answer sentence by sentence. The translator must not explain things or answer questions on your behalf.

As you are under oath be sure to tell the truth. Giving false testimony under oath will not just result in denial of your green card but it is also a crime.  You should listen carefully to the officer and only answer the questions that the immigration officer directs to you personally. Do not answer any questions addressed to your spouse without first asking permission from the immigration officer if you may do so. If you do not know the answer to a question, say you do not know.  If you did not hear the question, ask the immigration officer to repeat the question.

  • The immigration officer will ask to see the original documents based on your application. These include your original passport, I-94 and proof that your spouse is a U.S. citizen or LPR.
  • The officer will then test whether your marriage is in good faith by asking you questions that a married couple are expected to answer. Be ready to answer private questions about yourself, your spouse, how you met and your relationship – your living arrangements. Typical questions for green card interviews are about how you met, where you were you living at the time, what were each of you doing when you met, the day-to-day activities of your spouse and the physical arrangement of your house or apartment. You should know the name of spouse’s parents, workplace and supervisor and all the basic things about your spouse. The interviewer wants to find out how comfortable and trusting you are with each other. For a marriage relationship the key words are ‘trust’ and ‘communication with each other.’
  • The immigration officer may then ask about the financial status of your spouse.

The green card interview decision

A lot depends on the particular immigration officer but if the immigration officer decides that you have a bona fide marriage he or she will approve your application. It is likely that he or she will give you a decision on the spot and you will get a green card in the mail in a few weeks. Alternatively he or she may tell you to await a decision by mail.

Stokes Interview

If you fail to convince the immigration officer that your marriage is a bona fide marriage, it is very likely that USCIS will schedule you for a follow-up Stokes interview. The Stokes interview is similar to the first interview except that you and your spouse will be separated and asked more in-depth and personal questions. The immigration officer will  compare your answers to those of your spouse and if there are any discrepancies  you will be given an opportunity to explain the discrepancies.

Gary Goodin, Immigration Attorney

Copyright © 2011, the Immigration NavigatorTM

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Adjustment of status based on marriage

Adjustment of status is the process of applying for a green card (become a lawful permanent resident) by non-immigrants who are already in the United States. The applicants are not required to leave the United States and go through the hassle and delay of applying abroad.
An adjustment of status by USCIS is discretionary. Obtaining a green card is a privilege, not a right. USCIS will check the applicant’s immigration and criminal history carefully to decide if there are any obstacles (in-admissibility factors) that could prevent issuance of a green card. However, applicants married to a United States citizen may have some obstacles waved such as overstaying or earlier unauthorized work. Even if the applicant has a criminal history that could be an obstacle, he may be able to able to apply for a waiver. A waiver is a request that the immigration service “forgive” past criminal convictions or other obstacles.

What is adjustment of status?

Adjustment of status is the process of applying for a green card (become a lawful permanent resident) by non-immigrants who are already in the United States. The applicants are not required to leave the United States and go through the hassle and delay of applying abroad. An applicant seeking adjustment of status must have made lawful entry into the United States which means admission into the United States after inspection by an immigration officer.

Green card Petition

An adjustment of status application usually does not stand alone (except in diversity visa, asylum or refugee cases). It is based on a petition for an immigrant visa that is immediately available or a prior approved petition for an immigrant visa. The person who does this petition is usually an employer or a family member such as a spouse or parent. For applicants who have married a United States citizen, the green card application and the immediate relative petition can be filed at the same time and they do not need to await the approval of the petition.

Obtaining a green card is discretionary

An adjustment of status by USCIS is discretionary. Obtaining a green card is a privilege, not a right. USCIS will check the applicant’s immigration and criminal history carefully to decide if there are any obstacles (in-admissibility factors) that could prevent issuance of a green card.  However, applicants married to a United States citizen may have some obstacles waved such as overstaying or earlier unauthorized work. Even if the applicant has a criminal history that could be an obstacle, he may be able to able to apply for a waiver. A waiver is a request that the immigration service “forgive” past criminal convictions or other obstacles.

Is the marriage true and real?

The immigration services will also test (using the documents you send and the adjustment of status interview) whether there is a level of trust between the applicant and the United States citizen spouse that would be expected in a marriage. To prove trust in the application process the applicant and spouse must prepare documentary evidence of their marriage. To prove trust at the adjustment of status interview it is important that communication between husband and wife is open enough for them to answer questions about each other (spouse’s date of birth and income, the details of how the couple met) that an immigration officer may ask of the couple.

Adjustment of Status by marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green Card Checklist – Documents you need to get

Documents that carry a lot of weight and credibility with the immigration services in proving a marriage follow. Any documents not in English must be translated into English for proper submission to the USCIS.

  1. Birth Certificate of both parties
  2. Marriage Certificates (If the marriage took place abroad, give a copy of the foreign law relied on to prove the marriage is valid in the foreign country.) 
  3. Divorce Decrees for any earlier marriages
  4. Passport – of the applicant
  5. AR-11, Arrival Departure Document
  6. Joint Obligations – Receipts showing join obligations for living expenses (lease, cable, utility bills, auto insurance) – applicant should make sure that accounts have both names.
  7. Joint Ownership of Property – Title that shows joint ownership of property – car title, deed
  8. Joint Management of Finances – Evidence of joint management of finances – joint bank account, life insurance, pension with spouse named as beneficiary. This is very important because it clearly indicates trust (people tend not to trust their money to strangers.)
  9. Photos of the Couple
  10. Wedding Invitations, wedding gift cards
  11. Wedding Photos – also photos from honeymoon, if any
  12. Correspondence addressed to either or both spouses at the same address
  13. Join Tax Returns and W-2s (last two)
  14. Spouse as Emergency Contact – Employment Letters from applicant and spouse on company letterhead and signed by an official of the firm, stating when employment began, salary, marital status, dependents claimed and whom to notify in case of emergency.
  15. The latest two pay stubs/statements.

This is merely an overview of adjustment of status. Please discuss the specifics of your case with a competent immigration attorney as complex legal issues may arise during adjustment of status.

Gary Goodin, Immigration Attorney

Copyright © 2011, the Immigration NavigatorTM

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What if I can’t make it to a scheduled USCIS interview?

With limited exceptions, failure to appear for a scheduled interview can result in the denial of the related application or petition for abandonment. An unintended failure to appear for an interview may result when the notice of scheduled interview is sent to the wrong address because of USCIS processing errors for a timely filed change of address form AR-11. It can also result by an alien’s failure to file a timely change of address while an application or petition is pending.

An applicant, a petitioner, a sponsor, a beneficiary, or other individual residing in the United States at the time of filing an application or petition may be required to appear for an interview. With limited exceptions, failure to appear for a scheduled interview can result in the denial of the related application or petition for abandonment.

An unintended failure to appear for an interview may result when the notice of scheduled interview is sent to the wrong address because of USCIS processing errors for a timely filed change of address form AR-11. It can also result by an alien’s failure to file a timely change of address while an application or petition is pending.

An immigration interview is conducted because it is required by statute, regulations, agency policy or because there is a question of material fact that the adjudicator cannot resolve without an interview. Any interview may be required to determine the applicant’s or beneficiary’s credibility. Interviews are not scheduled if not required or if a material fact can be determined by other means. They are intended to be investigative and non- adversarial (as opposed to, say, a court proceeding involving two attorneys, each representing a particular side before a judge).

A scheduled interview (or fingerprinting) can be rescheduled if prior to the date and time of the interview an applicant or petitioner requests a rescheduled interview and show good cause. The applicant or petitioner should follow the instructions on the interview notice. The request may be made by mail, fax or telephone (in emergencies). The applicant or petitioner or his representative must show why he is unable to appear at the scheduled date and time because of circumstances beyond his control. The adjudicator will use her discretion to determine whether good cause exists for rescheduling the interview (or fingerprinting). If the adjudicator determines that good cause exists, the adjudicator will reschedule the interview and mail a new interview notice. The adjudicator is also required to reschedule an interview if a logged change of address notification is confirmed for the interviewees so that the interviewees may not have obtained notice of the interview.

 

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The Green Card Marriage Interview – green card fraud

After a US Citizen petitions for a non-immigrant spouse to get a US green card, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will often schedule a green card interview for the couple at a local service office. The subject of this green card interview is to decide whether the marriage is a good faith, or bona fide marriage.

What is a Good Faith Marriage?

A good faith marriage is legally valid according to the jurisdiction where the couple exchanged vows. Additionally, it cannot violate the laws of the United States (e.g. a polygamous marriage will not confer an immigration benefit) and was not entered into solely to get a US green card. The issue in the interview is whether a good faith marriage exists and not whether the marriage is practical (whether it will last a long time).

What is a Sham Marriage?

After a US Citizen petitions for a non-immigrant spouse to get a US green card, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will often schedule a green card interview for the couple at a local service office. The subject of this green card interview is to decide whether the marriage is a good faith, or bona fide marriage.

What is a Good Faith Marriage?

A good faith marriage is legally valid according to the jurisdiction where the couple exchanged vows. Additionally, it cannot violate the laws of the United States (e.g. a polygamous marriage will not confer an immigration benefit) and was not entered into solely to get a US green card. The issue in the interview is whether a good faith marriage exists and not whether the marriage is practical (whether it will last a long time).

What is a Sham Marriage?

A marriage without any intent, or “good faith,” to live together as husband and wife but was merely a scheme to get around the immigration laws is a sham marriage. The USCIS does not recognize a sham marriage  and the non-immigrant will get no immigration benefit from such a marriage.

Factors that raise suspicion of a Sham Marriage during a green card interview.

The factors that raise suspicion of green card fraud and may lead to in-depth questioning, a field examination or an investigation include:

1.         Large disparity of age;

2.         Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language;

3.         Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background (times however are changing);

4.         Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage;

5.         Marriage arranged by a third-party;

6.         Marriage contracted immediately after the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to leave the United States;

7.         Marriage entered into immediately following entry into the US

8.         Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;

9.         The couple has not lived together as husband and wife since marriage;

10.      The beneficiary (alien) is a friend of the petitioner’s family;

11.       The US Citizen petitioner has filed earlier petitions for aliens, especially prior alien spouses.

The Good News

While any of these factors merely raises suspicion of green card fraud, this does not mean that a sham marriage will be found. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services may not conduct in-depth questioning, a field examination or an investigation.  The couple, however is responsible for proving good faith intent with supporting documents during the green card application and during the interview (more on this in a later post).

Again the green card marriage interview questions are not about whether your marriage is perfect. The sole purpose of this green card interview is for an adjudicator to decide if the marriage is legally valid and not entered into solely for obtaining a US green card. Though living and working in the US is highly desirable to many you should not enter a marriage for the sole purpose obtaining a green card.

If you have questions about adjustment of status and the green card process, consult an immigration attorney who can advise you based on your unique facts.

Immigration Attorney Gary Goodin

Copyright © 2011, The Immigration Navigator

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