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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Certificate of non availability – Birth Marriage certificate not available

The US Consulate or USCIS will presume that an applicant who fails to produce or send required documents is ineligible for a visa or other benefit (e.g. a green card). The good news however is that the applicant still prove eligibility using secondary evidence.

If a birth or marriage certificate is unavailable, an applicant must offer proof by obtaining a certificate of unavailability from the government agency where such documents originate. The State Department Country Reciprocity Schedule indicates what type of country documents are unavailable for applicants from particular countries.

In addition to obtaining a certificate of non-availability (also called certificate of unavailability) the applicant must also bring or send secondary evidence of the event such as; a passport,
church records, baptismal records, adoption decrees, hospital records, school records, and affidavits.

A visa applicant is responsible for bringing the original or certified copies of required documents to a visa interview to prove his or her eligibility for a visa. The USCIS may need a petitioner or beneficiary to send photocopies of the original or certified copies with a petition or application. Sometimes however birth or marriage certificates or other required documents (e.g. court documents, police records) are non-existent or cannot be obtained from a government agency in certain countries.

Reasons for non-availability

Sometimes a marriage or a birth is never registered. Registration of births was voluntary in India before 1970. War and civil unrest may destroy government archives (e.g. Liberia). In countries such as Cambodia, some birth and marriage records for certain periods are simply unavailable.

Proving birth and marriage by certificate of non-availability and affidavits

The US Consulate or USCIS will presume that an applicant who fails to produce or send required documents is ineligible for a visa or other benefit (e.g. a green card). The good news however is that the applicant can still prove eligibility using secondary evidence.

Certificate of non-availability or “no record certificate”

If a birth or marriage certificate is unavailable, an applicant must offer proof by obtaining a certificate of unavailability from the government agency where such documents originate. The State Department Country Reciprocity Schedule indicates what type of required country documents are unavailable for particular countries.

 
Baptismal Record - Unavailable Birth Certificate


 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondary evidence of birth or marriage including affidavit

In addition to obtaining a certificate of non-availability (also called certificate of unavailability) the applicant must also bring or send secondary evidence of the event such as;

  • a passport,
  • church records,
  • baptismal records,
  • adoption decrees,
  • hospital records,
  • school records, and
  • affidavits.

The applicant should offer two separate affidavits to prove a birth or marriage.  The affiant, preferably a parent, is a person who was alive at the time of the birth or marriage.

The contents of affidavit

The affidavit of birth or marriage should state

  1. The full name of the affiant
  2. The date and place of birth of the affiant
  3. The affiant’s relationship to the applicant
  4. Full information about the event – when and where it took place
  5. How the affiant is familiar with the event (e.g. birth or marriage).

Additionally the affiant must sign the affidavit before a notary. For foreign language documents submitted to USCIS a certified translation into English must also be submitted.

I hope this helps to get your visa approved when supporting documents are unobtainable.

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