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Getting a green card through a shaky marriage

By Atty. Paul Choi

Paul Choi is an immigration attorney practicing in Encino, California. As a public service, he will answer all questions regarding immigration and naturalization for free either by mail, email at pchoi@pchoilaw.com, on the phone, or in person or you may contact his administrator, Philip Abramowitz at 818 714-2226, or pabramowitz@pchoilaw.com.  The following is one such question and the answer by Mr. Choi.

Question:  I have filed for my greencard through marriage to my American citizen husband.  After just three months we already have an interview at the Immigration Office downtown.  We are still living together as husband and wife but our marriage is shaky and we were separated several times in the past. What will happen at the interview?  What questions will the officer ask me? Who will be allowed to come with me?  Will there be trick questions or questions that are personal that I should not answer?

Answer:  When applying for permanent residence through marriage, the applicant needs to, along with his or her spouse, attend a marriage interview. The Green Card marriage interview is generally conducted at a USCIS district office which is the local office. The purpose of the interview is to enable the interviewing USCIS officer to verify that the marriage to a U.S. citizen or LPR is bona fide and genuine and is not a marriage entered into for the sole purpose of gaining any immigration benefits and that the applicant is otherwise eligible for permanent residence.  Although having an unstable relationship can call the validity of the marriage into question, this alone is not grounds to deny the application for permanent residence.

At the USCIS office the applicant and U.S. citizen spouse may be interviewed together initially and thereafter may be questioned separately. Sometimes the interview may also be video-taped. The purpose of the USCIS marriage interview is to identify sham and/or fraudulent marriage arrangements that are entered into for the purpose of immigration benefits.

Marriages that are valid and legitimate but have had their share of arguments or disagreements still qualify as a real basis for permanent residence. There is no specific list of Green Card interview questions that you may be asked. The flow of the interview is generally dependent on the responses provided by you to the various questions posed by the officer. The Green Card marriage interview is an important step in the inspection process, and should not be presumed as simple and easy or as a mere formality.

I understand the anxiety married couples go through before a Green Card interview and I have attended many, representing clients to protect their rights and to make sure the questions are fair and they are not misled.  I put together some common marriage based Green Card interview questions asked by USCIS officers and tips on how to better prepare for the marriage based Green Card interview.

Here are some sample marriage based Green Card interview questions that you may be asked as well as some helpful tips to guide you.

I. Questions About Your Entry Into the U.S.

The Officer will inquire about how you entered the U.S., when you entered and whether you committed any fraud in securing your visa or entering.  If you entered the U.S. using an assumed name or using other falsehood, this is where these actions will be revealed.  Be prepared to have your original passport and I-94 ready for inspection.

II. Questions About How You Met Your Spouse

Be sure to remember the history of your relationship. Be prepared to portray your journey from initial meeting to marriage, including approximate dates or notable events. Know who introduced you to your mate or how you met.

III. Questions About Your Wedding

Be prepared to answer questions about the wedding ceremony, reception, guests, interesting or embarrassing events that may have happened during the ceremony. Also be sure to recall who was present at the wedding and if your close relatives were not there, be ready to explain why not. If you have photos, be prepared to share them. Be sure to know information about the rings, date of marriage, day of the week held and honeymoon.

IV. Questions About Your Living Conditions

Be prepared to answer questions relating to your present and past residences where you have lived with your spouse and be prepared to describe your residence. Also be prepared to answer questions about job details, work schedules and working conditions, earnings, joint-spending, investments, tax filings, joint bank accounts, financial dealings, mortgages, future plans etc.If the USCIS officer suspects fraud he or she will go into much more detail. You may even be asked to show your house keys, so be sure to have them. You should be familiar with your past schedule at home including meals and times you ate and who cooked.

V. Questions About Your Lifestyle and Habits

Be prepared to answer questions about each others general habits, lifestyle, preferences, daily routines, schedules, household chores, favorite pastimes – individual and together, holidays spent together, and specific rituals that you follow.  If there has been some disagreements between the couple this may come out but should never serve as a grounds for denial.

VI. Questions About Each Other, Each Other’s Family and Relatives

Be prepared to answers questions about each other’s relatives, friends, family, work place, family gatherings, festival celebrations, family holidays, anniversaries, dates and events of importance, etc.

VII. Questions In relation to Your Green Card Interview Day

Be prepared to answer questions about how you got to the interview venue, who drove, what happened in the immediately preceding days, plans for the rest of day, immediate future plans etc.

VIII. Questions regarding the forms you filed.

The officer will review the application forms you filed with the USCIS and ask you all the questions on the forms including where you live and work, names of children and parents, and whether you fall into one of the grounds for being found to be inadmissible to the U.S. such as due to criminal convictions, terrorist ties, contagious disease etc. If you have any criminal problems be prepared to show police reports and court records.

IX. Documents you filed.

Be prepared to review your supporting documents such as birth, marriage and divorce records and have originals handy. Also make sure the affidavit of support is property prepared and adequately supported by proof of income from the sponsor.

In short, preparation for the interview is key. Don’t expect to just wander into the interview and have your application approved. A Green Card interview is a major aspect in the inspection process before being granted a green card through marriage, and keep in mind that the USCIS is under political pressure to weed out persons who are ineligible. So, be prepared and make sure your documents are in order, you have originals with you and you can promptly and clearly respond to any questions raised by the officer. It is incumbent on you to prove that your marriage is not solely for immigration benefits. Remember that even married couples living together for many years may have difficulties remembering all of the facts of their relationship, so take the time to discuss this with your spouse beforehand.

If at the time of the interview, you are separated from your husband due to marital difficulties, you should still attend the interview.  Immigration law permits the USCIS to approve your case if your marriage was legitimate.  It is not a requirement that you live together all  the time if there is a valid reason for separating.  The important issue is; was the marriage valid to begin with?  If you can prove that is was, you can be approved even if your marriage is shaky or you have separated, but are not divorced.

Also remember that sometimes it pays to seek professional advice from an qualified immigration attorney before the interview to avoid problems that may arise if you are unaware of the process.

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Atty Paul Choi will answer all questions regarding immigration, naturalization and deportation defense for FREE. Contact him at pchoi@pchoilaw.com or at 818 714-2226. He is located at 16000 Ventura Blvd, Ste. 1201, Encino, California 91436.

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