What are the most challenging questions for couples at a STOKES/Fraud Interview?
By Attorney Marie Puertollano, Esq.
What happens when a US Citizen Spouse and the intending immigrant spouse fail an interview pending an application for permanent residence?
Normally couples who have failed to provide sufficient documentation to an immigration officer, for the purpose of establishing their bona fide marriage—in other words that the marriage between both parties was entered in good faith and NOT to obtain an immigration benefit—may receive an appointment for a second interview also known as the STOKES or fraud interview. In some cases however a couple may be scheduled for a STOKES or fraud interview the very first time around. There are multiple reasons a couple may be scheduled for a STOKES/fraud interview. Couples should note that the burden of proof always rests on the couple. So what happens at this fraud interview? During the STOKES/fraud interview the couple is separated in different rooms and interrogated by an immigration officer. The officer will first interrogate one of the parties in a separate room. Then, the officer will question the other party asking the same exact questions.
Fraud interviews are lengthy and very complex. Officers ask very detailed questions that are challenging even for couples who have been together for many years. Our attorneys have successfully represented couples at hundreds of fraud interviews. Here are the most challenging questions that almost all couples are unprepared to answer despite having been together for many years. It is important that if a question is unclear or if the context of the question is unclear that the party ask the immigration officer for clarification.
- Who pays the bill and how are the bills paid?
Most couples do not understand the context of this question. First, ask the officer what he/she means by “pay”? Some of our clients have failed this question due to a failure to understand the question due to language barriers or cultural differences. For example for one spouse, “pay” might be understood as writing the check, but for the other, “pay” may be understood as the person who is employed and deposits money into a bank account.
When the officer asks about payment, they are usually referring to who is writing the check or taking care of the finances. The differences in the way a couple may answer this question often leads to discrepancies. In many households, one of the parties is responsible for the finances and ‘pays’ (physically writes the check or makes the payment by debit card, cash, etc.) for all of the bills and the other does not pay for any of the bills, and does not know or care about the different bills and payments. In other households, couples delegate financial responsibilities and assign who will pay for specific bills. Once that decision is made, the party least involved in the financial decision-making does not know or care about how and when their spouse pays this specific bill, as long as it is paid on time.
It is helpful for couples that will attend a fraud interview, to go through a comprehensive list of all the household bills and notify the other about how they are making the payments (by check, debit card, automatic wire, phone call, money order, etc…) and when they are paid (bi monthly, monthly, yearly, first Friday of the month, etc..).
- What is your spouse’s cellphone number?
In this age of technology, most people who have a cellphone do not make an effort to memorize phone numbers. We all have cellphones. We just look for the person’s name and press the call button. For people like our spouses that we call often, many of us use speed dial. I personally have not memorized any phone numbers since I have a cellphone.
But this is unacceptable for USCIS. All USCIS officers expect you to know your spouse’s phone numbers. Many of our clients use speed dial and are unable to remember their spouse’s phone number. Instead of understanding that this is normal for our generation, officer’s use this lack of knowledge as proof that the marriage is not real. So if you have a fraud interview, you might want to memorize your spouse’s phone number.
- When was the last time you were intimate?
Officers usually ask this question in this exact vocabulary and they expect an exact date. If you are not sure what the officer means by ‘intimate’, ask the officer to clarify.
Surprisingly, almost every couple disagrees about the last time they were intimate for many reasons. This discrepancy is sometimes due to the fact that one of the parties is very uncomfortable talking about that. In many cultures, sex is a taboo subject. Sometimes, it has been too long ago so they cannot remember. Anyway, if you have a fraud interview, please be aware that this question can lead to discrepancies.
- What did you do this morning before coming to this interview? What did you do last weekend? What did you do yesterday?
The officer will ask couples to detail their schedule hour per hour. No couple ever passes this question. This is understandable. Most people cannot remember what they did last weekend, hour per hour, with their spouse’s especially under stress.
The officer will ask each party the exact time they woke up, whether their spouse was already up, what the spouse wore when he/she woke up, what they had for breakfast, and whether you ate together as a couple, etc…
- List all the vacations you have taken together?
In the U.S., the majority of people do not really take vacations, rather they take weekend getaways which are considered vacations. For many immigrants including myself, a French citizen who used to have 5 weeks of vacation per year (sigh 🙂 ), a vacation means that you took days off work, that you left during the week. For me, a weekend getaway is not a vacation. This is another discrepancy that many officers do not like. Therefore, again, please do not hesitate to ask the officers what he/she means by “vacation”.
For all questions at the fraud interview, if you do not know the answer, NEVER guess the answer. Just say that you do not know.
If you have additional questions about fraud interviews, do not hesitate to contact our office.