So, What Really Happens at an Initial Marriage Interview?

wedding-1353829_1920If you are adjusting your status to permanent residency, based on your marriage to a United States citizen, chances are you are already thinking and may even be dreading your interview.

All green card applicants, who have filed Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, based on their marriage to a US citizen, can expect to receive an initial interview notice scheduling both the green card applicant and their US Citizen Spouse to appear at a local office on the date and time indicated on the appointment notice. The initial interview notice typically arrives in the applicant’s mailbox about 3-4 months from the receipt date. The actual interview takes place about one month after receiving the initial interview notice.

Many of our clients begin to wonder about the marriage interview early on and it is a reoccurring topic in our consultations with couples who are ready to start the process. Couples have asked us countless times ‘so are they going to ask me what side of the bed my spouse sleeps on, what color my spouse’s toothbrush is, or about the last time we were intimate.’ The answer to this question is no, not at the initial marriage interview. Like the thousands of couples who have already gone through the interview process, and the thousands more who will go through the very same process in the future, your interview will also be successful with the right preparation and representation.

In our practice, our staff and attorneys diligently outline what the couple can expect during the interview early on. Once our law office receives the green card applicant’s initial interview notice, we contact the couple to schedule an appointment for them to meet with the attorney that will prepare and attend the marriage interview with them.

You may wonder: what are the benefits of having an attorney present at the interview?

While an attorney’s presence may not be necessary at the interview, some cases are more complex than others and would benefit from being prepared by an attorney. In addition to going over the interview process and documents required, our attorneys conduct a mock interview with the couple during their preparation appointment. Having an attorney present at the interview is also valuable because of the extensive experience attorneys have in dealing with various different couples from diverse backgrounds and situations. Having an attorney present is also important because the interview process is arguably one of the most important phases of the adjustment of status process. It is the stage in which the immigration officer determines whether the couple does in fact have a genuine marriage, based on the documents initially provided with the case, as well as additional documents the couple must bring to the marriage interview to prove they do indeed have a bona fide marriage. Your attorney will be in the unique position to assess what is being asked by the immigration officer, having reviewed your case and the relationship evidence in your possession.  Furthermore, your attorney can make the necessary accommodations for you, should you need an interpreter to be present at the initial interview. If you do not retain an attorney, you will not be afforded the benefits mentioned above.

The Initial Interview:

Generally you can expect for a security officer to greet you before entering the immigration building. The security officer will ask the green card applicant and U.S. Citizen spouse to present photo identification (ex: passports, valid driver’s license, etc) and the original initial interview notice. The couple will then be allowed to enter the building and will go through security and pass through a metal detector as you would at an airport. The couple will again need to present their passports, original initial interview notice, and visa (if any) to an immigration services officer. The couple will then be asked to go to the waiting room where they will wait for an immigration officer to call them in for the initial interview.

Once the immigration officer calls the couple into their office, the couple will be asked to stand and take an oath, promising to tell the truth. Much of what will occur next is administrative and authentication procedures taken by the immigration officer. The officer will review the paperwork and documents that were initially filed and go through some information on the forms, to verify that the information is correct and nothing has changed since the initial filing of the case (address, employment, etc). The officer will then request for the original documents to be presented, that were sent with the initial filing of the case. Such documents include but are not limited to: original passports, birth certificates (including those of any children born to the marriage), marriage certificate, all divorce decrees, visas, etc. The officer will verify the authenticity of the original documents and compare them to the photocopies of the same documents that were initially provided with the case. Once the officer has gone through these formalities, they may ask the green card applicant the ‘Yes/No’ questions that appear on Form I-485.

We ask the green card applicant to read through these questions very carefully before filing the case in order for them to be familiarized with these questions. The green card applicant will then respond ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the questions posed to them. It is very common for the officer to ask the couple how they met and how their relationship/engagement unfolded. Every officer is different and may ask about the love story in different ways, but generally every officer is interested in knowing how the couple met including the timeline of their relationship. They may ask how the couple came to the decision to get married and how their families reacted to the news. This gives the couple the opportunity to present their relationship evidence establishing bona fide marriage. The officer may outright ask for what documentation they would like to see, or you may provide it to them along with your story.

It is however important not to volunteer any information that is not asked for—another reason why having an attorney present is important. Such evidence most officers would like to see include photographs of the couple throughout their courtship, relationship, and marriage (with clear dates and descriptions of people in the pictures and location). Such photographs should be of the couple alone and of the couple with friends and family. Joint lease agreements, joint evidence of assets, joint insurances, joint bank accounts, joint utility bills, etc are very good evidence to provide in order to establish that you have a bona fide marriage. Personal effects and evidence of day to day communication is also good evidence to provide and can include but is not limited to: letters, cards, joint trips taken together, personal emails, etc.

If the couple is lacking in the majority of the above mentioned evidence the officer may be suspicious of the marriage. It is very important for the couple to get organized early on and meet with their attorney personally, in order for the attorney to assess the evidence, make suggestions, and recommendations for the interview. Affidavits from friends and family members may also be helpful in supplementing relationship evidence. It is very important to be sure that the green card applicant tells the immigration officer exactly how they would like their name to appear on the green card (maiden name or married name) and that they verify that USCIS has the correct address on file where the green card will be mailed. Normally, after hearing the story of how the couple met and reviewing the relationship evidence, the officer will recommend the applicant for approval during the interview. Shortly thereafter the green card applicant can expect their green card to arrive in the mail in less than one week.

If you do not receive a decision from the officer during the interview and all seemed to go well, do not fret. Some officers are not authorized to make a decision on the spot based on their rank or other reasons. If you appear to the initial interview unprepared and provide insufficient evidence to establish that you have a bona marriage or if the officer remains unconvinced, the couple may be scheduled for a second interview known as the STOKES interview. It is very important to consult with an attorney during the first interview so that the couple will not run the risk of being scheduled for a STOKES interview.

As you will be able to tell, the interview stage is all about organization and preparation. For more information please contact our office for a free first consultation. Our law office continues to be humbled by the trust and continued referrals our office receives from past clients. It is our pleasure to assist you.