In June, same-sex marriages resumed in California after the state’s ban on it back in May 2008. The new decision made it possible for local government to issue marriage certificates for same-sex couples. Its effect on immigration law has also been revolutionary, because U.S. citizens can now petition for his or her same-sex spouses. Recently, our office has successfully assisted with a handful of same-sex couples with their marriage interview, and we would like to share our experience with all those who are still on the way.
Since same-sex marriage interviews are relatively new to immigration officials as well, many clients came to us with tensions and nervous. One of the reasons is that they don’t know how their interviews will be different from those opposite-sex couples, whether higher level of scrutiny will be applied, and what questions to expect. This article will brief the same-sex marriage interviews and provide you tips to success based on our professional experience.
First and foremost, always be on time for your immigration marriage interview. We always suggest our client to arrive at least 15-20 minutes before the scheduled interview time, to leave enough time for security check before entering the federal building and for check-in at the field office front window. USCIS officers expect you to be on time and it is important to leave a good impression before the conversation starts. If you have an attorney to accompany you, it is very important that you begin the interview only when your attorney is present. Another reason we want our clients to arrive a little earlier is that we will go over the entire process one more time with clients, let them know what to expect in the interview so they will walk in calmly and confidently, and make sure all documents, originals and photocopies, are all there and well organized.
Second, dress formally and conservatively. It takes less than 3 seconds to leave an impression. So you definitely would like to give a good impression to the adjudicating officer who will be interviewing you, because the way you dress is the first thing that an officer will see. For men, we suggest you at least business casual attire. For women, business casual will also be fine.
Third, start to put together documents which prove your relationship after receiving the interview appointment notice, double check and have them well organized before heading to the interview. Immigration officers will be highly appreciative when you properly organize the documents in chronological order, especially with the photos. Once we receive the notice, our attorneys will send you a checklist of documents to bring, which usually includes original birth certificates for both spouses, original marriage certificate, photos that show both spouses together with family and friends, and other joint documents to demonstrate your relationship with each other.
Fourth, during the interview, listen carefully to questions and respond appropriately. Do not be overly talkative. Keep your answers short and to the point. Do not guess an answer if you are not sure. Instead, simply let the officer know that you do not know or you do not remember. The procedures are quite the same as opposite-sex marriage interviews. At the beginning, the officer will come out, call your names, lead you to his or her office, place you under oath, and start to verify your basic information, including full name, address, last entry to the U.S., mother/father’s name, birth date, phone number, date and place of marriage, whether you have any children, criminal record, having ever been deported, arrested, or even being a member of communist party.
When it comes to the questions you might be asked, here we listed the most commonly asked ones for you:
• How did you two meet each other? Describe in detail the circumstances under which the two of you first met.
• When and where did you go for your first date?
• When did your other family members know about your relationship?
• Do you visit each other’s family members? How often?
• When do you (Beneficiary) start living in the U.S.?
• How often do you two see each other?
• Any joint documents you brought today, such as joint bank accounts, joint tax returns, trust documents, joint insurance, joint utility bills, joint property ownership certificates, and apartment lease that indicating both spouses live at the apartment, etc.?
• Can I see the pictures of you two together?
• Where was your wedding ceremony? Any family members present? Describe details of the ceremony.
When an immigration officer has suspicions that a marriage may be fraudulent, he or she will often conduct a second, separate interview, which is a way more intensive interrogation of both the spouses. It will be conducted by separating each other and asking each the same set of questions. When it comes to this step, questions asked will be very detailed. For example, what did you have for your first date dinner? Does your spouse have any scars or tattoos? What side of the bed does each of you sleep on? What type of light do you have in your bedroom? What is your spouse’s work schedule? Etc.
From those interviews we have attended, it is safe to say that the officers treat same-sex marriage interviews fair and respectful. Same level of scrutiny was applied as the opposite-sex marriage interviews.
With proper preparation and an experienced navigator to guide you, you will be able to prove your bona fide marriage during the first interview and will not fall into the harsh separate interview. If you would like to learn more about this process and to talk to an attorney regarding your upcoming interview, we would be happy to assist.