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Success Story Surviving the STOKES Interview and NOID

27512994306_54f949109a_zDuring November 2015, a couple came to our office seeking legal assistance, after having filed the adjustment of status application on their own, and attending their initial green card interview without legal representation. The couple visited our office seeking legal representation for their second interview before USCIS, also known as the ‘STOKES’ interview. At the conclusion of their initial interview, the couple were given a request for evidence by the immigration officer.  The Request for Evidence asked the couple to prove that the Beneficiary entered the marriage in good faith, and not for the purposes of evading the immigration laws of the United States. The couple responded to the Request for Evidence, providing documents in support of their bona fide marriage, to establish that they did indeed enter the marriage in good faith. In their response, the couple provided 21 items of evidence including photographs together, lease agreements as proof of cohabitation, and other bona fides such as joint utility bills and affidavits from the Petitioner’s parents, attesting to the couple’s bona fide marriage.

Despite producing such evidence, the immigration officer found the documents provided as evidence of cohabitation and marital union unconvincing. Additionally, the immigration officer found that the testimony given during the initial interview was unconvincing. Due to this, the immigration officer scheduled the couple for a second interview to discuss their relationship in more detail. The couple came to our office seeking guidance and representation at this second interview. The second interview is commonly referred to as the ‘STOKES’ interview. At the time of the second interview or ‘STOKES’ interview, the couple is questioned separately by an immigration officer regarding the details surrounding their marriage and relationship. A ‘STOKES’ interview is typically scheduled when an immigration officer suspects that the marriage is a ‘sham marriage’ entered for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit. During the ‘STOKES’ interview the immigration officer probes the couple on the intimate details of their relationship. The ‘STOKES’ interview is very taxing on both the Petitioner and Beneficiary. Some ‘STOKES’ interviews have lasted anywhere form 8-10 hours depending on the complexity of the case. Due to this, it is strongly recommended for an attorney to be present with the couple during a ‘STOKES’ interview.

During the ‘STOKES’ interview, the officer looks for consistency in the answers provided by both the Petitioner and Beneficiary. If any discrepancies or inconsistencies are found in the testimonies provided by the Petitioner and Beneficiary following the ‘STOKES’ interview, the Petitioner is typically issued a Notice of Intent to Deny, giving the Petitioner a period of 30 days to respond to any discrepancies that were found at the time of the ‘STOKES’ interview. Before issuing a Notice of Intent to Deny, USCIS may conduct a home visit to determine whether the Petitioner and Beneficiary are in fact living together. In this case, USCIS did not conduct a home visit. In summary, a Notice of Intent to Deny gives the Petitioner the opportunity to respond to USCIS and provide further evidence in support of their bona fide marriage.

Again, it is strongly recommended that you seek counseling from an attorney if you have been scheduled for a second interview with USCIS. Do not wait until you are issued a Notice of Intent to Deny to speak with an attorney experienced in representing clients at second interviews. We work very closely with clients who are scheduled for second interviews by anticipating the different questions and scenarios that may be asked by the immigration officer during the second interview, based on the inconsistencies and discrepancies of each individual case. During the interview preparation stage the attorney will also be able to determine the weak points in the case and prepare the couple accordingly. Typically, preparation for the second interview may last more than one day depending on the circumstances. In rare cases we have seen couples separated for questioning during the initial interview. If you do not feel comfortable attending the initial interview without an attorney present, you should consult with an attorney as soon as you receive the initial interview appointment notice in the mail. Otherwise if any inconsistencies are found in your testimonies, you may be scheduled for a second interview.

The facts of this case are as follows:

  1. The Beneficiary was a citizen of Israel and entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa in early 2013
  2. While traveling in the United States, the Beneficiary met his US Citizen Spouse in late 2013
  3. The Beneficiary and US Citizen Spouse engaged in a courtship of 6 months
  4. The Beneficiary proposed to the US Citizen Spouse after 6 months of dating with a ‘souvenir ring’ in place of the official rings the Beneficiary would later purchase and present during the wedding ceremony
  5. The Beneficiary and Petitioner married 1 month after the proposal
  6. The Couple did not have a formal honeymoon
  7. Instead, following the marriage the Couple took a short trip to visit the Petitioner’s aunt who hosted their wedding reception at her home. The Couple stayed at her home for several nights
  8. In late 2014, approximately 10 months after the marriage, the Beneficiary and Petitioner filed the green card application
  9. In late 2015, the couple attend their Initial Interview and were issued a Request for Evidence
  10. The couple responded to the Request for Evidence approximately 1 month after the initial interview
  11. USCIS responds by issuing a second interview at which time the couple contacted our office for representation
  12. Our attorney prepares the couple for the second interview on 3 separate occasions
  13. Our attorney attends the ‘STOKES’ interview with the client and several inconsistencies are apparent due to cultural and language barriers suffered by the Beneficiary
  14. USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny following the second interview
  15. Our attorney responds to the Notice of Intent to Deny addressing each inconsistency found
  16. Approximately 1 month after filing the Notice of Intent to Deny, the green card application is approved and the green card is mailed to the Beneficiary

Preparation for the ‘STOKES’ Interview

In order to familiarize ourselves with this case and adequately prepare the clients, we re-scheduled the second interview for a later date. Our attorney brought herself up to speed with the issues of the case and met with the clients on three separate occasions before the second interview, preparing the clients for several hours at a time. Our attorney discussed the marriage at length with the clients to gain a better understanding of the relationship. Our attorney separated the Petitioner and Beneficiary and questioned them separately regarding their relationship. The attorney determined that cultural differences would likely pose a challenge for the Beneficiary during the second interview, and that any inconsistencies in the testimonies were likely due to cultural and language barriers. The attorney discussed these problem areas with the clients and addressed issues of concern. The attorney attended the second interview with the clients. During the second interview, there were several conflicting answers that were given by the Beneficiary which posed a problem. Although the inconsistencies were minor, a Notice of Intent to Deny was issued following the second interview.

Discrepancies

There were 6 major discrepancies that were identified by the immigration officer in the Notice of Intent to Deny. Many of these discrepancies were owed to the fact that the Beneficiary did not have good command of the English language, and there were significant cultural differences that caused confusion when the Beneficiary was asked to reference exact dates and locations where important events took place. We will discuss several of these discrepancies and how we overcame them.

  1. The first discrepancy involved the Beneficiary’s confusion over specific dates of when his mother visited the couple in the United States. During the second interview, the Petitioner stated that her mother-in-law visited them in the summer somewhere between March and May. When asked the same question, the Beneficiary stated that his mother visited them at their home in the month of July. In the NOID, our attorney emphasized the fact that the Beneficiary is a native speaker of Hebrew and does not use the Roman calendar. Since the Beneficiary did not have a firm grasp of the English language, and only used the Jewish/Hebrew calendar when referring to specific dates, he responded incorrectly. During the second interview, the Beneficiary was asked to convert the date his mother visited the couple from the Hebrew calendar to the Roman calendar, resulting in the confusion. The Petitioner was correct in stating that her mother-in-law came to visit the couple between March and May. The Beneficiary converted the date in error due to language and cultural barriers.
  1. The second inconsistency arose when the officer questioned the couple about the marriage proposal. The Petitioner stated that at the time of the proposal, the Beneficiary did not present her with a ring, and that after the proposal, she went to look at wedding rings with the Beneficiary. The Petitioner stated that the Beneficiary bought the ring by himself after the proposal. The Beneficiary stated that at the time of the marriage proposal, he did present her with a ring.

On the date of the proposal, the Beneficiary had presented the Petitioner with a souvenir ring that was only used temporarily, until the couple went shopping together and picked out the rings for their wedding following the proposal. The inconsistency here was due to the fact that the Petitioner did not consider the souvenir ring to be the true engagement ring, that the Beneficiary purchased at a later date for their marriage ceremony. Our attorney clarified this issue in the Notice of Intent Deny response.

  1. The third inconsistency arose when the Beneficiary was unable to recall where the couple consummated the marriage. The Beneficiary was also unable to recall where the couple spent their honeymoon evening, because there was no formal honeymoon. The Petitioner had stated that after the marriage, she and the Beneficiary had visited her aunt in Sparks, Nevada. The Beneficiary stated that the couple drove back home and not to her aunt’s home. Unfortunately, the Beneficiary was new to the United States at the time of the marriage, and was not familiar with the city where the Petitioner’s aunt lived. The Beneficiary could not remember the name of the city where his wife’s aunt lived so he gave the officer the name of her hometown.
  1. The fourth inconsistency arose when the officer asked the couple if they had celebrated any holidays together. The Petitioner stated that she did not spend the Thanksgiving holiday with the Beneficiary. Instead she was out of town visiting her friends. The Beneficiary also responded that he had not spent the holidays with her and was asked about where his wife was on specific dates. The immigration officer found it odd that the couple had not spent the holidays together, however our attorney clarified this issue by discussing the Beneficiary’s religious and cultural background. Unlike the Petitioner, the Beneficiary was Jewish and celebrated only Jewish Holidays. This was the reason he did not celebrate any American holidays along with his wife. Since he did not celebrate American holidays and he wanted his wife to keep her traditions and holidays, she flew out of town to spend the holiday season with friends. The Beneficiary was also confused with dates due to the differences between the Roman and Jewish calendars and the language barrier.

In summary, our attorney was able to successfully address the minor discrepancies that arose during the second interview and caused a concern. The attorney discussed at length that the minor discrepancies did not prove that the marriage was a sham marriage, and that the marriage was in fact entered in good faith. The couple also provided further evidence in support of their marriage at the time of the second interview including joint lease agreements, joint utility bills, and joint bank account statements. Don’t let this happen to you. If you feel unprepared or uncomfortable filing your adjustment of status petition on your own, contact an experienced attorney to walk you through the process for beginning to end.

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