The Marriage Interview
By Mitchell J. Cohen, Esquire
Many people believe that simply marrying a United States citizen results in an automatic approval for residence. That is a fallacy. In fact, the USCIS puts the husband and wife through a rigorous marriage inspection process. At the very least, the marriage inspection process will involve an interview of the both spouses in front of an immigration officer who is trained to ferret out fraudulent marriages, that is marriages entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining a Permanent Resident Card (also referred to as a “Green Card”). People in a fraudulent marriage situation usually do not cohabitate.
Sometimes, however, individuals may live under in a home as “roommates,” but not as bona fide husband and wife. The marriage certificate by itself does not mean that the marriage is a valid marriage for immigration purposes. It is the task of the husband and wife to prove to an often cynical and skeptical immigration officer that the marriage is in fact a bona fide marriage, and not a sham marriage.
When an immigration officer has suspicions that a marriage may be fraudulent, he or she will often conduct a “separation interview.” A separation interview is intensive interrogation of both the husband and the wife, conducted by separating each and asking them the same sets of questions. Generally, the immigration officer will spend about 45 minutes to an hour with each spouse. Occasionally, the questioning can last a lot longer. Whether the marriage interview is conducted with husband and wife in the same room or in a separation interview setting, the questions regarding the marriage will generally deal with the beginning of your relationship (how you met and early dating experiences), the circumstances surrounding the marriage proposal and wedding, as well as your everyday living arrangements and experiences you have had as a couple. I have attended numerous marriage interviews, and what follows are some of the questions I have heard asked over and over again. This is by no means is a comprehensive list of every question you may encounter, but rather a taste of some of what you can expect to encounter:
- Describe in detail the circumstances under which the two of you first met.
- What did you do and where did you go on your first date?
- Who purchased the engagement and wedding rings?
- Describe the day of your marriage from morning until the evening in detail.
- What did you have for dinner the night before this interview?
- Does your spouse have any scars or tattoos? Describe them.
- What days of the week is the garbage picked up?
- When was the last time you ate out? Where did you go?
- What family does your spouse have in the United States?
- Do you know any of them? If yes, what are their names and where do they live?
- What form of birth control do you and your spouse use, if any?
- How many ceiling fans, if any, are there in your home?
- What rooms in your home have ceiling fans?
- What side of the bed do you sleep on?
- What type of light do you have in your bedroom? Lamps, ceiling lights?
- What side of the bed do each of you sleep on?
- How much is the rent/mortgage payment each month?
- How did you get to this interview today (make, model and color of the car)?
- What type of work does your spouse do? Where does your spouse work?
- What is your spouse’s work schedule?
This is just a small sampling of the kinds of questions that could be asked at a USCIS marriage interview. There are hundreds more.
Sometimes the immigration officer will request that both spouses show him the keys to their home. The officer will compare the keys to see if they match. Be aware that the marriage interview may be videotaped by the immigration officer. Immigration may even ask to be admitted to your home at any time of the day or night to conduct a “field investigation” (sometimes referred to in this context as a “bed check”) in order to see if you really live together with your spouse.
In addition to answering the immigration officer’s questions about your marriage, you are required to provide the officer with documentation demonstrating that the marriage is a bona fide (“good faith”) marriage. These documents can include the following: (This is only a sample of documentation which may be provided.)
- Birth Certificates of children born of the marriage/relationship.
- Photographs that show both spouses together with family and friends. These can be wedding photos, photos from other functions or events, and throughout the relationship. These photos should be attached to a sheet of paper, with a descriptive caption and be of good clarity.
- Joint or married filing separate income tax returns. Call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 to request free certified income tax printouts.
- Evidence of joint checking or savings accounts. Copies of cancelled checks. Previous bank statements.
- Photo identification cards of both spouses with new card for the wife showing her married name.
- Driver’s Licenses, credit cards, check cashing cards, employment ID cards, video club memberships, etc. for both parties.
- Apartment lease or letter from the landlord indicating that both spouses live at the apartment.
- Evidence of medical or health insurance plans with name of the spouse as a member or beneficiary.
- Copies of gas, electric, telephone and other utility bills.
Be aware that the USCIS not only thoroughly checks out the criminal background of the person applying for residency, USCIS also may investigate the U.S. citizen or resident petitioner. Immigration at times even may arrest the petitioner and/or the applicant at the residency interview.
For example, the applicant will have an old deportation order that the applicant is not even aware of. Usually these are immigration court deportation orders that occurred when the person failed to appear for a hearing. Many times, the applicant was not ever aware that a hearing had been scheduled (because for example he never received any notice). It is vital to check out your immigration background before you apply for residency. Otherwise you can put yourself into a situation that you may certainly regret. I have been successful in getting the Immigration Courts to overturn many of this types of deportation orders. Please see my article regarding In Absentia Order Of Removal.
Remember that your application for residence may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for you. You do not want it to fail, because unfortunately failure may very well mean deportation. The residence application process is arduous and fraught with unseen peril, like sailing across a dark and dangerous sea; you need an experienced navigator to guide you. In my experience it is a grave mistake to apply for residency without the aid of an experienced immigration attorney, one who knows what the requirements of the immigration law are.
I prepare each of my clients thoroughly for every aspect of the residency process, including the marriage interview. I also attend the USCIS marriage interview with my clients. Many lawyers do not attend this critical interview, and unfortunately many of the lawyers who do attend just sit at these interviews like stones, afraid to open their mouths to help their clients when the officer steps out of bounds. Many people with real, bona fide marriages who have not prepared their residency cases properly end up with their cases denied. A U.S. citizen or resident spouse has the right to appeal a denial of the residency petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Many people whose cases are denied are ultimately placed in immigration court deportation proceedings.
Like any important test in life, it makes a lot of sense to put in some time to properly prepare for the USCIS marriage interview. And when dealing with an unknown challenge it is certainly a good decision to have an experienced advocate at your side. Applying for residency in the U.S. is not a passive activity. The best outcomes occur when the clients are actively involved with an experienced attorney in the preparation for the marriage interview.
This article does not constitute legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of an immigration lawyer familiar with the facts of your individual case. If you have a question, please call Attorney Mitchell J. Cohen for a consultation: (954) 457-1941 (Hallandale Beach Law Office), or (239) 931-6558 (Fort Myers Law Office).