The primary concern with most green card applications based on marriage to a US citizen is the possibility of fraud. Obtaining a green card through marriage to a US citizen is sort of the platinum card of immigration. It’s the easiest way to get a green card and as a result officers are always on the lookout for fraudulent marriages.
Merely being legally married is not enough; there needs to be a bona fide marriage. The immigration service has a fairly traditional and conventional view of what a marriage is. They want the parties to be living together and just as importantly to be sharing their financial life together as well. This is the case because both of these issues are a good indicator of whether a marriage is merely for a green card or is based on an actual marital relationship. Of course, the best proof that a marriage is legitimate is having a child however this is not the case for many marriages – particularly if they are recent in time. So documentation is extremely important. Keep in mind that the immigration process is after all primarily a legal process. And the law is heavily reliant on paper. In some ways you could say it didn’t happen unless there’s a piece of paper to prove it.
The documents that immigration particularly likes fall into two categories. First, those that show that the couple live together and second those that show that they are sharing their financial life. Many of the documents will overlap between the first and second category. One of the most important documents is tax return. Make sure that the tax return says married even if the couple is filing taxes separately. For some reason, there must be some sort of a tax benefit, many tax preparers advise married people to file separately and as single. This is obviously a big no-no. Not only does it put into question whether there’s actually a marriage, it’s also fraud. The next most important document is probably a joint bank account. And a joint bank account that’s actually active with a substantive amount of money. I’ve often had clients come in and proudly show me their joint bank account however it only has a balance of $20 which hasn’t been touched in years. This is not what USCIS is looking for. The next most important are documents that relate to where the couple live – a lease or deed that has both names. Other useful documents are family cell phone plans, any kind of insurance including health insurance, car insurance or life insurance – also utility bills. Preferably these documents have both individuals’ names on them. If not, they can at least show the marital address if that’s where the bills etc. are sent.
The other half of the interview and approval process involves talking to the couple. In my experience I found that officers are interested in three aspects of their life together. Backing up a little sometimes a couple will be separated and will be given a questionnaire to see if their answers match. This is done less and less in my experience. However I do find that certain countries of origin are profiled because of the high rate of fraud. In my experience countries like Nigeria and Vietnam among others, often endure higher scrutiny. The three areas of concern for most officers are first, how a couple met, second, how they decided to get married and finally the wedding itself. They will test the memory of the applicant and the spouse by often times circling back and repeating questions they’ve already asked looking for consistency. Officers, like all factfinders, look at body language and other signs of credibility in the responses.
You can imagine these officers, after doing this type of work eight hours a day, five days a week for, in some cases many, many years, are fairly attuned to what is an actual marriage and what is not. I often joke with my clients that if they argue and the officer will believe it’s a real marriage.
At the end of the interview, I find that very often the Officer will inform the applicants whether the green card was approved. However, do not be alarmed if the officer says he needs more time to review the case. I find that more experienced officers will go out on a limb so to speak and inform folks before they leave the room.
Denial of a green card can many times result in being referred to immigration court for deportation. Accordingly it’s very important that you talk to an immigration lawyer before applying for a green card through marriage.