If you're part of a married couple that includes a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and a foreign national, and you've applied for the foreign national to get a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), the final step in your application process will be to attend an interview with U.S. immigration authorities. Here's what to expect, and how to make sure it doesn't lead to suspicion about your marriage or denial of your application.
Such an interview serves various purposes. The U.S. immigration authorities interview many people who apply for green cards, not just married couples. This gives them an opportunity to make sure that the relationship is the real thing, that all your paperwork checks out against what you say in person, and to examine your original documents (since you hopefully sent in copies).
However, in the case of married couples, the interview serves an additional purpose: to make sure the marriage is real, not just a sham to get the immigrant a green card. Due to the ease and speed with which aliens become citizens through marriage, many aliens marry for immigration benefits rather than for love.
The U.S. government is aware of this, and will ask a number of personal questions, of one or both spouses, in order to test whether they're telling the truth.
Exactly where the U.S. spouse and the intending immigrant attend an interview depends on which process the couple is using to apply for the green card.
Most applicants, including virtually all of those living overseas, go through what's called "consular processing," meaning the interview is held at a U.S. consulate or embassy in the immigrant's home country. In this case, the U.S. spouse is not required to attend, though it's not a bad idea to do so. If the U.S. spouse does not attend, and the consular officials have any doubts about the marriage being real, they might arrange for the spouse to be separately interviewed in the United States.
A few green card applicants who are already living in the United States will have the opportunity to use a procedure called "Adjustment of Status," in which case they submit their paperwork to, and are interviewed at, an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In that case, both spouses are expected to attend.
At the interview, the immigration official will review the paperwork and ask basic questions to confirm who the applicant is, where both members of the couple live and work, and whether they will be financially secure enough to avoid the immigrant becoming a "public charge," meaning having to receive government assistance (sometimes called welfare) in the United States.
You'll want to review your application before the interview, and come prepared with documents showing that you and your spouse share a life together, such as:
The U.S. immigration or consular official will also ask personal questions to test whether your marriage is real. The official is free to ask a wide range of questions. A few possible examples include:
If your marriage is legitimate, and if you truly know the person you married, none of these questions should be especially difficult or tricky. Nevertheless, it is best to make sure you both remember how you met and other details about your relationship, which even the closest of spouses can recall differently. If all goes well, the immigrant will be approved for an immigrant visa or permanent residence at this interview.
If the foreign national seems not to know much about the U.S. spouse, or the U.S. spouse is also being interviewed but seems to be giving contradictory answers, the immigration official may get suspicious.
If you're in the United States at an adjustment of status interview, you and your spouse could be separated and have to attend what's known as a fraud or "Stokes" interview, discussed next. If the immigrant was interviewed at a U.S. consulate, then as discussed before, the U.S. spouse may be separately interviewed in the United States.
At a fraud interview, an immigration official will separate the two spouses and ask the same questions of each spouse. Then the official will compare the two sets of answers to see how well they match up.
If one of you, for example, says that you served champagne at your wedding and have blue curtains in your bedroom, while the other one says you served lemonade and have white curtains, you could have a problem. Your case is likely to be denied, and if the immigrant is in the United States, he or she will be placed into removal proceedings for possible deportation from the United States.
Being placed into removal proceedings does, however, give you another opportunity to present your case in front of an immigration judge. But the law says the judge must look even harder at your marriage than USCIS did, on the assumption that it's a fraud.
If your marriage is less than two years old at the time you are approved to get a green card, you will be given what's known as conditional rather than permanent residence. The conditional status is good for only two years.
Within the 90 days before those two years are up, the foreign-born and U.S. spouse are expected to jointly submit a USCIS Form I-751 showing that your marriage has continued through this period and asking to convert the immigrant's conditional residence to permanent residence. (There are exceptions available for situations such as death or divorce.)
Along with the Form I-751, you'll need to provide documents showing that you continue to live together and share financial and other aspects of your life. These are similar to the documents you provided in order to get the green card, but will need to cover the most recent two years of your marriage.
After reviewing this application, USCIS may require the couple to attend another personal interview to discuss your marriage and other matters.
Once the immigration officials determine that the marriage is valid (or was valid in the case of death or divorce), the green card will be reissued as permanent legal status without any conditions.