The process of obtaining a green card for your foreign spouse starts with filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. You (as a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident) have to submit this form with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with evidence of a bona fide marriage.
What Does It Mean “Marriage is Bona Fide”?
“Bona fides” is a Latin word meaning “good faith” and is usually used in a legal context to describe something as being valid. So, bona fide marriage is one where couples entered into it in good faith. To prove it, providing a marriage certificate is usually not enough, so here, we will talk about other necessary evidence that you will need.
Filing Form I-130 is the first step in the family-based immigration process. At this point, you must establish a good spousal relationship, but it is not the end. Many marriage frauds with the only purpose to get the U.S. green card makes USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) officials extra cautious. USCIS officers will closely look at every detail you provided, looking for forging the relationship before granting a green card to the spouse of the U.S. petitioner.
USCIS officers will also ask a set of questions about your relationship during the interview that both, you and your spouse, have to attend. Once becoming a conditional resident, the scrutiny will continue. You definitely have to provide a marriage certificate which is No. 1 evidence, but more need to support it to prove a bona fide marriage.
Herman Legal Group has a team of experienced immigration attorneys that help their clients in the United States and abroad. If you want to seek additional help to prepare your I-130 petition, we will provide you with filing instructions according to your case. Moreover, your immigration attorney will help you go through the whole process and even accompany you to the green card interview if there is a need for it.
What is a bona fide marriage?
A bona fide marriage was entered in “good faith.” This practically means that spouses were in love with the other, and they intended to stay together forever, not until a foreign spouse gets a green card. Such marriage differs from a marriage entered to circumvent U.S. immigration laws – otherwise known as a fraudulent marriage.
USCIS is highly effective at identifying marriage fraud, also called sham marriage. You must prepare as much evidence as you can to prove that your marriage is genuine. Besides the marriage certificate as the primary document that only proves you are married, you have to demonstrate how you and your spouse were planning to live a life together.
Proving a bona fide marriage can be challenging, so through the article, we will discuss those documents that can help you ensure USCIS officers what your intentions were.
Example Evidence to Prove a Bona Fide Marriage
Start thinking about what can support you in demonstrating that your marriage is genuine. Everything that comes up to your mind to attach to your green card application can be helpful.
However, several documents are obligatory to submit for this purpose. As part of your I-130 petition package, including evidence of your bona fide marriage is a big part. We made a list of possible evidence that couples usually use, but you don’t have to provide all of it.
If you are just exploring the possibilities of a green card, but you are not married yet, it is the perfect time to start collecting proofs.
Joint Ownership or Lease of Property
If you can provide evidence of joint ownership of real estate or other significant property, it would be compelling evidence of a bona fide marriage. The same applies even if you don’t own it anymore, but you can prove you once had it. Expected evidence to prove this is a deed showing your and your green card applicant’s name. Of course, there are other relevant documents such as:
- The purchase contract.
- Closing papers.
- Mortgage agreement.
- Mortgage account statements.
- Property tax bills.
- Home repair documents.
- Utility bills.
If you jointly leased the property, you can include evidence of the rental agreement, utility bills, rent receipts, but also any communication you had with your landlord.
Here are some examples of documents:
- Lease agreements or mortgages in both your names
- If a joint lease or property deed is not possible to include, you can ask your landlord to write a letter confirming that both of you lived or currently living at the apartment, or you can provide rent receipts with your names.
- Joint ownership or addresses are also shown on your auto registrations.
- Copies of any utility bills such as gas, electricity, telephone, internet, etc.
- Copies of drivers licenses showing a matching address
Besides those formal documents, don’t forget that any letters from your family and friends addressed to both or either of you, but mentioning the other spouse and mailed to an address where you were living together can be supporting evidence confirming your marriage is bona fide.
The letters can help you prove a relationship but should ideally include a postmarked envelope to prove you lived together.
Also, you can include letters between the two of you before the marriage which will show your that you had a continuous conversation before entered the marital union.
Joint Financial Assets
It would be good to provide the records if you have a joint financial account because it is a firm example of a bona fide marriage.
The idea is to include the following documents:
- Joint bank statements (checking or savings accounts).
- Joint credit card statements
- Proof of making one spouse the beneficiary on other’s spouse retirement account
- Any other investment accounts ( stocks, mutual funds, etc.)
Joint Responsibility for Financial Liabilities and Welfare
If you show that you share responsibility for financial loans (joint bank account and joint bank statements are firm proofs!) and other financial liabilities and generally you took steps to care for each other’s long-term welfare will make the USCIS officer sure that your marriage is not fraudulent.
Here are some examples of documents that can support you:
- Credit card statements showing the names of both spouses.
- Loans or credit lines for any significant purchase (home, car, and similar) include both spouses’ names.
- Joint income tax returns filed with the government.
- Checks, joint bank account, or wire transfers, from one spouse to the other.
- Proof of being a beneficiary on the other spouse’s life or health insurance.
- Other insurance statements (car, home, or renters and life insurance)
- Designation of one spouse to another as the person to be notified in the event of an emergency.
- Power of attorney, wills, trusts, naming both spouses.
Proof of Raising Children Together
If you have children together or raising children from a previous marriage, providing evidence that you are raising them together will be a firm support to your case. Some of the documents you can submit are:
- Birth certificates of the children born to the marriage showing both parents names
- Medical records of pregnancy or fertility treatment
- Adoption certificate if your child is adopted
- Medical or school records for the child where it is shown that the stepparent is listed as an emergency contact
These examples are not limited- think about your life. We are sure you have more proofs that we forgot to include in this list!
Proof of Relationship and Shared Activities
It’s not rare that couples don’t have combined financials, even for those who are married for a long time, and having children definitely is not a requirement. So don’t get worried that it will be hard for you to provide such strong evidence to your case. What is common to all couples are real moments proving your genuine affection for each other.
So, speaking of it, prepare the evidence such as:
- From trips, you have taken together or to visit one another
- Correspondence between you two: those can be letters, birthday and holiday cards, phone bills, email, conversations through social media.
- Receipts from gifts: birthday presents, wedding rings, or any gifts you bought for one another.
- Wedding-related: here, you can include expenses or correspondence with vendors showing your names (wedding dress, groom’s suit, catering, entertainment, flowers.
- Other evidence of the wedding includes invitations, a wedding sign-in book, a religious certificate, or a newspaper announcement of the engagement and wedding.
- Photographs: especially those are showing you together, or with family and friends. Don’t include only photos after you got married and from the wedding day. Photos of you as a couple showing you were in a loving relationship can be even more impactful. When collecting photos that you want to shot to the USCIS officer, you can assemble them in an album describing the event, dates, and the context of the photo in general.
How to Organize Your Evidence
Filing instructions will provide you with exact information on how to submit your documents, but generally, you will need to provide copies of the documents mentioned above. More evidence you provide, better are chances to prove your bona fide marriage.
Still, be careful not to overwhelm immigration officials with a bunch of papes, so don’t include “week” documents just to show you have many of those. Instead, if you notice that some evidence is bulky, you can provide a representative sample. Also, it would be good to organize it in separate categories, for example, as groups we listed in this article.
You can find many other useful articles on our blog, but remember that those are only to inform and not legal advice. For any concerns and questions, book your consultation with us.
Affidavit for Bona Fide Marriage
Letters from third parties such as friends and family, religious leaders, neighbors, etc., are called Affidavits. These letters are written testimony that your marriage is real.
To be valid, the affidavit must contain the full name and address of the person who made it, indicating its date and place of birth. With this letter, a person can provide complete information and details about how he or she knows you and your spouse.
The affidavit will represent an explanation of why your friends and family, or another person who made it believes that your marriage is not fraudulent, testifying about attendance at the wedding, your plans for the future, or any other important detail.
Most Important Evidence Proving The Marriage is a Bona Fide
USCIS will consider some evidence more profoundly than others. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS receives your documents, the USCIS officer will look first at those that are more convincing. These are evidence showing you are combining your financial life. These are hard to fake, comparing to photos, love letters, travel, and affidavits carry.
Indications That Makes The Marriage Looks Fraudulent
Pay attention to your relationship- look it closely and be honest; how does it look to other people? Are there any factors indicating it might be a red flag for immigration officers?
Unfortunately, fraudulent marriages are not rare. People often use this mechanism to get a U.S. visa. USCIS officers used to follow the Adjudicators Field Manual (AFM), which determines several factors that could be warning signs of possible marriage fraud.
Examples of Indications
Your case will likely receive some additional scrutiny if:
- there is the large age disparity
- there is the inability of appropriate communication between you and your spouse; you don’t speak each other’s language, or you have difficulties in understanding each other;
- there is a vast difference in the cultural and ethnic background;
- there is unawareness of the marriage of your family and/or close friends;
- a third party arranged marriage;
- marriage was contracted immediately following your spouse’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- there were discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- you haven’t lived together since marriage (although you can prove there are valid reasons, such as work in another country);
- your spouse is a close friend of the family;
- you have filed previous petitions on behalf of other foreign nationals, especially for a spouse.