U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office

Introduction

Our office often receives calls from people who seek permanent residence in the United States but have messed up the marriage green card interview and have done significant damage to their case. Those damages can sometimes be irreparable. In many cases, making any severe risk is avoidable with a bit of preparation and understanding of how the interview will go.

In all events, people should take the interview very seriously. Having a lousy interview can mean denial and placement in deportation, or significant delays, due to investigation, including examining your home by USCIS officers. Even small mistakes during the process can lead to problems and make your case get complicated and expensive. Although your marriage green card interview may still be months or later in the future, you probably want to learn what to expect when you meet the interviewing offices. Knowing how it will look will help you feel more confident and prepared when that momentous day comes. This article will equip you with the right information and prepare you and your spouse to handle the interview with United States Immigration Service (USCIS) or the National Visa Center (NVC).

Young couple having an appointment

What is the Marriage Green Card Interview?

First of all, you don’t have any reason to get anxious just because USCIS sent you an appointment notice for an I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence) or I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) interview. Taking the interview is likely the last step in obtaining the marriage-based green card, and almost everyone must go through it during the adjustment of status process.

Your aim is to make the interviewing officer sufficiently convinced that your marriage is not fraudulent and approve you or your spouse for a marriage-based green card right after the interview. So, how to get there?

If you live in the United States, then after USCIS has finished reviewing your marriage-based green card application materials, it will transfer your files to the closest local USCIS field office to where you and your spouse live. Afterward, the local office has the task to issue an appointment notice informing you that you must both attend an interview at a specific time, date, and location. When it’s time for the interview, USCIS mails the applicant the interview appointment notice labeled as I-797C Notice of Action, like many other USCIS communications. Mostly, you’ll have a few weeks to prepare and make travel arrangements if you or your spouse live abroad.

For people living abroad, NVC will finish reviewing all of the marriage-based green card application materials. Then it will transfer it to the U.S. consulate in the home country, which will process your green card application. The consulate will issue an appointment notice informing you or your spouse living abroad that you must attend an interview determining a specific time, date, and location. Although you mailed your application to a USCIS lockbox location, they will schedule an interview at a local office nearest you. In some areas of the country, this may require a long drive and an overnight stay. If you are a sponsoring spouse, you will not participate in this interview.

This means that if you or your spouse seeking a marriage-based green card live in the United States, the USCIS will schedule the interview, but the NVC will organize the interview if you live abroad. The primary goal is to interviewing officers to determine whether your marriage is true and to assess the authenticity of the marriage— in other words, to make sure that your marriage is not based on fraud.

The words Interview written on a white notebook to remind you an important appointment.

How Does the Marriage Green Card Interview Look Like?

Before coming to the interview, you need to make sure you collected all of the required documents. You need to bring proof of holding the green card (permanent resident) status, travel records such as a passport or USCIS-issued travel documents, then proof of current marital status and termination of your prior marriages, and similar. To ensure that your marriage is legit, the interviewing officer, a USCIS officer, or a consular officer trained for such marriage-based green card interviews will ask a set of questions. During this process, he or she will focus on your relationship’s history, daily activities as a married couple, your kids if you have any, your future plans, etc.

A typical citizenship interview lasts about 20 minutes, but the exact time frame varies by applicant. During that time, the interviewing officer asks relatively simple questions and is looking to assess whether the foreign spouse qualifies for a marriage-based green card addressing details surrounding the spouse’s entry to the United States and previous immigration history. You will be asked a set of questions and expected to answer honestly, directly, and briefly. You might not feel comfortable answering some questions because you cannot recall or don’t know the right answer. It would help if you remembered that it is always better, to be honest, and admit that you cannot think of the required specifics than trying to make something up in these cases. Putting in front of you simple questions about how and where the two of you met, the spouse’s birthday, who takes care of finance, the name of the spouse’s best friend, and similar, the USCIS officer will thoughtfully value the answers trying to understand your relationship. Get prepared and learn more about common interview questions. You may also deem the interview an opportunity to present additional evidence to prove your marriage’s authenticity that you haven’t filed along with your application, so be free to bring it with yourself, as well.

Usually, the same USCIS officers will interview you and your spouse. Still, you can expect no matter if your interview was scheduled at the same time, that officers will decide to talk separately with both of you. This way, the interviewing offices want to compare your questions and assess whether there were any discrepancies or if one of you told a lie. You can be interviewed either by different officers or by the same officer, but one at a time. When spouses are interviewed separately, it is called a “Stokes” interview. Officers from USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security unit (FDNS) mostly conduct these interviews. In this case, they will interview each spouse separately, and then the officer will compare the answers for inconsistencies. If you and your spouse have been questioned, there is still a chance to be called for a Stokes interview a second time if officers suspect your answers’ validity. You can also expect to be interviewed in Stokes format if there is a large age gap between you and your spouse, if your marriage is very short, or if the USCIS officer chooses to switch to a Stokes interview because new information has come up that they want to explore more.

To avoid any inconvenient feelings during the questioning or proceeding to the Stokes interview that can be demanding, you and your spouse should take preparation steps that will help you prepare your green card interview goes smoothly. For example, it would be good to sit down with your spouse, or have an extended phone call if one of you is in another country, and refresh your memories. This means that you should go over the key dates, holidays, and any other significant events in your relationship’s history, so both of you are sure that none of you will miss or interpret any details differently. Also, make sure that you collected all original documents of the copies you submitted to the government in your green card application package. It includes your passports, birth and marriage certificate, court records, and prior divorce documents if there are any previous marriages, as well as photos and other evidence of the authenticity of your marriage.

Moreover, as we mentioned previously, we strongly advise you to bring with yourself any additional documents that you haven’t submitted before for any reason and if you believe that now those could help you prove the authenticity of your marriage. Those can be the same items we mentioned: recent photos of you and your spouse, birth certificates of any children you have, joint income, recent joint bank account statements, tax returns, joint property documents, and similar.

Suppose you and your spouse live in different countries. In that case, you may consider including copies of travel itineraries for vacations you took together, particularly to the foreign spouse’s home country, so the officer can see that the two of you have visited each other regularly. Also, any copies of phone records showing you talk on the phone frequently can be valuable for your case. Before coming to the interview, make sure you organize all of your required documents neatly and correctly and place any photos in a chronological album.

DENIED text on the business card written in red marker near the keyboard on a blue background

What to Expect After the Marriage Green Card Interview?

As a part of the preparation, you should get informed of possible outcomes so you can act accordingly and avoid any further mistakes in your steps to obtaining the green card.

Upon finishing the interview, there are five possible outcomes that you can expect to happen:

1. Application Approval:

The first situation where you get the application approval is the one you are looking for. The interviewing officer will inform you right after the interview that your case is approved. It means that you attended the interview well prepared, and the documents you provided were sufficient for issuing the marriage-based green card. The offices will put the stamp in your or your spouse’s passport, and it will be valid for 30 days, within which you will receive the green card.

2. Request for evidence (RFE):

When the officer deems that the documents you submitted are insufficient, he or she will issue an RFE to give you the opportunity to provide more information about your case. The RFE will most commonly seek more proofs that your marriage is authentic. Evidence that will help you convince the officer can be utility bills, bank statements, or statements from friends and family regarding your relationship, especially people who attended your wedding and can confirm it.

3. Additional review of documentation:

Sometimes, the officer can be uncertain about the documents you provided and the answers you gave during the interview. Due to your case’s complexity, the interviewing officer will state that your case needs further assessment but that you don’t have to submit any additional documentation. In this case, you only need to wait for a final decision or any additional steps determined by the USCIS officer you will receive via mail.

4. Invitation to the Second interview:

The officer can decide to invite you for a second interview if he or she determines a need for further discussion of your case. This may happen when the interviewing offices want to discuss particular areas of your marriage or your relationship’s background. If the officer that conducted the interview decides to schedule the second interview, you will receive another interview notice either from USCIS or your consulate in the mail.

5. Denial of your application:

If the USCIS officer establishes ineligibility at the interview, you can receive information that your case is denied on the spot. Several factors may negatively affect your green card application and determine it as ineligible. For example, suppose you have submitted insufficient documents. In that case, the officer will state in assessing your applications why denial is due to challenges to uncover the background check or your immigration history. But, do not feel discouraged because, more often than not, the officer will allow you to submit more evidence or clarify such issues before reaching a final decision. If your I-130 application is denied, you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The second option that you have is re-filing the application with USCIS. On the other side, if you filed an I-751 application, which has been denied, you can re-file with USCIS and possibly ask the immigration judge to review the denial if you have been placed in deportation proceedings.

However, before coming to the marriage green card interview, you need to do the right preparation, endeavoring to take each step in the process thoroughly. The process of getting the U.S. permanent residence can be harsh and stressful. Still, with proper advice from an experienced immigration attorney, you can easily overcome any of the possible scenarios we talked about. With the notable expertise we gained by helping immigrants in the United States adjust their immigration status, lawyers at our office will provide you with the right guidance. We will focus on specific circumstances related to your case, allowing you and your spouse to make joint life plans in the United States.

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