Jennie Barbara, a foreign national, and Robbie Nathan, a U.S. citizen, have been married for about a year now. Robbie filed an immediate relative petition for Jennie shortly after their marriage, and Jennie filed for Adjustment of Status (AOS). Despite the fact that everything is going very well in the marriage Jennie is becoming extremely overwrought because she has an appointment with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) next week for her marriage based green card interview. Robbie and Jennie had heard that getting green cards through marriage would be easy. However, after filing the applications Jennie began hearing many horror stories from her friends who had gone through the process. With each new story and each passing day as her green card marriage interview date came closer, she became more nervous and began to have sleepless nights. Jennie’s tensions and restlessness became a cause of worry for Robbie as he knew that this could create problems for her in the upcoming immigration marriage interview and could even plant a seed of suspicion in the mind of the USCIS officer interviewing them.
The “green card marriage interview,” which both of the partners are required to attend as part of the green card process, should not be presumed as simple and easy; it has the possibility of being a very grueling and painful event. You can take the stress and anxiety out of the situation through thorough preparation.
You can begin by gathering the documentation that you will need for your marriage based green card interview. The green card marriage interview notice you received in the mail has an exhaustive list of the documents you will need to bring with you to the interview, follow it very carefully.
Robbie, realizing the seriousness of the situation, and taking into account his wife’s anxiety, sought the advice and help of an expert immigration attorney. The attorney eased Jennie’s tension and asked her to keep in mind ten simple things for being successful at the green card marriage interview. And, to Jennie’s surprise, these ten simple tips really worked out well for her.
- Always be on time for your immigration marriage interview: Never be late. USICS officers expect you to be on time for your immigration appointment. It is always advisable to arrive at least 45 minutes before your scheduled interview time. If you have an attorney, and you are nervous about the green card marriage interview, or you have any kind of complication in your case, it is very important that you begin the interview only when your attorney is present.
It is important to know that all immigration offices are in secure facilities and you will not be allowed to bring certain items into the immigration building, generally including: cell phones with cameras, matches, lighters, any liquids, sharp objects, and pepper spray.
- Dress formally and conservatively: The way you are dressed is the first thing that an USCIS officer will see and it makes an immediate impact on them. Therefore, you have to be careful about the clothes you wear on your interview. On the day of your marriage based green card interview it is always advisable to dress formally, i.e., dress as if you are going to a job interview or to church. And remember that you will be entering a federal building and going through security and a metal detector.
- Be well organized – listen and respond appropriately:The USCIS officer is only given a short amount of time to conduct a green card marriage interview for each couple - usually only 10-15 minutes for a marriage based green card interview. They are highly appreciative when you come to the interview properly organized and are not overly talkative. You should keep your answers short and to the point. If the officer needs more information, they will ask you another question.
Do not let any periods of silence intimidate you. It is perfectly acceptable to sit quietly and wait for the next question. When you are asked a question, listen very carefully and answer the specific question. Nothing will fan the flames of an immigration officer’s suspicions more than an applicant who does not answer the questions asked.
- Never guess on anything: The denial of many marriage-based immigrant visa cases have one thing in common: people’s attitude that they have to give an answer and guessing. One of the biggest mistakes a person can make is to guess when he or she does not know the answer to a particular question. Instead of guessing at an answer and getting it wrong it’s always advisable to say "I do not know" or "I don’t remember".
Let’s look at an example: a husband during his green card marriage interview was asked what he had given his wife for a gift on their first marriage anniversary. He could not remember what he bought her, but just to avoid embarrassment he told the officer that he bought her a gold ring. When his wife was asked what he had given her, she stated that he gave her beautiful dress. Because of the difference in the answers, the officer will begin to doubt that the marriage is real.
Thus it is fine to say that you don’t remember instead of guessing the answer and going down the wrong road.
- Nothing to memorize: Remember that there is nothing that you need to learn by heart for the interview. There are no specific test questions prescribed for the immigrant interview that you have to memorize. What we mean by this is if the officer asks what was the date when you last entered the U.S.? And you cannot remember you are allowed to look at your I-485 Form, Page 1, for the Date of Last Arrival. That’s it...
- Reflect on the history of your relationship: During the marriage based green card interview the USCIS officer will ask you questions designed to highlight some of the grounds and history of your relationship; i.e., when did both of you first meet, when was your first date, what did you eat on your first date, etc. You should be able to present the circumstances under which you met your spouse and portray your journey from engagement to marriage. Remember it’s not a police interrogation; it’s only an inspection which everyone has to go through so you are not the exception.
- Be prepared for ‘The wedding Game’: If the USCIS officer suspects that the marriage may not be real they may separate you and interview you individually. While not necessarily designed to be tricky the questions will trip up spouses that are not familiar with each other. In this case each spouse will be asked a series of questions about the another and their life together, ranging from "Where was your husband born?" to at times much more simple questions such as "What is your husband’s favorite pass time?" Your answers to these questions will be compared against those provided by your spouse to determine your level of familiarity. The USCIS officials’ goal is to verify whether or not you and your spouse are indeed living together in an intimate relationship. Remember to pay attention to the details of your living arrangements before the immigration marriage interview period. You may also want to quiz each other on your respective personal information.
- Be what you are: The USCIS officials are trained to, and have experience at, analyzing body language and interactions between a couple. They are constantly looking for signs that suggest the two of you are not comfortable together, as it happens in most of the “sham or green card marriages" where the two people are in no way involved in an intimate relationship. In an attempt to show that they are married some couples show too much affection, which may appear forced and unnatural, and at the opposite end of the scale some have no interaction at all. You should neither show disparity nor do you need to show too much of affection, just behave as you both always do. Be calm and relaxed. A simple sense of togetherness and mutual concern is what wins in the end.
- Be prepared with the proper documents: Carry a set of original documents and a complete set of duplicate copies that you can give to the USCIS officer. You are expected to provide certain documentation to prove the validity of your marriage. The documents requested include, but are not limited to, wedding invitations, wedding photographs, birth certificates of any children you may have together, property leases with both names featured, photographs of special occasions spent together, joint bank account statements, and other joint financial documents.
- Seek the assistance of an expert: If you are worried, have special circumstances, or just want peace of mind, it is worth spending few dollars to seek help from an expert immigration attorney to steer you through the whole process. There is a lot riding on the approval of your petition and it is not unheard of for those with genuine marriages to have their case denied as a result of being unprepared. The old proverb ‘if you fail to prepare, then be prepared to fail’ applies in this situation. The USCIS authorities do not take these inspections lightly and neither should you. They will conduct in depth background checks on the US citizen as well as the foreign national and will be ready for the interview. The guidance of an expert immigration attorney backing you at every step of the proceeding can certainly make the difference between residence granted and residence denied.
It is estimated that each year 450,000 US citizens marry foreign nationals, out of which it is assumed that a certain percentage are for immigration purposes only. The authorities at the USCIS, however, are prepared for this often-abused strategy and do not make it an effortless process.
Thus we can see that Jennie’s worries about the green card marriage interview are not without basis as the major aspect of the inspection process before being granted green cards through marriage is the interview. Your fate will be decided by the USCIS officer that is interviewing you. The purpose of the interviewing officer is to ascertain the couple’s true intention behind the marriage. It is the job of the married couple to prove they did not marry for the immigration benefits alone.
The above are a few key points that could ease Jennie’s tensions and nervousness. These are some of the things that you need to keep in mind when “preparing” for your green card marriage interview. Sometimes it happens that we pay so much attention to certain things that we forget the simple things which too hold the power to change our lives and fortunes. Always remember that ‘a small thing can make a big change.’ So be friendly, smile, make eye contact, shake hands, listen to the whole question – don’t interrupt or try to anticipate the question, and everything should be fine.
If you have questions about your green card marriage interview and what steps you should take preparing for one, please consult a VisaPro immigration attorney. We will be happy to guide you through the process.
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