A foreign national can obtain a permanent resident card, also known as a green card, by marrying a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Applicants must prove their marriage is authentic. The final step in the naturalization process involves a marriage green card interview with U.S. Immigration.
The thought of sitting down with an interviewing officer may feel overwhelming. However, planning ahead can ensure your interview goes smoothly. After a successful interview, an interviewing officer can approve the applicant for a permanent resident card.
The Importance of Obtaining a Green Card
A green card gives an immigrant the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely. As a permanent resident, you retain your citizenship of your home country.
This card is a form of identification that proves your legal status and must be carried at all times. Your permanent resident card needs to be renewed every ten years. You can also convert your status to U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
How to Prepare for a Marriage Green Card Interview
As the final portion of your permanent residency application, your marriage interview is very important. Getting ready ahead of time will help ease any worries you may have about your interview.
Before the interview, get together with your spouse to review your personal history. Make sure you both remember key dates about your relationship.
Organize all your documents. Gather the original documents for which you submitted copies to apply for permanent residency, including birth certificates, passports, and your marriage certificate. Finally, prepare copies of any new documents you want to bring to your interview, such as:
- Photos from your wedding ceremony
- Recent photos from vacations you took together
- Birth certificates for children you have together
- Recent statements for joint bank accounts
- Joint income tax returns
Who Has to Attend the Marriage Interview?
Both spouses (the applicant and the sponsor) must attend the marriage green card interview. You will both be interviewed to confirm the legitimacy of your marriage. You will be interviewed together unless there is any suspicion that your marriage may be fraudulent.
If you or your spouse are not fluent in English, you can bring a translator. You and your interpreter will have to fill out Form G-1256. Both your translator and the interviewing officer will sign this form at the beginning of your interview.
Who Conducts the Green Card Marriage Interview?
What you can expect at your interview will depend on whether the spouse applying for a green card currently lives in the United States or abroad. For U.S. residents, marriage interviews are conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The U.S. State Department conducts interviews abroad.
USCIS will review your green card application and transfer your file to a field office near you. Your local USCIS office will set up an interview appointment and notify you of the location, date, and time. Both spouses will attend.
The State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC) will review your green card application and transfer your file to the U.S. consulate in the applying spouse’s home country. The consulate will set up an interview appointment and notify the applying spouse of the location, date, and time. Only the spouse living abroad attends this interview.
What Questions Are Asked in a Green Card Marriage Interview?
Your marriage green card interview will primarily involve questions about your relationship. You may be asked about your past, daily activities, or plans for the future. While you may be asked personal questions, it’s best to be candid. You may be asked questions like:
- Where did you two meet?
- When was your first date?
- How long did you date before deciding to get married?
- Who popped the question?
- Who attended your wedding?
If you have children, you may be asked questions about their care. The spouse applying for permanent residence will also be asked questions to ensure their eligibility is still in good standing. This may include questions about:
- National security
- Military-type training
- Political affiliation
- False claims to U.S. citizenship
- Criminal record
The interviewing officer will notice hesitancy on your part. If you don’t understand a question or you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s fine to say so. The most important thing is to just be honest.
Is Marriage Fraud Detected in a Marriage Green Card Interview?
Under U.S. immigration law, marriage fraud is defined as entering into a marriage solely for the purpose of getting a green card. Committing marriage fraud has severe consequences. A case found to be fraudulent can not only result in:
- Criminal prosecution
- Future prevention from applying for immigration benefits
To apply for a marriage green card, the U.S. government requires more than just a marriage certificate to prove a valid marriage. Even couples in legitimate relationships may have a hard time convincing an interviewing officer that their marriage is real in a green card interview.
To illustrate this point, I want to introduce you to Scott and Rosario.
Scott, a U.S. citizen, and aerospace engineer, finally found the love of his life in his beautiful wife Rosario. They met in San Francisco, where Rosario was a Salvadoran foreign exchange student studying English at a U.S. university. They have their differences just as any other couple – Rosario’s English isn’t very good, Scott is 20 years older than her and recently divorced – but they know that they are soulmates. Their whirlwind romance was brief, they met and married after only 1 month, but neither cared because they were madly in love.
Rosario’s student visa is set to expire within the next 3 months. Scott can’t imagine living without her, so he files a marriage-based immigration petition on her behalf so she can stay in the U.S. permanently and they can start a family. However, because their relationship progressed so quickly, they have not had time to meet very many of each other’s friends, they still have not met each other’s parents, and they are currently apartment hunting so they can move in together.
Of course, none of that matters to Scott and Rosario. They have the rest of their lives to work out the minor details. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, quite a lot…
Marriage-based petitions between a U.S. citizen and a spouse from another country are highly scrutinized by U.S. immigration authorities. There is a prevalent idea in the U.S government that a great number of applications it receives in these cases are fake. USCIS officials and consulate officers are specifically trained to give cases that raise certain “red flags” closer inspection.
So what possible problems could Scott and Rosario face during the application process?
Let’s identify 10 red flags that will likely raise suspicion for marriage fraud in their situation.
1. They do not speak the same language
It is suspicious that two people are building a life together when they cannot even communicate well. For Scott and Rosario, the fact that they do not speak the same language would definitely raise a red flag for the immigration officer.
2. There is a large age difference
Scott and Rosario are 20 years apart in age. While this is certainly not unheard of, it does cause the immigration officer to look more closely at the situation.
3. One spouse has considerably more education than the other
The fact that Scott, an aerospace engineer, married, Rosario, an English student will likely make the immigration officials pay more attention.
4. They do not live together
Most married people live together; however, Scott and Rosario do not. Although they may have a good excuse as to why they are not living in the same household, they should be prepared to explain why.
5. They do not know each others family and friends
By the time most people get married they have met each other’s friends and family. Scott and Rosario do not know each other’s parents or many friends. This will definitely draw more attention to their application and raise questions with immigration officials.
6. They married soon after meeting
The fact that Scott and Rosario met and married after only 1 month is a huge red flag. Typically, couples take more time dating before getting married. Their short time together signals to the immigration officer that maybe it was a marriage for money instead of love.
7. They married soon after a divorce
Scott is recently divorced. This fact, together with the short time frame of the relationship, makes them look suspicious.
8. The timing of the marriage is too convenient
Scott and Rosario will need to explain why they decided to get married only 3 months before Rosario’s student visa is set to expire.
9. They have no children together
Children are a strong indicator to the immigration officers that people are in a real relationship. The fact that Scott and Rosario have no children together, along with the other issues discussed above is another factor that would draw closer scrutiny from immigration.
10. The non-citizen spouse is from a country with high incidents of marriage fraud
While it may not be fair, the truth is that U.S. immigration authorities keep a close watch on people from certain countries that have high incidents of marriage fraud. It is important for Scott and Rosario to be aware of this fact and make sure they come prepared with as much evidence as possible to overcome the immigration officers bias.
So what should Scott and Rosario do?
In any marriage-based green card case, the best thing that a couple can do is be prepared. Make sure to submit as much evidence and documents as possible showing that the relationship and marriage are real. A few examples of documents to include are, pictures, love letters, statements from friends and family, emails, plane tickets, joint bank accounts, and joint tax returns.
Also, start thinking about possible red flags in your particular situation, and be ready for any questions that may arise. The more you understand what immigration officers are looking for, the more you can do to decrease their doubts, and increase your chances of getting approved.
What Happens After the Marriage Green Card Interview?
Your marriage green card interview will only last about 15-20 minutes. Afterward, one of five things could happen:
- Your green card application is approved
- You may be asked to come back for a second interview
- The government asks for additional information
- The government may take longer to review your application in detail
- Your green card application is denied
How Long Does it Take to Get a Green Card After the Interview?
Oftentimes, the interviewing officer can approve your case on the spot. If your interviewer doesn’t have that authority, a senior officer may review your case before making a decision. If your application is approved, you may receive your green card in the mail in as little as two to three weeks.
If you are approved as a conditional permanent resident, your green card will only be valid for two years. Instead of renewing this green card, you must have conditions removed to receive a ten-year green card. File your petition in the 90-day period before your conditional green card expires.
If Your Green Card Application Is Denied
If the interviewing officer of your marriage green card interview concludes that you are not eligible for permanent residency, you can provide additional information and make your case again.
Don’t lose hope if your green card application is denied. You can appeal the decision. While you can appeal on your own, it may be wise to team up with a knowledgeable immigration lawyer.