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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we discuss how USCIS evaluates marriage green card applications to expose fraud and answer the following questions:

  • What documents can help prove your marriage is legitimate?
  • What questions should you expect to answer?
  • What are some red flags USCIS will look for?
  • What are the consequences of marriage fraud?

Many non-U.S. citizens will attempt to immigrate to the United States each year through marriage. It is one of the simplest ways to immigrate to the United States and obtain a green card, that does not already require some kind of family relationship. Thus, immigration applications based on marriage are scrutinized heavily by USCIS. Each year, the U.S. government expects to receive a large number of fraudulent applications involving a marriage that exists solely for the sake of obtaining U.S. residence. This is why applicants must be able to show more than the mere fact that they are legally married.

What Documents Can Help Prove Your Marriage Is Legitimate?

There are several documents and photos that you can use to prove your marriage is legitimate. Some of these USCIS or the U.S. State Department will expect to see, and some are extra evidence that can strengthen your application.

Documents showing combined finances: 

  • Joint savings and checking accounts
  • Titles or deeds for jointly owned property
  • Joint credit card statements
  • Mortgage or loan documents
  • Life insurance policies listing each other as the primary beneficiary

Showing that you and your spouse share certain accounts and have access to each other’s accounts can go a long way in proving your marriage is authentic. 

Documents proving that you live together:

  • Utility or other bills showing the name of both spouses
  • Property deed with both spouses’ names
  • Mortgage or lease documents listing both spouses’ names
  • The driver’s licenses of both individuals should have the same address
  • Letters from friends, family members, etc to each spouse that both have the same address

USCIS expects married couples to live together or to show proof as to why they are not currently living together. Not having a good reason for living apart is a glaring red flag for immigration officials. If the couple has a legitimate reason for living apart, such as work or school, the couple should draft a letter signed by both that explains in detail their reason for living apart.

Documents that prove you have children together:

  • Your children’s birth certificates with both of your names
  • Adoption certificates
  • School or medical records listing the stepparent as the emergency contact
  • Letter from a medical professional

Having documentation showing proof of children, joint financial accounts and responsibilities, and shared residence are all strong ways to prove that a marriage is legitimate. Other forms of proof include photos of the married couple together over the last few years (20 pictures from the last month will hold very little weight compared to a few pictures over the last few years). Good photos include wedding photos, pictures of parents with children, photos from vacations together, etc.

What Questions Should You Expect To Answer?

Applicants seeking legal U.S. residence through marriage must complete a green card interview. The applicant may be interviewed with his or her spouse or separately. The sponsor (that would normally be the legal U.S. resident spouse) should also expect to be interviewed and be able to answer questions. The interviewing officer can ask any number of questions and the couple should expect the questions to probe into personal or private topics. Examples of common questions are:

  • Where and when did you meet?
  • Where was your first date?
  • What trips have you taken together?
  • Does the other person have any strange habits?
  • Do you use contraception?
  • Who sleeps on what side of the bed?
  • Have you experienced any marital difficulties in the past?
  • Does your spouse have any inconspicuous birthmarks or tattoos?

Spouses should be able to give similar answers without much thought.

What Are Some Red Flags USCIS Will Look For?

Couples aren’t expected to have every single thing in common and may even have very different opinions on topics such as religious beliefs and child-rearing. However, there are many factors, which if true, will send up a red flag to immigration officials, such as:

  • Not having a shared language
  • Vastly different ages and/or economic situations
  • Different social class or cultural background
  • Significantly unequal educational background
  • Friends and family don’t know about the marriage
  • Photos, bank accounts, and other shared evidence dated right before the interview
  • Marriages that happen very shortly after meeting or divorce
  • The U.S. citizen is impoverished and lacks the funds to care for a spouse or children
  • History of criminal activity

Some of these factors can be present in a perfectly normal and healthy marriage. Nevertheless, the immigration official must make a tough decision in a short period, and the more an applicant can do to provide clear and supportive evidence of the legitimacy of his or her marriage, the less likely the application will be denied.

What Are The Consequences Of Marriage Fraud?

Marriage fraud is a serious crime. If convicted, individuals may face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Immigration courts may also bring other charges against marriage fraud offenders, such as harboring an alien, visa fraud, conspiracy, and many others. 

Immigration officials can also place a marriage fraud bar on an individual blocking them from getting a green card even if a later marriage is legitimate.

Couples with an authentic marriage with nothing to hide shouldn’t fear the immigration process. However, it never hurts to be over-prepared when going through the green card application process. Give us a call if you have any questions about marriage-based green card applications or the immigration process in general.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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