If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has doubts about whether a marriage being used as the basis for a green card application is the bona fide real thing, it will want to speak to both the intending immigrant and the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. In fact, the agency will sometimes do this in separate and intensive interviews of each half of the couple.
Being called for a fraud interview is definitely not a good sign. It means that your application has been singled out because you haven't given enough evidence to prove a real marriage, your application contains some inconsistencies, or something about you and your spouse looks suspicious or raises red flags.
But if your marriage really is authentic, you shouldn't worry. The interview is your opportunity to show USCIS that you married because you wanted to, not just to get a green card. Below, we'll look at when and how a marriage fraud interview might take place.
For detailed information about the underlying issue, see What is Marriage Fraud Under U.S. Immigration Law? and 8 U.S.C. § 1325.
Although it's early in the application process, USCIS has the power to summon the U.S. spouse and intending immigrant (if living in the U.S.) for an interview before approving the I-130 petition. The I-130 is the form the U.S. spouse files to start off the process, asking USCIS to classify the foreign national as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and an intending immigrant to the United States.
The purpose of USCIS holding an interview at the I-130 stage is for it to ask questions about the marriage, to make sure the couple haven't entered into an all-too-convenient arrangement to get someone lawful permanent residence (and perhaps earn money for the U.S. half of the couple).
USCIS can also hold marriage fraud interviews after having approved the I-130, when the would-be immigrant is completing the remaining steps in the application process.
Almost always, if you are "adjusting status" (applying for a green card without going back to the home country to get a visa from a U.S. consulate), USCIS will call you and your spouse in for a regular in-person interview, as it does for most categories of green-card applicant. Although the purpose of this interview is not solely to uncover fraud, the USCIS officer will be questioning both the immigrant and the U.S. spouse and looking for any signs that the marriage is not real.
The same thing will happen if the immigrant is outside the U.S. at a U.S. consulate applying for an immigrant visa based on marriage (although the U.S. spouse probably won't be able to attend this interview). The visa officer will want to hear a realistic account of the development of the relationship. The officer will also try to spot any inconsistencies between the applicant's story and the application forms and documents.
If after an initial adjustment of status interview USCIS still has suspicions, it might summon both members of the married couple for a second, more intense and probing interview. This is known as a "Stokes" interview. This might be the time to start worrying.
Unfortunately, you might not get advance notice. USCIS can simply separate the two spouses on the same day as the adjustment interview, though this is rare.
If you get advance notice of a second (Stokes) interview following your initial adjustment of status interview, consider hiring a lawyer to attend with you. The lawyer does not really have a lot of power over the questions that you are required to answer, but can be a calming influence on everyone. Also, a lawyer who attends the interview will be better prepared to deal with follow-up matters.
In the classic Stokes interview, a USCIS officer puts both the immigrant and U.S. spouse in separate rooms and asks each an identical set of questions about their lives together. This can take several hours.
Although the questions are often mundane and trivial seeming, the key is this: Later, the officer compares the two sets of answers to see whether they match up reasonably well.
You and your spouse should be ready for any and all types of questions at the Stokes interview (not to mention at the basic adjustment of status interview), from what you gave each other for recent holiday gifts to the form of contraception (birth control) you use, if any. The questions vary among different officers and different years.
TIP: Bring matching sets of house keys if you live in the United States. USCIS officers have been known to ask husband and wife to produce their house keys. The officer then compares them to make sure that they would fit the same locks.
Once you or your spouse gets to a fraud interview, you will have to meet with an officer whose main job is try to detect wrongdoers, not grant visas or green cards. The interviewer will not be trying to make you feel comfortable. Their job is to push a person with questions until the person trips himself up, confesses to marriage fraud, or finally convinces the interviewer that the marriage is real.
But if the officer asks you a question you feel is too personal and inappropriate, do not answer it. You can tell the officer that you think the question is inappropriate and ask to speak to a supervisor about it.
Usually, straightforward, hard questioning is enough to ferret out fraud cases. Couples perpetrating a fraudulent marriage can do all the homework in the world, but when one of them forgets or does not know the answer to an obvious question—like where they went right after their wedding—that applicant often crumbles and confesses.
Occasionally, a hard-nosed USCIS officer will engage in harsher tactics, such as falsely telling someone that their spouse has already confessed that the marriage is bogus, in order to push the interviewee into confessing. Or, the officer might use flat-out intimidation, reminding the interviewee about the jail time and money fines a person faces if caught committing marriage fraud.
Sensing that the interviewee is feeling low, the officer might ask them to sign something withdrawing the I-130 petition or stating that the marriage is a fraud. If your marriage really is an honest one, do not agree to or sign anything. Ask to stop the interview and to reschedule with a lawyer present.
To practice for the interview questions, try going over the important facts of your relationship, and noticing the details of your daily routine, to make sure you remember and agree on things like:
Again, there are no limits to the possible questions.
If you have not reached your second wedding anniversary by the time you are approved for a green card or enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa, you will initially receive what's called conditional residence, which lasts for two years. You will receive a green card showing that expiration date.
Near the end of that time you must submit yet another application to show that your marriage is the real thing, on Form I-751. A fraud interview can be scheduled during or at the expiration of that time, as well.
If you have any concerns that USCIS or a U.S. consulate could have doubts about your marriage being bona fide, strongly consider hiring an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, prepare the paperwork, prepare you to answer tough questions, accompany you to interviews in the United States, and monitor the progress toward approval.