Marriage-Based Immigration Cases: Will the Authorities Visit Your House?

How far the investigative powers of U.S. immigration officials go in rooting out marriage fraud.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

Marriage fraud by would-be immigrants is an ongoing concern for U.S. immigration authorities, namely U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS). At one point in time, these agencies believed that the majority of marriage-based green card applications were fake, just scams to get a green card. That belief eventually got debunked, but ongoing concern is fueled by the incontestable fact that green cards based on a spousal relationship are one of the few avenues to getting a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence) that do not require job skills or a preexisting family relationship.

If you're planning to apply for a marriage-based green card, how worried should you be about the U.S. government invading your private spaces in order to investigate whether it's the real thing? This article will explain the normal (and sometimes not so normal) procedures.

Usual Government Methods of Ferreting Out Green-Card Marriage Fraud

For the most part, the type of investigation that U.S. immigration authorities conduct in order to expose fraudulent green-card marriage cases is fairly superficial. Because of time and resource restraints, they primarily rely on applicants to do a convincing job of providing documents proving a shared life and passing an interview (and potentially a follow-up fraud or "Stokes interviews," in doubtful cases). Most approvals and denials are made based on these factors alone, without follow-up.

Nevertheless, U.S. immigration officials' powers go far beyond reviewing documents and talking to applicants within the confines of their office. When unconvinced, they can delay cases almost infinitely, and conduct separate forms of investigation.

How U.S. Immigration Authorities Typically Investigate Potential Marriage Fraud Cases Further

In doubtful cases, U.S. immigration authorities can conduct background checks by various means.

They are likely to start their searching online, including the immigrant's social media accounts, particularly if their privacy settings are weak. For more on this, see Will USCIS Look at My Online Social Networking Postings?.

USCIS can also check on the applicant's credit record, using the Social Security numbers given within the application documents. If it chooses to, the agency can interview the applicants' employers, parents and other family, and friends, visit or schedule interviews at their homes, and so forth. It would usually take such steps only in cases where fraud is suspected.

Note, however, that suspicions of fraud can raised relatively swiftly. Some marriage cases, while valid, simply have not been well-documented by the couple, or one or both people are forgetful or bad at answering questions about their life and marriage.

In Rare Cases, Immigration Authorities Who Suspect Marriage Fraud Might Do a "Bed Check"

U.S. immigration enforcement authorities have been known to use a tactic referred to as "bed checks" in some regions of the United States. This involves immigration officers showing up at the home where the applicants claim to live together, typically early in the morning. They see who answers the door.

They also ask to take a look around inside, in which case they'll be looking for signs that both people sleep and keep their clothes, toothbrushes, towels, and other items of daily living in shared space within that residence.

Bed checks have actually been reported both before and after approval of the immigrant's green card (lawful permanent residence).

People can legally refuse to admit immigration officials conducting a bed check. Such refusal is, however, likely to lead to further types of investigation.

Getting Legal Help

For personalized assistance with applying for lawful permanent residence based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder, consult an experienced attorney.

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