A prospective client came into my office after he had received a Notice of Intent to Deny (“NOID”) the petition he filed to bring his wife to the U.S. He told me the story as to how he decided to marry his wife after years of having an affair with her. He had Western Union receipts showing years of financial support and talked to me about the importance of the best man and maid of honor to him and his wife. Both he and his wife were subjected to two interviews with immigration; the second of which was in response to the USCIS officer suspecting that the marriage was fraudulent.
I was a bit baffled as to why United States Citizenship and Immigration Services “USCIS” issued the NOID until I questioned him — much as the USCIS officer unquestionably did.
“Fraud marriage” interviews, where a couple is separated and questioned individually, are usually scheduled when the reviewing officer observes certain behaviors and/or characteristics in a marriage that sets it apart from the image the officer has of a “typical” marriage. The more a couple’s marriage looks different from that “normal”, “typical” marriage, the more likely they are to be subjected to separate and intensely scrutinized interviews.
There are dozens of behaviors and events that USCIS considers suspect and that are cited for disallowing spousal petitions, including:
- Short time between entry into the U.S. and marriage
- Children born during the marriage to persons outside the marriage
- Unusual or large age difference between petitioner and beneficiary (when found with other indicators)
- Previous marriages to foreign nationals
- Low employment/financial status of petitioner
The officer may also consider general behaviors such as extreme nervousness, the fact that an individual was late for the interview, and lack of interaction or eye contact as indicators that a marriage is fraudulent.
There are limitless questions that the interviewing officer can ask you during the interview; therefore, it is important to be prepared. Take to heart the following advice:
It is Not Enough to Memorize Facts
Officers can ask just about anything during the interview and can take you down a side street rather than the main road on which you wanted to walk. Spending more than five minutes preparing for your interview will reveal why it is not enough to memorize facts.
Do Not Try to Hide Negative Factors in Your Relationship
There is often a perfectly reasonable explanation for the fact that you and your spouse did not file taxes jointly, did not take pictures of your nuptials, or did not tell the members of your family about your marriage. Rather than hide these negative factors, go to the interview prepared to explain the reasons behind them.
Answer The Question Asked
When I prepare my clients to give a testimony, I give them this advice at least twice during our preparation – questions that call for direct answers should be answered with “yes” or “no.” If you do not remember a fact or do not know an answer, you should say so. If a question seems confusing, ask that it be repeated or stated differently. People have a tendency to answer the question they think you should be asking or that they think you mean to ask. Yet others have a tendency to ramble-on. Avoid these tendencies. Be careful that your lengthy, rambling answers do not prolong your interview.
Get a Good Night’s Rest
Plan to be questioned at length and separately during your interview. It is not unusual to spend over an hour answering questions. Couples need to be alert, able to understand and give appropriate and consistent responses to all questions, even those that come at the sixty-minute mark. Couples who attend the interview well-rested stand a better chance of defending an “atypical” marriage than those who do not.
Do not overlook the critical role an attorney can play in getting your petition granted. Your attorney can play an invaluable role in preparing your petition, preparing you for the interview, and in attending the interview.
First, your attorney is in a good position to ensure that your forms are completed correctly. USCIS has access to various databases and can obtain public records, lease information, credit card applications, and information used to apply for public assistance. Inconsistencies between your petition and other information can lead to your petition being denied.
Second, your attorney can prepare you and your spouse for your interview by simulating a typical interview. Your attorney is well-positioned to appreciate the aspects of your petition likely to draw the unwanted attention of the officer. You and your spouse will be prepared to address the officer’s concerns with proper preparation.
Third, your attorney’s presence at the interview can be invaluable in anticipation of a NOID. Should USCIS later try to deny your petition, your attorney, who took copious notes during the interview, can respond appropriately to each inconsistency highlighted by USCIS. The attorney’s ability to highlight consistencies and offer reasonable explanations for inconsistencies is, again, invaluable.
An important fact to note is that even squeaky clean couples may be subjected to separate interviews. It is my opinion that USCIS plans to conduct a set minimum number of fraud interviews yearly. Furthermore, new immigration officers need field training, and a local office may be over-staffed and underworked. Seeking the advice of an attorney to navigate the interview can and will be helpful for even these couples.
So long as your attorney is convinced for herself that your marriage is not a fraud and that it meets the requirements for a marriage under immigration laws, she will employ her skills, and expertise to zealously advocate for you.