Borders are important for nations, but love knows no borders. People of all ages, races, religions, and nations fall in love every day, and U.S. citizens are no exception. But if you fall in love with someone who isn’t a U.S. citizen, you may need help from a Las Vegas immigration attorney.
If you marry someone who is not a U.S. citizen, how does your spouse acquire a green card and become a lawful permanent resident? How difficult is the process? And what if your spouse is not approved for a green card?
If you’ll continue reading, you will learn the answers to those questions in this brief discussion about marriages, green cards, and immigration. If you’re a U.S. citizen, getting a green card for your spouse should not be difficult, but it is. You are about to find out why.
WHAT’S IT TAKE FOR A NON-CITIZEN SPOUSE TO ACQUIRE A GREEN CARD?
There are two different procedures for obtaining a green card for a non-citizen spouse. It will depend on whether or not your spouse is in the United States or still in another country.
But either way, you will be required to prove that your marriage is “bona fide.” What this means is simply that you’ll need to prove that your marriage is real and not a charade conducted to obtain a green card fraudulently.
Marriage fraud happens when a U.S. citizen marries a non-citizen only so that the non-citizen can get a green card and stay in the U.S. If the pair do not intend to live as a married couple, marrying and requesting a green card constitutes marriage fraud.
Marriage fraud is considered a serious crime, and it is dealt with harshly. A marriage fraud conviction can be penalized with up to five years in a federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
HOW CAN YOU PROVE THAT YOU HAVE A “REAL” MARRIAGE?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will need to see evidence that you and your spouse have a real, genuine marriage. You will need to submit bank statements, telephone bills, and utility bills, but that is only the beginning.
You will need to prove that you and your spouse have established an ongoing financial relationship like most married couples have established.
WHAT KIND OF EVIDENCE WILL YOU NEED?
Hold onto all of your text messages, emails, Facebook and Instagram posts, and anything else that indicates the nature of your financial relationship, including but not limited to:
- airline tickets
- vehicle titles
- insurance policies and statements
- mortgages, deeds, or leases
Marriage fraud investigations can be extensive. In some cases, your social media accounts and posts will be scrutinized, and if USCIS authorities suspect marriage fraud, they may even interview a couple’s employers, neighbors, and relatives.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE MUCH PROOF THAT YOUR MARRIAGE IS REAL?
If you are newlyweds, you may not have much evidence for a long-term financial relationship. It is understood that some couples meet and marry quickly and then immediately seek a green card.
If you are recently married, or if you are still trying to bring your spouse to the U.S., you may have very little to show, but you must be able to produce whatever evidence you have that your marriage is real.
WHEN SHOULD YOU START GATHERING EVIDENCE?
When they apply for a green card, what married couples must understand is that the burden of proof – proving that their marriage is legitimate – falls on them. USCIS presumes that marriage fraud is common, and the agency can be quite aggressive in marriage fraud investigations.
In May, for example, fifty suspects in the Houston area were charged in connection with a large-scale marriage fraud scheme. “These arrests mark the culmination of a comprehensive year-long multi-agency investigation,” said Mark Dawson of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As early as possible, couples should take every opportunity to tie their finances together with joint accounts and both names on important titles. Immediately start collecting and storing receipts, emails and texts, photos, and the other evidence that you’re going to need.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH PROOF THAT YOUR MARRIAGE IS REAL?
If the evidence you submit to USCIS is not sufficient to persuade the agency that your marriage is genuine, either your green card petition will be denied or USCIS will send you a formal “Request for Evidence” (RFE).
If you receive an RFE, you can expect a prolonged wait for a green card. USCIS typically gives a couple 87 days to submit a response to the RFE. The deadline will not be extended – no exceptions – and everything must be compiled and submitted in one package to USCIS.
Clearly, if you and your spouse receive a Request for Evidence from USCIS, you must have the help of an experienced immigration attorney. It’s even wiser to obtain a good attorney’s advice and guidance as soon as you and your spouse decide that you’re going to need a green card.
HOW WILL AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER HELP YOU?
An immigration lawyer can help you prepare your application for a green card and help you determine what evidence will be needed to satisfy USCIS. If you receive an RFE, your attorney will help you compile the evidence that you need.
After your submit a response to an RFE, you’ll need some patience. Marriage investigations – like virtually everything else in the immigration system – are seriously backlogged, and any particular case could take many months to process and resolve.
If you and your spouse do not receive an RFE, it means that your green card request is either approved or denied. If USCIS denies your petition, you may file again after you’ve compiled additional evidence, but you’ll have to pay the filing fees again and start from the beginning.
WHAT IS A “STOKES” INTERVIEW?
If you and your spouse are asked to attend a “Stokes” interview, it means that USCIS may suspect marriage fraud. You and your spouse will be separated, interviewed individually, and asked intimate personal questions.
The two interviews will then be reviewed for contradictions. Even one wrong answer could mean the denial of your green card request. You need to be prepared, careful, and cooperative. The way to handle a Stokes interview is to be as transparent and honest as you can be.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER’S HELP?
Let an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney help you and your spouse acquire a green card by providing trustworthy legal advice and guidance at every stage of the process.
If your marriage is real and legitimate, and if you meet the other immigration requirements and deadlines, you should eventually be approved for a green card. Don’t forget to seek an immigration lawyer’s help from the start. That is your right.