When you tell people that you are in love, most people will probably believe you – except the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When you seek a green card for your foreign-born spouse, you’ll have to prove to the immigration authorities that your love is real.

A couple who claims marriage as their basis to acquire a green card must persuade immigration officials that their marriage is “bona fide.” How does the process work, and how can you convince the authorities that your love is for real? Also, how can a Las Vegas fiancé visa lawyer help?

WHAT IS MARRIAGE FRAUD? WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR A CONVICTION?

First, it is imperative to understand that if someone enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading the immigration laws of the United States, that person may be prosecuted for marriage fraud.

A conviction for marriage fraud is punishable by as much as five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. The law is applied to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.

HOW CAN YOU BRING SOMEONE YOU LOVE TO THE UNITED STATES?

But if you’re genuinely in love, here’s how the process works.

If you are a U.S. citizen engaged to a foreign citizen, your fiancée or fiancé must first acquire a K-1, temporary visa that provides the visa holder with ninety days to marry the U.S.-citizen fiancée or fiancé and to apply for legal permanent resident status.

The process begins when the U.S. citizen files Form I-129F to ask USCIS to recognize a foreign citizen as the U.S. citizen’s fiancée or fiancé. Proof must be presented that the couple intends to marry within 90 days of the fiancée’s or fiancé’s arrival in the U.S.

WHY WILL YOU NEED AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY’S HELP?

Approval of Form I-129F is no guarantee that a K-1 visa will be issued. You should have an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney help you with the paperwork, because any errors or incomplete information on the I-129F may delay the process.

USCIS forwards approved Form I-129Fs to the National Visa Center, which will inform the U.S. citizen-petitioner that his or her fiancé or fiancée may now apply for the K-1 visa.

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) then conducts a background check on the fiancé or fiancée that includes fingerprinting and a consular interview, usually at a U.S. embassy or consulate in that person’s home nation.

If the DOS officer conducting the interview does not believe the romantic relationship is bona fide, no visa will be issued.

HOW DOES A K-1 VISA HOLDER OBTAIN A GREEN CARD?

When a K-1 is approved, and the marriage ceremony takes place within 90 days of the fiancée’s or fiancé’s entry into the U.S., the K-1 visa holder may then file Form I-485 to request a green card. USCIS will once again check the backgrounds of both parties and interview them.

The first interview for a green card is called an “adjustment of status” interview, because the visa card holder is seeking to change to lawful permanent resident status.

But if the interviewer suspects that the couple has no genuine romance and married only to get the green card, or if there are any other suspicions or discrepancies, a second interview is provided – and the couple is given one last chance to prove that their love is real.

This second interview is called the “marriage fraud” interview or the “Stokes” interview.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT A STOKES INTERVIEW?

At a Stokes interview, an immigration officer explains to the couple why immigration authorities were not satisfied with the first interview. The couple is separated and interviewed individually.

If you are the subject of a Stokes interview, you will be asked extremely personal and intimate questions. The two individual interviews are recorded and checked for discrepancies.

The couple is then interviewed together and asked to explain or clarify any discrepancies.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE A STOKES INTERVIEW?

If the immigration officer conducting the interview is satisfied by the couple’s explanations, a green card will be approved. If the officer is not satisfied that the marriage is bona fide, the green card will be denied.

Each case is unique. Every interviewer has his or her own interviewing style. The best thing you can do in a Stokes interview is to answer the questions as honestly and as conscientiously as possible.

You should prepare to answer some questions that many people would consider offensive. Try to answer the questions in a straightforward manner. If you do not know the answer to a question, say so.

WHAT WILL YOU NEED TO BRING TO A STOKES INTERVIEW?

Obtaining a green card depends on a successful Stokes interview. Bring to the Stokes interview any document that may be pertinent, including:

1. your marriage certificate
2. birth certificates
3. visas
4. passports
5. entry records

You will also need evidence that you are in fact a “bona fide” married couple. That evidence may include:

1. joint bank and insurance statements
2. proof of joint assets and liabilities
3. a copy of your residential lease
4. affidavits from reliable witnesses
5. any other evidence that the marriage is bona fide

Depending on your case, other documents may be requested. Make copies of everything that might be considered evidence.

WHY IS A STOKES INTERVIEW CONDUCTED?

A Stokes interview is required when immigrations officials are dissatisfied with your first adjustment of status interview or when they have any other suspicions whatsoever.

The authorities probably suspect that your marriage may not be bona fide, so your interviewer will be looking for a reason to deny your green card request. Answering even one question wrong could be disastrous.

A Stokes interview is also quite stressful and frustrating. That’s on purpose. You need to prepare yourself, be careful, and be emotionally composed.

If you appear to be tense, frustrated, or defensive, your interviewer may interpret those reactions the wrong way – as a sign that you are being dishonest. If there’s tension between you and your spouse, that might also be interpreted the wrong way.

WHEN WILL YOU RECEIVE YOUR GREEN CARD?

You may also feel some aggravation after a Stokes interview, because it may take some time to receive a final approval or denial of the green card. You will need to have some patience. If an additional investigation is conducted, you might be waiting for months.

Authorities might even visit your home – unannounced – as part of their investigation.

If you are scheduled for a Stokes interview, the best way to be prepared is to work with a qualified immigration attorney. Your attorney can review your documentation and even conduct a “mock” Stokes interview to help you prepare for the real thing.

A Stokes interview is serious. You must be prepared, and you must get the legal help you need. That is your right.