Family Immigration:
Marriage Applications

Marriage Applications For Family Immigration

The United States is a melting pot of cultures and immigrants from all over the world. Many foreigners who either come to work or to discover the US as tourists end up meeting their future spouse here. When this happens, the marriage that ensues often becomes an immigration matter, and an opportunity for the non-US spouse to gain lawful immigration status and an ability to work, most commonly known as a green card.

The Law Offices of Ilaria Cacopardo has extensive experience in US family immigration laws and can help you successfully navigate the marriage-based green card application process.

Marriage Applications & Green Card

Marriage in the United States, much like everywhere else, is an emotional, legal and financial commitment. It is also one of the easiest and fastest path to legal residency if done properly and honestly. A 2008 study conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies stated that immigration officials estimate that anywhere between 5% and 30% of marriages between a US citizen and a foreign national were fraudulent, even though most of these marriages went undetected. As such, marriage-based green card applications remain an important focus of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The Green Card is a permanent resident document that grants the right to an immigrant to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. While the most popular way of acquiring a Green Card is to marry a US citizen or another Green Card holder, the document itself is not automatically granted upon the marriage.

The main advantage of acquiring a green card through marriage to US citizen is that the process is relatively fast: indeed, the application is given priority, mainly because it is not part of the quota system established every year.

The Marriage-based Green Card Application

Once the marriage has taken place, the foreign national living in the U.S. can submit an application for a green card to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). The application package includes several forms and supporting documents, thus it is important to have the guidance of an experienced immigration attorney during this complicated process. For the application to be successful, the couple must prove that the marriage is real or “bona fide”, meaning that the couple intends to build a life together and that the marriage was not organized for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card.

Because USCIS takes fraudulent marriages very seriously, the agency requires that green card candidates provide documents to prove that the marriage is valid. Generally speaking, every couple must prove to a certain degree that they are living together and are in a real relationship, not a financial transaction to obtain resident status. It is therefore very important to always be truthful during the application process, and specifically during the interview. Lying during a marriage-based application or interview may lead to serious consequences, including perjury charges.

As part of their review of the green card application, USCIS officers look for proofs that are compatible with typical married couples. It’s not unrealistic to say that USCIS officers have a very traditional vision of marriage. The documents provided by the couple must paint a clear picture of a genuine marriage, and of their relationship, preferably over a long period of time. For example, one of the preferred documents that can be presented are pictures of the couple. When providing such evidence, it is much better to include five photos taken over the course of two years rather than present ten pictures taken over two months.

Examples of other documents that can help provide clear evidence of a bona fide marriage include: wedding pictures, joint cell phones or utility bills, as well as letters written by friends and families that testify to the authentic nature of the relationship. Financial documents are also required to show combined assets. Examples of documents that can be presented are joint bank statements, joint property or vehicle titles, mortgage or loan documents, joint income tax statements, joint auto, health or home insurance policies, life insurance policies where each spouse lists the other as the beneficiary, etc.

And of course, having kids is one of the most compelling ways of proving that your marriage is real. Besides providing birth certificates for every child, other documents that can be presented to USCIS include school emergency cards with evidence that both parents are listed as emergency contacts, vacation pictures showing both parents together with their children, and, if applicable, adoption documents.

More generally, USCIS is looking for signs that the spouses behave like a normal couple or family. For example, it would look highly suspicious if a couple jointly petitioning for a green card were actually living separately. On the other hand, transcripts of messages or emails showing that the couple communicate regularly, vacation pictures or itineraries of family trips, gift receipts for items exchanged by the couple, are all very good ways to prove the bona fide nature of the relationship.

The Green Card Interview Process

Once USCIS has reviewed the application and documents, they will schedule an interview with the couple. The interview takes place at the USCIS office of where the couple reside. This is an important part of the marriage-based green card application, as it allows the couple to demonstrate the sincere nature of the couple’s relationship.

Generally, the interview is conducted in the presence of both spouses. At times, the officer can request to interview the spouses separately, especially if he suspects fraud. The couple must be prepared to answer detailed questions that can sometimes be personal in nature. Example of questions to be expected during a USCIS interview are: which side of the bed do you sleep on? What color is your spouse’s toothbrush? What color is the carpet in your dining room? Although they may seem intrusive and personal, the point of these questions is to establish how familiar the spouses are with each other.

Again, it is very important to be represented by an attorney at the interview especially If the foreign spouse has been arrested in the past.

At the conclusion of the interview process, USCIS decides whether to grant the green card. The validity of the green card depends on how long the couple has been married. If the couple has been married for at least two years, the green card is issued on a permanent basis. However, if the spouses have been married for less than two years, the green card is issued for two years, and the foreign spouse is granted residency on a conditional basis. The conditional status of the green card can subsequently be removed, by filing form I-751 (Petition to Remove Condition of Residence) within 90 days of the second anniversary of the marriage.

Generally, the application to remove the conditional status of the green card is filed jointly by both spouses. However, under certain circumstances the foreign spouse can request to waive the requirement of filing the application jointly with the spouse.

After the green card is granted, the foreign spouse will be able to apply for US citizenship, three years into the marriage or five years if the couple is no longer married.

Green Card Applications under the Trump Administration

In a marriage-based green card application the major hurdle to permanent residency status is mainly proving that the marriage is legitimate and real to the satisfaction of a USCIS officer. In recent years, however, as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, ICE has turned its attention to green card applicants, sometimes acting on tips or information shared by USCIS. To the point where immigrants with old deportation orders have being detained by ICE agents showing up at the marriage interviews.

In recent months, as many cases of detention following green card application interviews have garnered national attention, many immigrants now think twice about going down this path, and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of USCIS.

Once considered one of the easiest ways to attain legal status in the United States, the green card through marriage process seems to have become another effective enforcement tool in the current administration’s immigration policies. To be successful, the process requires that you be able to navigate the administrative rules as well as an ever-changing, and more dangerous, legal landscape.

The Law Offices of Ilaria Cacopardo can help you realize your objective of legally immigrating to the United States through a marriage-based green card. Contact us today to discuss the particulars of your case.

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About Ilaria Cacopardo

Ms. Cacopardo is a native of Italy who received a law degree from Universita’ La Sapienza in Rome, Italy in 1994. She went on to earn a masters degree in Comparative Law (LLM) from the University of Miami in 1995. She worked for over a decade in the legal department of the Italian Consulate in Miami before entering law school at Florida International University, where she graduated in 2012. Ms. Cacopardo has a strong background in immigration law having served as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intern, prosecuting cases in the Immigration Court, and also represented indigent clients in FIU’S Clinical program.

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