For most people who are either sponsoring their spouse for a green card or are being sponsored, the green card interview is the most stressful part of the process, sometimes for good reason.
The purpose of the interview is to weed out sham marriages and fraudulent marriages. It is important to understand what the government (USCIS) considers to be a fraudulent marriage. For immigration purposes a marriage is fraudulent if it was entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card.
Spouses do not have to be in love for the marriage to be legitimate. If a poor woman or man marries a wealthy US citizen for money instead of for love, under the law that is not considered to be marriage fraud..
Likewise, so called “arranged marriages”, where the parents of the bride and groom convince them to marry, are not considered fraudulent. Marriages between older people who marry for “companionship” instead of for love are also considered legitimate.
However, when you are applying for a fianceé visa, the immigration officer who will interview the fiancé in their home country, may expect an engaged couple to actually be in love.
When you meet with the immigration officer in person for the interview, the interviewing officer will look at both of you to see if you “make sense” as a “real couple’. The immigration officer will be looking to see if you both speak the same language well enough to communicate, and will take notice of large differences in age, education, and looks.
However, the officer will know that it is not that unusual for an older man to have a perfectly legitimate marriage with a much younger woman, and that physically unattractive men often marry physically attractive or even beautiful women.
But situations where the wife is much older than the husband, or where the husband and wife belong to religions that are diametrically opposed to one another, may raise some suspicion.
On the other hand, if the couple have been married for along time , or if they have children together, it is much less likely that the immigration officer will suspect marriage fraud.
Immigration interview questions when both spouses are in the US (adjustment of status cases)
The type of questions asked by the USCIS officer will vary somewhat depending on whether or not the couple are both living in the United States, but the basic concepts, as well as many of the questions asked, will be similar or identical in all marriage based visa cases. We will start with the situation where both spouses live in the United States.
In this situation the petition will have already been approved, and the interview is on the application for adjustment of status to green card holder.
Both spouses will be required to attend the interview. You will be given an appointment well in advance. The interview actually starts as soon as the immigration officer gets a look at the couple. The officer will be gathering first impressions on whether they look like a real couple. It is not necessary for the couple to exhibit PDA (public displays of affection), and if they are no longer newlyweds, this could come off as fake.
It is very important that both spouses appear to be relaxed, comfortable and confident.
The immigration officer will start the actual interview by putting both of you under oath. Lying under oath is a crime and the interview may be recorded. Usually both spouses are interviewed together. In some situations they can be interviewed separately and their answers compared.
It is not possible to predict all of the questions that will be asked. Also there are no limitations on the types of questions that you may be asked, and you almost always have to answer all of them, no matter how personal or seemingly irrelevant they may see to you, if you want to the green card to be approved. The most frequent questions are in the following categories:
- Personal information about you such as your full name, your birthday, where you were born, your current address and phone number.
- Questions about your spouse. The officer will likely ask you questions such as what is your spouse’s date of birth, job history, if your spouse was ever married before, what are the names of your spouse’s parents , brothers and sisters. You may also be asked if your spouse has any criminal record or criminal history.
- In marriage green card cases, the immigration officer will almost always ask you about the history of your relationship, such as where and when you met, where did you go on your first date, when did you become engaged, why did you have a long engagement or a short engagement, if your respective parents approve of the marriage, when and where did you start living together, whether or not you went on a honeymoon, if so where and when.
- The immigration officer will also almost always ask you questions about your wedding, i.e. where was it, was there a reception, who paid for the hall, how many people attended, which family members attended, if there was dancing and music, what kind of wedding cake did you have, who were the bridesmaids and bridegrooms, etc. If you were married at city hall you may be asked why.
- You may be asked questions about your current employment, work history and your education.
- Questions about previous marriages. If you were ever married before, you may be asked questions about the prior marriage, especially if you sponsored a prior husband or wife for a green card.
So far most of these questions can be considered “soft ball”. Also you have already provided a lot of the answers in the green card application papers, forms, and any affidavit or affidavits that you have submitted with the petition. While you will have already provided copies of all the documents and exhibits in your application, you are required to bring the originals of these papers with you to the interview and they should be kept in the same order as they were in the packet that was sent to USCIS.
However it is important to re-read, although not necessarily memorize, as much as possible all of the information that you have provided in the packet. If you are a person who has trouble remembering dates of events, you should make your best effort to memorize at least the years, and should tell the officer that you are not good at remembering exact dates.
Some things you will be expected to remember with some accuracy, such as your wedding anniversary and your spouse’s birthday, and the details of your marriage proposal, i.e. where, when, and how.
You may also be asked other questions that are of heavier metal such as:
- Questions about your current immigration status and previous immigration history, such as if you have ever worked in the US without work authorization, or if you have ever violated the terms of your visa.
- Questions about income taxes, such as if you have been paying income taxes, if you owe back taxes, and if you have ever failed to file tax returns when you were supposed to.
- Questions about your criminal history, such as, have you ever been arrested (even if not convicted or even formally charged), or have you ever committed a crime without being arrested.
- Questions about any organizations you have ever belonged to.
- You may be asked to provide all of the addresses you have lived at in the last 5 years or even since you turned 18.
Once the interview is over the officer may “pass” you in which case the you will be provided a green card, sometimes right away, sometimes in the mail soon after the interview. If you have been married less than 2 years the applicant will get a conditional green card and will have to file a separate application after the 2 years have passed to get a 10 year “permanent” green card. If you pass the interview and have been married more than 2 years the applicant will get a 10 year green card .
However, if the immigration officer does not believe that the marriage is legitimate, or has doubts and needs more information, you may be notified by mail (usually 3 or 4 weeks later) that you have to return for a second interview. You will be given a list of documents that you are required to bring with you for the second interview. The second interview is called a “Stokes interview” and is of critical importance.
Questions for a Stokes interview (second green card interview)
Based upon the case of Stokes vs. INS, the law is that an immigration officer may not decline a marriage based green card due to suspicion of fraud unless the officer gives the parties a written warning and written notice of their rights and gives them a second chance to present evidence and convince the officer that the marriage is genuine. You may not be happy about having to go through 2 interviews, but you should think of it as having two chances to get your green card.
If you do receive a notice requiring you and your spouse to appear for a stokes interview, it is essential that you do extensive interview preparation, with the help of an experienced immigration lawyer. An immigration attorney will be able to warn you of potential issues that are likely to come up, and will help you prepare for them.
For example, if you live in an apartment, are both names on the lease? If not, why not?
Is the house, all the cars and all the bank accounts in one of your names? If so why?
Does the husband have life insurance in favor of the wife? If not, why not?
If you both speak different languages, how do you communicate with one another?
If you have different religions, how to you handle that, both between yourselves, and with your families?
While the immigration officer will usually be friendly at the initial interview, the Stokes interview may be conducted more like an interrogation and may possibly last for the whole day (7 or 8 hours). It is very important for you to keep your cool and continue to project a confident demeanor, even though this may be difficult. You will be given some idea as to why you did not pass the first time, and will be given an opportunity to explain.
At the Stokes interview it is standard procedure for the spouses to be interviewed separately, for their answers to be recorded, and compared with one another. The following are some typical questions that may be asked:
- Questions about your daily routines, such as who typically gets up first in the morning, whether your spouse wears pajamas or underwear to bed or even nothing at all, whether your spouse eats breakfast, if so, at what time, and what does he or she usually eat, who sleeps on which side of the bed. You may be asked questions such as what color is your spouse’s tooth brush? What time do each of you typically arrive home from work? What kind of food does your spouse prefer? What beverages does your spouse drink at home, i.e. coffee, soda, bottled water, beer, vodka, etc? Who does the shopping, and what stores do you typically frequent for grocery shopping? Do you have any pets, what are their names, and who takes care of them? When is the last time you went to a movie together and what movie was it? Does your spouse take any medications, if so, which?
- Questions about your home. These could be the number of rooms, whether there is carpeting, if so, in which rooms, the colors of the walls, the colors of the walls or wallpaper, what kind of furniture and appliances you have, What do the windows face out to? How many closets are there and what stuff is in each closet? Do you have a vacuum cleaner? Where is it kept?
- Questions about friends and family. Who is your spouse’s best friend? How do they know each other and how long have they known each other? How often do you visit your families’ home together? When was the last time you visited a family member together?
- Questions about birthdays, holiday celebrations and anniversaries. When is your wedding anniversary? Do you typically exchange gifts? Did you go anywhere to celebrate your last anniversary? What gifts did you exchange with family members last Christmas?
- Questions about religion. Do you and your spouse belong or identify with any religion? Do you or your spouse go to church, temple, etc regularly?, if so, what church? What is a typical service like?
- Questions about finances. Who actually pays the bills? Does each of you contribute financially to the household? If yes, is the amount determined by salary of each spouse or in some other way?
- It is possible that you will be asked questions about your sex life, such as how often, where, etc., or about birth control.
You should be aware that immigration officers have been known to search through people’s social media profiles and may also send an investigator to go to your home or apartment building to determine if you really live there.
Also, as part of the application process, the USCIS will have already conducted background checks which include criminal record checks and checks of prior immigration history, usually for both the petitioner and the applicant.
If you and your spouse do not have any joint bank account, or if the address on your driver’s license does not match the residence address that you listed in the papers and/ or provided to USSCIS after you filed, you will have to be prepared to explain.
Similarly, if you became engaged to your spouse right after he or she was placed in removal proceedings, you can expect a lot of questions about the timing of your engagement.
How can a lawyer help you with a marriage based green card interview?
This web page just gives examples of the most common questions asked. An attorney who is familiar with green card interviews can give you a lot of tips, can help you prepare for the most difficult questions, or questions about problematic aspects of your application. A lawyer can also write a letter on your behalf which you can take with you to the interview, and can even go with you to the interview.
However if an attorney goes with you he can basically only go for moral support, and take notes. He or she cannot help you answer any of the questions for you or actually advise you during the interview. If you are very nervous about the interview having an attorney with you could possibly make you feel more relaxed, which is a good thing.
Interview questions for when your spouse is living overseas (consular processing)
If your spouse or fiancé (in the case of fiancé visas ) lives overseas, the questions will be somewhat different, and unless you are present at the consulate or embassy in your spouse’s home country (which is rare) the only person who will be questioned is your spouse. If you met your spouse overseas and have never been to the United States since, your spouse obviously will not be asked questions about your home or living room furniture. It is likely that your spouse will be asked questions like these instead:
- Questions about your relationship history, such as how you met and how you communicate with one another, such as, how long you have known one another, when did you first meet in person, how many times have you met in person, and how often and how do you communicate with each other, i.e. email, long distance phone calls, skype or video, social media, etc.
- Questions about travel, such as have you ever taken a vacation or holiday trip together, what countries has your spouse traveled to, has your spouse ever traveled to the United States, if so, when, for how long, and what type of Visa did your spouse use.
- Questions about common interests such as, what do you have in common about your spouse? what do you like about your spouse? What hobbies, activities or interests does each of you have?
- Questions about your spouse’s family such as have you ever met your spouse’s parents or any members of their family, if so, when and where.
- Questions about your spouse’s short term and long term plans for the future, such as, when does your spouse plan on going to the United States, what address will you both be living at, will your spouse be working or attending school.
- Questions about children. Does your spouse have any children if yes, what are their names and how old are they? Do any live with your spouse, if yes, which ones? Do you intend to have children with your spouse?
Who attends the consular interview?
When your spouse or fiancée is living outside the country, the interview will take place at the United States embassy or consulate. The US spouse does not have to travel overseas to attend, depending on the country and consulate or embassy, your spouse can either be encouraged to attend, or may not even be allowed to attend.
If the immigrant spouse is making an application for derivative visas for his or her children, the children, depending on their ages, may be required to attend the interview as well.