By:  Richard Hanus, Esq.

Published August 10, 2021

Question: Which travels quicker – good news or bad news?  Bad news, of course.  “Train Wrecks” are exciting, interesting, sensational and satisfying.  Yep, train wrecks sell!

For instance – in the U.S. government realm, when was the last time you heard about how great the U.S. postal system, or any government agency, was working?  And those green card interview stories, where marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is involved!  Everyone has heard about them – either from their friends or acquaintances, the movie “Green Card”, or simply by surfing the internet and coming across this or that immigration blog.  “I heard that they separate the couple and berate each party individually”, “I heard the immigration officer calls the parents of each party and ask lots of questions”, “I heard they send big and tough immigration agents to the home to make sure the couple really lives together.”  Certainly, those types of accounts are enough to stir up anxiety in anyone thinking about starting this process.

And in some circumstances, these stories may be true – but are they representative or typical?  In fact, most immigration interviews dealing with marriage applications are conducted in a civil manner and do not involve extraordinary immigration officer action.  This is the case whether the interview is conducted in the U.S. at a local Citizenship and Immigration Services office, or at a U.S. consular post abroad.  That is, the governmental official conducting the interview has a duty to be respectful and dignified when doing their job – no matter the issues or suspicions involved.  The outcome should, and usually is, dictated by the sincerity of the couple presenting themselves.  When the wrong outcome results, there is indeed legal recourse available, although the wheels of justice to undo such a wrong in this arena tend to be elusive or move slowly.

In marriage based interviews, the bona fides, or sincerity, of the marriage is frequently what is at issue, and immigration officers have a duty to make an assessment.  In these times – with much of the rest of the world’s economies struggling and so many foreign nationals seeking to make a better life here in the U.S., immigration fraud and “marriages of convenience” are common.  It is indeed the immigration officer’s job to scrutinize, and send a message that applicants for U.S. residence will only be issued an approval after the immigration institution is satisfied that the marriage is “for real”.  Again, scrutiny and review can and should be conducted in a civil manner – however, as with any group of individuals who hold immense power – such as immigration officers, there is bound to be a certain percentage who abuse their authority.  This sad reality is particularly troublesome when the application being reviewed is a “clean case”, with parties who have nothing but the sincerest of intentions.

What factors typically give rise to marriage fraud suspicions? (Some of these may not apply for applicants being interviewed overseas).  Big age difference between the parties.  Significant difference in their cultural and/or religious backgrounds.  The foreign national applicant’s immigration law violations e.g. out of status, no status, history of unauthorized employment, etc.  Prior immigration applications, especially prior marriage based filings.  Quickie marriage based on a relationship of short duration.

Public Record Searches and Online/Social Media Investigation: Immigration authorities are also known these days to engage in extensive public records searches and online/social media investigations.  It is not uncommon for immigration officers to conduct credit checks and address searches based on social security numbers the parties provide.  A person with awful credit may be perceived as being inclined to marry a foreign national for a fee, and not love.  Also, suspicions may arise if the addresses that come up in a credit check do not match up with information in the immigration filing.  Further, information connected to an applicant’s online identity on a social networking site may conflict with information included in their immigration filing.

Yes, the beauty of the information age is that there is so much of it out there.  But, as most internet users know, there exists the danger that not all of the information out there is accurate, and that applies to the information authorities may jump on to reach conclusions about an applicant’s green card eligibility.  Under the law though, the parties are supposed to be given an opportunity to address or clarify any derogatory or conflicting information that may arise during the process.

As we all know, marriages come in all sizes, shapes, colors and flavors, and no single factor should doom a case or cause irresolvable challenges.  It is just that the immigration officer will have a good reason to ask more questions, and perhaps refer the file for a formal investigation.

How important is it to obtain documentation reflecting joint or commingled assets, and shared residence?  Documentation, such as bank statements, bills, photographs, leases, etc., to substantiate a claim that a couple lives together is certainly important, but it is no way the end of the story.  The bottom line is that anyone, including individuals that do not actually reside together, can obtain a joint bank account, a lease, a bill or whatever, indicating a common address.

In my many years representing marriage based applicants for residence, I have found that the way a couple presents themselves – both in what they say and how they say it, is more compelling than any joint asset or residence document.  An experienced officer can tell a lot from watching how a couple interacts during an interview.  Yes, it is quite normal for an applicant to exhibit some level of nervousness.  Beyond normal nervousness, however, either or both of the parties might display certain suspicious idiosyncrasies that prompt concern.  What are those idiosyncrasies?  There are both objective and subjective factors that will influence an officer in how he/she reviews a filing and arrives at a decision.   As in most immigration filings though, being prepared and thoroughly addressing application requirements are key to maximizing one’s chances of achieving success.

PUBLISHED August 10, 2021– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2021, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois