The marriage-based green card is one of the most preferred means of gaining lawful permanent resident status in the United States. However, there have also been cases of some applicants attempting to circumvent the immigration process through this green card category. Many of these ineligible applicants go so far as arranging fraudulent “marriages” just to become U.S. green card holders. This is why every genuine marriage-based green card applicant must prove the authenticity of his or her relationship.
What Does It Mean to Have A Bona Fide Marriage?
Having a bona fide marriage means you and your spouse genuinely love and care for each other, and have come together to live as a couple based on that existing affection. The USCIS has a keen interest in marriage-based green card petitions and as such will ask you to prove your intentions beyond a reasonable doubt.
From years of dealing with applicants from various backgrounds, immigration officers have a way of identifying fraudulent marriages that are established just for immigration purposes. For this reason, the best way to go about applying is to be well prepared and truthful all throughout the marriage-based green card process.
How to Prove That Your Marriage Is Real
Just like other green card applications, the two major ways that an applicant can prove the authenticity of their relationship is through sufficient documentation and performance at the immigration interview. To begin the marriage-based green card application process, both the petitioner and beneficiary will need to file the I-130 followed by the I-485 or complete consular processing depending on the beneficiary’s location and status.
Each form has its own checklist of documents which you must submit with the form or bring to the interview. The documents needed to prove that your marriage is bona fide include:
Proof That Your Marriage Is Legally Valid
The validity of any marriage is determined by the laws of the country where the wedding took place. The most important document to prove this is your marriage certificate issued by a recognized government body.
Also, if either or both of you were once in a previous marriage, you will need to submit proof showing that the previous marriage was legally terminated. This will require documents showing divorce or a death certificate if the former spouse has passed.
Proof of Joint Residence
Living under the same roof is one of the common attributes of a family. Though it is not uncommon to see some couples living separately due to some situations, this may be a red flag that will likely need tenable reasons to prove. If you share the same accommodation with your spouse, some documents to determine joint residence include:
- Copies of documents such as the lease for your rented apartment or a mortgage with both names on it
- Documents showing the household utility bills with both names on it such as electric, gas, internet, and phone bills
- Copies of documents showing you share the same address (e.g., driver’s license, letters received, etc.)
Proof That You Have Children Together
If you have children together, this can also work to prove the legitimacy of your marriage. Some of the necessary documents for this include birth or adoption certificate(s) of your children.
It is expected that you engaged in some family activities as a couple or/and with other family members. Some of the moments that could further help your case are:
- Proof of visits or trips taken together. Documents include flight, train, or bus tickets; receipts showing your hotel lodging or car rental; excursion pictures; events attended together, etc.
- Social media conversations and emails exchanged as a couple
- Receipts of gifts bought for each other
- Evidence of your wedding events, such as a copy of your wedding invitation, receipt of items bought for the wedding, payment for the wedding venue, bride’s and groom’s dresses, and pictures of your wedding
- Family photographs as a couple and/or as a family, especially if you have children
- Proof of joint ownership of property
Evidence of Combined Family Finances
If you have joint financial assets and liabilities, this can also help establish the authenticity of your marriage. Some of the documents that reflect this are:
- Joint credit card statements
- Joint bank account statements
- Joint insurance coverage plans, especially if you have a life insurance policy with any of you or your children as the named beneficiary
- Stock, mutual funds, and other jointly-owned investment
Affidavits from Third Parties
Affidavits for a bona fide marriage are letters from third parties—such as family members, friends, neighbors, and religious leaders—attesting to the authenticity of your marriage. In the affidavits, each of the writers will need to affirm that they have personal knowledge of your marriage. This step is sometimes required in order for the USCIS to establish that your marriage is bona fide and has credible witnesses.
Each of the letters must contain the full name, address, and date of birth of each writer. It must explain in detail how the person is connected to your relationship and why they believe it to be bona fide. Some examples to cite include knowing you personally, attending your wedding event, or being part of the wedding planning. While an affidavit could be from anyone, it is always more advantageous if it is written by U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
How to Prove That Your Marriage Is Bona Fide in the Interview
Apart from documented evidence, you will also have another opportunity to prove that your marriage is bona fide during your immigration interview. The marriage-based green card interview is usually the last phase of your permanent residence application process.
Most of the questions will be personal in order to test how much you and your spouse know each other as a couple. You will need to prepare very well for this because your performance will heavily impact your chances of becoming a U.S. green card holder. Some of the questions to expect are:
- How and where did you first meet?
- Were you introduced to each other by some else, and who?
- When are where did you have your first date?
- Which of you proposed?
- How and where was the proposal made?
- Was your spouse living alone or with someone when you met? Who was he/she living with?
- When did your relationship turn romantic?
- When did you agree to marry?
- How many guests attended your wedding?
- Do you have a pet?
- Do you attend the same religious service?
- Do you go on family vacations? Where is your favorite place to visit? When last did you go there?
- What is your spouse’s date of birth?
These and other related personal questions are what you can expect during your green card interview. Best practices include knowing minute details about their spouse. Some couples prepare for this by testing each other ahead of time, taking each other through question and answer sessions to refresh each other’s memories.
Proving Your Marriage Is Bona Fide for Conditional Resident Status
For any marriage that is less than two years old, you will be issued a conditional residence with a two-year validity period, which serves as a probation period to further test the authenticity of your marriage. You will be able to remove the conditions and get your unconditional lawful permanent residence after two years have elapsed. Before the conditions are removed, you must prove that your marriage was not fraudulent.
To prove that your marriage is bona fide and you deserve a lawful permanent residence after the initial two years, it is advisable to present new documented records showing that you have lived together as a married couple over the past two years. If you can convince the immigration officers with necessary documents, you may even get your permanent green card with a 10-year validity period without attending the I-1751 interview.
Common Causes of Marriage-Based Green Card Denials
Most of the reasons for marriage-based green card denial come from not being able to prove that the relationship is bona fide. Throughout the documentation and interview, if certain discrepancies are noticed by the immigration officers, this may raise red flags and damage your chances. Some of the causes of these red flags are:
- Not being able to speak each other’s language and other background differences
- Large age disparity
- The marriage is not according to the laws of the country where your wedding took place
- Contradicting statements during an interview
- Falsification of documents
- If the petitioner has filed a marriage-based green card before for another alien
- Petitioner’s inability to meet financial requirements for sponsoring marriage-based green card
- Inadmissibility on health grounds or criminality
NOTE: A marriage-based green card denial does not necessarily mean the end of your application chances, as there are provisions for appeal or motion to explore provided you are certain that your marriage is indeed bona fide. An immigration lawyer should be contacted if your petition is denied.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Proving the authenticity of your marriage is the most crucial aspect of your green card application process. It is of utmost importance that your case is well presented. This is why you need an experienced marriage-based green card immigration attorney to help you file your petition the right way the first time.
At Immi-USA, we have a team of highly experienced marriage-based green card lawyers with proven track records of countless successful applications. If you are about to begin your application process, or if your application was denied, you can count on us to help. Our immigration lawyers will help you prove that your marriage is bona fide and help you avoid the errors that could lead to denial. To get in touch with one of our immigration attorneys, you can book a consultation with us today by filling out this contact form.