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Is this Marriage Real or Just for Immigration?

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Is this marriage legitimate?

Hi, I'm Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out our offices in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Diego, California. We are working on preparing people for their Green Card interview, and in today's video, we're going to talk about the I-130. At any immigration interview, when someone is trying to get a Green Card based on marriage, there are two main inquiries. Number one, is this marriage valid? Number two, is this person who wants the benefit of becoming a lawful permanent resident, are they admissible to the United States? Do we want to let them stay and reside here permanently?

In this video, we're going to talk about the marriage-based side of things. At your Green Card interview, the officer's job is to figure out how legitimate the marriage is. And is it approvable? Is it something that they find legitimate, or is it something that they have doubts about? The I-130 petition and all the documentation that's required in support of the petition, is all designed to help the officer make a decision as to whether or not the marriage between the parties is legitimate.

First of all, you're going to have to establish that both parties are free to marry. Obviously if no one's ever been married before, if this is a first marriage for both, that will not be a problem. But if one or both parties to the marriage have been married before, it's going to be your obligation to show that the petitioner and the beneficiary were both legally eligible to marry. A lot of times that's going to involve divorce decrees. Well, your divorce decree, if it's from the United States, that's generally going to be pretty straightforward and there aren't going to be many questions about that. If the foreign national is from a foreign country, though, you're going to have to look at the visa reciprocity table and type in your country, and make sure that the divorce decree that you have, matches the description of the divorce decrees that the State Department says your home government issues.

Right now we're seeing a big issue with divorce decrees from Western Africa, from Nigeria and from Ghana and other countries. It seems that there are people over there making up fake divorce decrees. So the State Department, and therefore USCIS, are being very specific in what they expect on a divorce decree.

The other document that comes up from time to time in an interview, when it comes to eligibility to be married, is the birth certificate. They want to make sure you are who you say you are, because if you're not who you say you are, then you shouldn't get an immigration benefit. So a lot of times you're going to spend time looking at the I-130's beneficiary's birth certificate. Again, you want to go back to that visa reciprocity table to make sure that the birth certificate is the kind that's generated in that country.

Once you get over these hurdles, then the officer's going to inquire into the marriage itself. What usually happens is the officer will say something like, "So, how did you two meet?" And you'll both want to sort of jump in and tell the story. When you're going through your interview, the officer might ask one question directly to one of you, or they might just throw out an open-ended question to see who answers.

I would say that during the interview, it's best if you're both answering. If one person is doing all the talking, that's generally not a good thing. The officer wants to be able to see how the couple responds, how they explain things. You can tell when people are talking, if they have a rhythm of talking to each other. And actually if you see them correcting each other, that's not a bad thing. That's a good thing. If they're comfortable enough with each other to be able to talk honestly in front of the officer, that suggests that they're used to talking that way all the time. I don't usually get upset when my clients are correcting each other, unless it becomes something overly unbearable.

Again, the officer's going to say, "How did you two meet?" And they're going to want you to be able to tell the story. So, how did you meet? Well, I held the door open for my wife on the first day of college or law school. Of course that's how Amany, my wife, and I met. So I always tell people that's my story. On the first day of law school, back in 1994, I held open the door for Amany at law school, and I saw her pretty brown hair. Which is true. Back then it was a lot longer than it is now. I liked it when she had it long, but I still like it now.

Anyway, you're going to want to tell the story of how you met and you want to be able to tell it sort of directly. They're going to want to know how it progressed, and you don't want the officer to have to pull it out of you. This is the one time in the interview where I think it's okay to give a little bit of a narrative, to tell the story. We met in law school. We hung out for a while. We were on law journal together. Eventually we started hanging out more and it became more serious. And then you're just going to tell your story.

Why did you decide to get married? When did you talk about the immigration benefits that the beneficiary was going to need? How are you figuring out to structure your life together? Why did you decide to do it here in America and not back in the beneficiary's home country? These are all the kinds of questions that they'll ask.

Now, they're going to want to hear the history. They're going to want to know if your families know about the relationship. They're going to spend some time talking about, do you know her parents? Does he know your parents? All those kinds of things. They might ask about siblings.

Now, one thing that a lot of officers like to do, and I think it's the best way to do it, is let's say you have a couple, let's say it's a same-sex couple, and they're asking about each partner's information. So instead of asking partner A all of partner A's background information, they'll have partner A answer questions about partner B, and they'll have partner B answer questions about partner A. It sort of covers two things. One, it gets the officer the information they need to make sure that the information on the forms are correct. And it also allows them to test how familiar they are with the information about each other.

I've seen couples do a really, really nice job. I've seen couples do a poor job. I remember one time the officer, even as we were walking into the room, asked the petitioner how she pronounced her husband's name. And she said, "Oh, it's a real hard name. I don't even know how to say it. I just call him Abdi," or something like that. Again, getting back to sort of answering the questions, you want to answer the questions that are asked, but you want to make sure that you can demonstrate that the marriage is legitimate.

Telling stories. They might ask how do you spend time together? What are some purchases that you've made together? These are all the kinds of inquiries that they go into. They'll go over the I-130 petition itself, but they're going to want to hear that story. They want to know, does it ring true? Does it sound smart? Does it sound like something that I want to believe? Does this sound like something that I think is a real marriage? Do they talk like regular married people? That's really, I think what it comes down to a lot. The further out on the spectrum you are from how you met, if it's some bizarre story that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or that you can't tell properly, that's going to be a lot harder than if it's a very simple story that just makes sense. Like if you guys were in college together, or if you worked together. And even now with matchmaking sites, those are okay, as long as you can show how the relationship progressed.

The last part of any marriage-based interview might be, to some extent, what would be Stokes questions. So questions from a Stokes Interview. A Stokes Interview is when the couple is actually separated. Sometimes the officer will ask those kinds of questions with both parties there. Sometimes they'll separate you, but they might get into questions like, what did you have for dinner last Thursday? Or who made dinner the last time you had dinner? Or who did the laundry? What time does your spouse leave for work in the morning? I'll make a separate video about Stokes Interview so that we have that part taken care of as well. That's sort of beyond the scope of this, but you should be prepared for some general, what does your house layout look like? Who lives there with you? How many stories is it? How many bedrooms are there? Even on a relatively straightforward Green Card case, you're probably going to get some of that.

I honestly don't spend a lot of time with my clients on those questions, because I expect them to be telling the truth. And if they're telling the truth, I don't need to worry too much about it. But that being said, at the same time, my wife and I have been married for 21 years, and I'm sure that if you ask me specific questions like that, that even I or my wife would get those wrong. You just sort of have to be ready for anything, ready for any questions related to the marriage, about the living arrangements, the work arrangements, the social life, the trips, the money. Those are all the main topics that you're going to find in an I-130 petition. If all those look accurate and look believable, then the I-130 is going to be approved.

I got an I-130 approved recently that ultimately got revoked, because the beneficiary had a marriage out of wedlock and it was just a big old mess. If you're in a complicated marital relationship, and you know not every marital relationship is the same. Some are more traditional, some are little bit different. And we're ready for anything at our end. But if you have questions about the I-130 petition and what you can expect at the I-130 portion of your interview, you can give us a call at 314-961-8200. You can email us at [email protected]. Be sure to join us on our Facebook group, which is called Immigrant Home. And if you liked this video, we ask that you please share it out on social, and you subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you get updates whenever we make videos, just like this one. Finally, every Tuesday and Thursday, 12:00 to 1:00, you can find us live in our Facebook group and on our YouTube channel, answering as many of your questions as we can in 60 minutes flat.

Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

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