Whenever you are applying for your spouse to obtain a green card, you will have to comply with a number of requirements. Many of these requirements are fairly straightforward. For example, you will have to file the form I-130 along with other documentation. This documentation includes passport style photos of you and your spouse. It also includes proof of the immigration status of the spouse who is filing the petition. This proof can include a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, US Passport or form 551 showing proof of lawful permanent resident status. It is also necessary to show proof of all previously terminated marriages.
These requirements are fairly straightforward and do not always require the help of an immigration lawyer. However, there is one very important aspect of the process that does necessitate the use of an immigration lawyer. The use of an immigration lawyer is recommended for marriage cases because they can help prove that your relationship is “bona fide.” The term “bona fide” is a fancy way of saying that your relationship is legitimate. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS) is very concerned about sham marriages. A sham marriage has been defined as a marriage in which there was no intent, or “good faith”, to live together. Sham marriages are designed solely to circumvent the immigrations laws. Since people in the past have entered into marriages solely to evade immigration laws and obtain green cards, USCIS now scrutinizes all marriages closely. However, the good news is that most people will be able to establish that their relationship is real with proper guidance and documentary evidence.
SITUATIONS THAT RESULT IN INCREASED SCRUTINY
It is important for all marriage based green card applicants to submit documentation that provides solid evidence that the relationship is real. However, in some situations, additional care should be taken in providing such evidence. USCIS has indicated that there are a number of factors that result in increased scrutiny. These factors include:
- Vast age difference between the parties;
- The couple has never lived together or does not currently live together;
- The parties do not speak a common language;
- There is a vast difference in cultural or ethnic backgrounds;
- Family and friends do not know about the relationship;
- The couple has filed for legal separation;
- Marriage of the parties was arranged by a third party;
- The marriage was contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- There are discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family;
- Petitioner has filed previous petitions in behalf of aliens, especially prior alien spouses.
AFM ch 21.3(a)(2)(H)
If these factors apply to your situation, you should not think that obtaining a green card will be impossible. It simply means that you will have to exercise additional care in establishing that your relationship is real.
SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE THAT YOU CAN SUBMIT DURING THE GREEN CARD PROCESS
Regardless of your situation, it is important to think about the documents that you can use to prove the bona fide nature of your relationship. The following documents can be used in order to strengthen your application packet and convince the adjudicator that you are involved in a real marriage:
- Photos from the wedding;
- Other documentation regarding the wedding ceremony;
- Photos of you and your spouse during the course of your relationship;
- Letters to each other;
- Telephone bills;
- Skype records;
- Facebook messages;
- Airline tickets purchased to visit each other;
- Lease or utility bills showing that you and your spouse have lived together;
- Insurance Policies naming the spouse as the beneficiary;
- Joint credit cards, bank accounts and bills;
- Joint tax returns;
- A will that names your spouse as the beneficiary
If you do not have all of these documents, there is absolutely no reason to panic. Most people will not have everything that is listed above. In fact, it may seem a little odd if you do have every conceivable piece of documentation that shows the true nature of your relationship. Instead of worrying about the documents that you do not possess, you should focus on the goal of providing quality documentation. You do not want to present mountains of paperwork to USCIS. This will undoubtedly frustrate the adjudicator and make it less likely that they will see the truly convincing evidence that you submit. Instead of trying to submit as many pieces of paper as possible, you will want to focus on quality over quantity. This means that you want to carefully select documentation that will provide a clear, concise and convincing snapshot of two people who plan to live as husband and wife.
SOME OF THE MOST POWERFUL TYPES OF SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION
There are many different types of supporting evidence that you can submit with your petition. Some evidence can be used to show that you have joint responsibilities or living expenses or to show that your spouse is a beneficiary of a policy or will. Other evidence will highlight your living situation. Documentary evidence is important but perhaps the most powerful evidence comes in the form of photos and declarations from friends and family that provide a glimpse into your relationship.
Joint Banks Accounts
Many people ask immigration lawyers if it is absolutely necessary to have a joint bank account with their spouse before filing for a green card. I tell my clients that if it does not make sense for you to open such an account, do not feel obligated to do so for immigration purposes.
When I first got married, I did not open a joint bank account with my wife. We did not commingle our funds simply because we did not see any compelling reason to do so. Maybe you are in the same situation. Or, maybe you and your spouse see some benefit in combining your bank accounts. If so, go ahead and combine your accounts but do not feel that it is mandatory to do so. There are many other types of documentation that you can submit to show the true nature of your relationship.
Evidence of Cohabitation
If you and your spouse live together, there are a number of documents that you can present that proves that fact. Think about everywhere your address is listed to give yourself an idea of the types of documents that you can gather. In addition to having your names on a lease, your names and addresses my appear on bills, memberships, etc.
Evidence of your spouse as a beneficiary
Spouses tend to name each other as the beneficiary on insurance policies and retirement accounts. If you have this sort of documentation, it would be wise to include it when you petition for your green card. Another great piece of evidence that most people can submit is a will that names your spouse as the beneficiary. In the mind of the adjudicator this type of documentation is common for married couples. It therefore helps to demonstrate that your relationship is legitimate.
When you file the packet for your green card, you have a golden opportunity to submit photographs of you and your spouse taken over the course of your relationship. Photographs are extremely powerful because they show the adjudicator that you and your spouse have a history together and that the relationship is likely to continue. It also humanizes the packet and reminds the adjudicator that the petitioner and the beneficiary are real people who care deeply about each other and the process that they are going through.
With photographs, people tend to go overboard and send in every picture that they have hoarded over the years. You should try to avoid this impulse and avoid overwhelming the adjudicator.
So…how many pictures should you submit? Immigration lawyers are commonly asked this question. It is usually good to submit around 40-60 quality photographs. Ten is usually not enough; 100 is overkill.
Your goal in submitting the photographs is to present evidence of your day to day life as a couple. The photos do not have to show grand moments from trips that you took together. For example, you do not have to submit photos of you and your spouse in front of impressive landmarks. Usually simple photos that show your everyday life will provide a more accurate glimpse into your relationship.
Also, it is important to look for photos from a diverse range of dates and scenarios. For example, if you had a great day at the beach together last summer, you do not want to send in 30 pictures taken on that day. You will be better served by mixing it up. Look for pictures that you took at home or out at a restaurant or during a road trip.
Affidavits from Friends and Family
In addition to photographs, another great way to humanize your green card application packet is to provide declarations from family members and friends. Documentation from friends and family can also show that your relationship is real. These declarations are oftentimes much more powerful than a statement that is written by the couple.
There are a number of reasons for this. One of the main reasons why declarations from others resonate more powerfully, is that other people are more likely to be perceived as neutral. For example, if your best friend can write a statement about how you met your spouse and the changes that she saw in your mood after the relationship began, such a statement can be very persuasive. On the other hand, if you write such a statement, it can come across as inauthentic and self serving. It is unnecessary for you and your spouse to provide statements because you will have an opportunity to talk about your relationship at the all important interview that will be scheduled after your petition is submitted.
SUMMARY OF YOUR BONA FIDE MARRIAGE STRATEGY
When you assemble your supporting documentation for your green card, you will want to focus on quality over quantity. To accomplish this goal, you should talk to your immigration lawyer about the documentation that shows that your relationship is genuine and true. With a carefully curated packet of evidence your odds of obtaining a green card will go up significantly!