Family based immigration can, at times, be routine. As a result many immigration lawyers and consultants treat the immigration interview as a process unworthy of their time or effort. These professionals will prepare their client's documents, wish them luck and then send these unsuspecting applicants like lambs to the slaughter. No information about the interview is imparted, no review of immigration protocol, no alerts to the tricks and expectations of the Immigration Service. This lack of education often leads to disastrous results where simple preparation could have avoided the immigration surprise.
Now, I say this from the perspective of a former immigration officer and someone who has been personally involved in approximately 10,000 immigration interviews. I have seen what can happen when applicants for permanent residency are not properly prepared and the difficulties that can be avoided by simply teaching applicants the process.
Nowhere was the importance of preparation more apparent then in a recent case brought to my attention. Maria came in to see me after a heart-breaking two-hour interview at the Immigration Service. She was married to a U.S. citizen, had entered the country legally and had no criminal record. She hired an immigration law firm with a famous reputation in the Filipino community and was assured that the case would have no complications.
After signing a contract for representation with the immigration law firm, the firm prepared her documents and she later obtained her work authorization. Months later she received an appointment letter from the Immigration Service for her residency interview. She waited for her attorney to call and tell her what to do next.
She waited a full week and still did not hear from them. So she called to see what she should do next. They asked her to come to meet with a paralegal who gave her a document checklist of what forms would be needed at the interview and wished Maria luck sending her on her way. Maria believed that the interview would be a snap because she was never given any reason to think otherwise.
At the Immigration Service her name was called and she entered the office of the immigration officer with her husband. After some pleasantries she was asked if she entered the U.S. on a visa. She stated that she had and then showed the officer the visa. The officer acknowledged that she had a visitor's visa and asked the following, " So, you have a visitors visa, that's great because that is the easiest way to get to the U.S. and live the American dream."
Maria thought the statement was kind of odd and she just politely nodded her head. The officer then followed up the statement by saying to Maria, " before you came to the U.S. did you have an American dream." Maria responded by saying that she wasn't sure what he was referring to. Again the officer went on about how all immigrants dream of coming to the U.S. to live and raise a family in freedom.
Maria again nodded without reply. The officer's mood then changed a bit and he looked her in the eyes and asked, "Maria, did you come to the U.S. with a dream of a better life here." Maria, unsure of what was being asked simply stated, "Yes". The officer then replied, "I thought so." The interview then went on for another half an hour and then the officer said that everything appeared to be in order and that he had just one more order of business, that is, he would require a statement from Maria that she committed fraud by entering the U.S. on a visitor's visa with the preconceived intent to live in the U.S.
Maria was shocked. That is not what she said. For the next hour she and the officer went back and forth over whether or not she had admitted to preconceived intent to live in the U.S. permanently while entering the country on a visitors visa.
No one had prepared her for this and her efforts to be polite resulted in an accusation of fraud and immigration violation. When she entered my office she had a letter from the Immigration Service requesting a waiver for misrepresentation. A waiver is necessary when certain immigration violations are found.
I informed her that she had done nothing wrong and that this whole mess was just a misunderstanding. I also let said that her lawyer was at fault for not properly preparing her for the interview. What happened to her is an old immigration trick that most practitioners' are aware of and that it could have been avoided had she known what the officer's questioning meant.
If she understood what was really being asked by the officer she would have known to make it clear that her intentions at the time of entry were just to visit. She would have known that to support her answer she could have used her previous trips to the U.S as examples of how she has always departed timely according to her visa. Had she known she could have emphasized that she had a purpose for her last entry and that she met her husband after arrival to the U.S.
These simple items could have prevented this terrible ordeal but they were not worthy of her legal counsel's time. The Immigration Interview is the most important part of the immigration process and it should be viewed as such by your attorney. If you have an interview in your future make sure to enlist the help of competent and experienced legal counsel that will take the time to prepare you.