Marriage to a U.S. citizen is an obvious and well- known method of obtaining legal and permanent residence in the United States. Once married to a U.S. citizen many immigration violations are forgiven or overlooked and the path to residency clear. This ease of procedure is well- known and often abused by those with no other immigration choices.
This abuse is also well known to the Immigration Service and is a pet peeve of the officers who conduct marriage based immigration interviews. Among all of the requirements for permanent residency the question of whether or not the applicant has entered into a "bona fide," marriage is the primary issue of the interview.
The Immigration Service has defined a bona fide marriage as a marriage entered into for reasons other than circumventing immigration laws. Now, this definition is vague and does not really help so we must look at what they really mean. The opposite of bona fide has been labeled by the Immigration Service as "Sham Marriages" A Sham is a marriage is evidenced by the preconceived intent of at least one of the parties to marry solely for the applicant to obtain residency.
Intent is a difficult concept to prove, how can the Immigration Service prove what an applicant was thinking when he or she married a U.S. citizen? Well, the Immigration Service has developed a methodology in discovering what they term as marriage fraud. These methods include:
1. Visual Assessment- Profiling for a lack of a better term, is when the interviewing officer views the couple and makes a decision as to whether or not they look right together. Officers will make an immediate visual assessment of a couple when their name is called to look for signs of deceit by assessing differences in, race, religion, and other overt characteristics. Of course such tactics will never be confirmed but I can tell you that they exist and are being used.
2. Behavioral Keys- Seasoned Immigration officers will note behavioral keys, tendencies and body language from the couple. Once they call the name of the applicant to introductions and all through the interview behavior is being watched. Is the couple comfortable together, do they appear too amorous for a married couple, are they sincere, how do they communicate together? I once had an officer tell me that he knew a couple was in a valid marriage when the wife said to the husband "I told you to bring the birth certificate but you never listen." He said he didn't have to ask another question because that's how married people speak
3. Documentation- Another way for the Immigration Service to assess a bona fide marriage is to review what they call "joint documentation." Any paperwork that reveals a commingling of financials or that prove up cohabitation are to be submitted in support of the application. Birth of child, joint debt, home ownership and photos are some of the documents necessary to prove up the marriage. This however can be daunting for an immigrant who previously was without proper identification and therefore lacks the ability to open an account, buy a car or home or to get insurance.
4. Personal Questions- Most people familiar with the Immigration Process are aware the interview may include questions regarding items of a personal nature. I was recently in such an interview where the officer asked questions of the couple that included what type of birth control was used, last time for intimacy, what the couple did last Thursday, Friday and Saturday in detail, color of their carpet, favorite restaurant and supermarket and so on. These questions are usually asked after the couple is separated so the officer can compare the answers. Unless properly prepared the interview can result in a disaster even for couples in a valid marriage. Case in point the officer asked the couple what they had for dinner last Friday. I told the officer I had been married almost 15 years and I can't remember, I think he suspect my marriage as a result.
The point of all this is that just because you marry a U.S. citizen you should not relax as to your requirements for residency. The burden of proving a bona fide marriage lies with the applicant and if you fail to prove to the satisfaction of the officer that its love guiding your marriage then your case will be denied.
Additionally, as a word of caution, do not marry just for a green card. My experience has been such marriages are obvious to the seasoned officer and those who enter into such are usually caught, subject to deportation and if deported permanently barred from returning to the United States.
So, marry for love, document that love and retain an experienced immigration attorney to see you through the process, prepare you for the interview and intervene on your behalf if the Service steps beyond its proper role.
In the end you will receive a green card as validation of your bona fide marriage.