If you fail to demonstrate bona fide marriage to the USCIS, it will most certainly lead to the rejection of your green card application. While you may think that since your marriage is real you should not be worried about anything, the reality may hit your hard if you can’t demonstrate bona fide marriage on paper. When it comes to the USCIS, having the proper documentation that speaks to the true nature of your relationship with your spouse is key to having a smooth sailing through the green card application process. Today, we will speak about two major ways to demonstrate your bona fide marriage to the immigration authorities and how to do this most effectively: On your application and during your interview.
Why Bona Fide Marriage Is Important?
We previously wrote in what does bona fide mean, in what is a green card and in the green card definition, you must meet a set of qualifying criteria to be able to enjoy green card benefits. That means you also have to apply for a green card and then follow the green card process. How do you qualify? On your application, you have to demonstrate that your personal circumstances meet a series of criteria defined by the USCIS allowing you a green card. As we discussed in How to Immigrate to USA, the categories of such circumstances involve family relationships or employment, and if you qualify as a refugee or an asylum seeker. And you may ask how “bona fide” plays in the green card application process through marriage? Let us review.
The USCIS reviews the true nature of the couple’s interpersonal relationship particularly closely when green card through marriage is involved. This is because marriage, as much as it is declared publicly, remains primarily a private matter. Besides, Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and a Foreigner in the United States is a trivial procedure. And some may abuse it for the purposes of getting a green card.
Because immigration officers do not have a direct and clear way to verify whether the marriage is real, genuine and authentic, indirect means of ascertaining the bona fide marriage are used. As such, they seek clues and evidence of long term commitments in the documents and behavior of the couple.
Thus, it behooves you, the applicant, to provide adequate bona fides throughout your green card through marriage application. Such bona fides can be established during the initial permanent resident application through supporting documents. Furthermore, the appropriate evidence should also be supplied during the green card marriage interview. We shall review both of these in more detail.
Proof of Bona Fide Marriage in the Initial Application
When you are applying for the green card through marriage, you or your spouse submit Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Both of these form require you to submit documents that speak to the true nature of your marital relationship. Think of this as your initial opportunity to prove that your marriage is real. This can be accomplished by providing direct documents confirming the existence of your marriage. And it can be further reinforced by indirect evidence, or evidence of joint decisions you choose to make as a couple as opposed to two separate individuals. Sometimes these two categories of support documents (direct and indirect) overlap.
Direct Documentary Proof of Bona Fide Marriage
The first and foremost, you have to submit your marriage certificate together with your original Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. While the original marriage certificate is not required, you may be better off by submitting a State, City or Court-certified copy of the marriage certificate.
Other evidence of the direct marriage proof may involve a testimony or affidavit of people who can testify to the nature of your relationship with your spouse. These may involve family or friends. Alternatively, a person officiating your wedding can provide such a testimony that on such and such a date he/she officiated the wedding ceremony between you and your spouse.
Last but not least, assuming you are the sponsored immigrant filing form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and your spouse is the U.S. citizen or permanent resident filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, the signed petition on Form I-130 by your spouse also serves as the evidence that he or she claims you as a spouse.
Indirect Documentary Proof of Bona Fide Marriage
While all the documents listed above provide strong official evidence, the USCIS would rarely grant a green card through marriage based on the primary documents only. The USCIS mandate involves verifying the true nature of the relationship, and the immigration officers often seek indirect or secondary evidence. Thinks of this evidence as being a result of choices you and your spouse make jointly. And such choices should speak loud and clear that the couple operates as a family unit and not as two separate individuals.
This is hardly an exhaustive list. And we go in much more detail in the Green Card Through Marriage Guide explaining which of these documents carry a more significant weight vs. those that are often overlooking by the USCIS. Here is another aspect of your joint life to consider: How are you having fun and whether you are doing this together?
This area is very vague and a good judge of character (like many immigration officers are) will zero in on this aspect of the documentary evidence of bona fide marriage. Why? Think of it: Commingling assets, providing evidence of living together, other serious stuff – that’s all hard work. And if two people have a goal, they both may have motivation to make it work – and they struggle through it and make it happen. Yet, once the work is done, and you still choose to stick around together to have fun, then that is the indication that the relationship has a serious foundation. Keep in mind that one off going out for dinner or dancing may be enough to develop enough documentary evidence. However, if you can demonstrate that you have fun jointly on a pretty consistent basis, that would serve as a much stronger support for your application.
Anything related to the wedding celebration is a big thing. So consider including any evidence pertaining to the existence of the engagement and wedding parties. This may include large/expensive wedding-related purchases (with receipts), videos, pictures, the bride’s gown, items or decorations that have the names or initials of the you and your spouse, a sign-in book and tons of pictures from the actual wedding ceremony and subsequent celebration. The more people invited – and show up on the pictures – the better.
But as we said above, don’t just provide evidence from one-off events. If you like weekend adventures, document them and use it as photographic evidence of time spent together over long period of time. Take pictures of whatever trips or activities that you as a couple like to do together, whether it is hiking, bird watching or running or restaurant/bar hopping. And include them in your application.
Proof of Bona Fide Marriage During the Interview
You must be prepared to provide similar or the same/updated bona fide marriage evidence during your immigration appointment. It is rare that the USCIS would issue a marriage based green card without interview. Think of the interview as a continuation of your paper application, yet this time in person.
Ideally, you want to include as much evidence of the bona fide marriage in your initial application (original Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status filed with the USCIS) as possible. The goal here is get any reviewing officer comfortable about your relationship before meeting you in person.
The strength of the initial supporting evidence will determine how hard or intense your green card interview will be. Why? Well, think about it. If you make a strong case for your marriage from the outset, all you have to do during the interview is to bring your updated pictures and bank statements and share them with the immigration officer. That case is easy to review and decide positively on.
However, if your initial application is light on the supporting documents, be prepared for some serious grilling during the interview. Immigration officers are required to ascertain the true nature of the relationship. If you are unable to demonstrate the evidence of bona fide marriage during the interview (since such evidence was light during the paper phase of the application), that can be a reason for denying of such application.
If you did not include these in your original application, please consider bringing with you some heavy artillery with respect to documentary evidence. Such documents can include:
If your original application was light on the documentary evidence, be prepared to handle questions about the legitimacy of your marriage, including how well you know your partner, and how well you know your current living area. Such questions may address:
Such questions may be uncomfortable. Answer briefly and be direct. Perhaps the 326 green card interview questions we put together through our research will be a valuable tool for you in studying for that interview. Don’t be caught unprepared. Download the complete Green Card Through Marriage Guide and face that interview straight on.
Proof of Bona Fide Marriage Does Not Stop with Green Card Approval
If your green card is conditional, your obligation to continue to demonstrate your bona fide marriage with your spouse does not stop with the initial green card approval. This is a long game and for the duration of those two years while your green card is conditional, we recommend continuing to collect documentary evidence showing the development of your relationship. Collecting some information may be easy, like taking pictures during your weekend outings or vacations as long as you continue doing it bit by bit consistently. You will need to file I-751 at the end of those two years, so you might as well be ready. If you do not provide adequate demonstration of the bona fide marriage, you most likely will be called for the I-751 interview. And who wants to go through that hassle again?