inside immigration information about marriage green cards and work visas in America
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Marriage to a U.S. citizen is one of the fastest ways for a foreign national to get their green card (permanent residency), which also applies to same sex couples. This is because, unlike other family based green cards, there is no limit to the number of marriage green cards the USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services) may issue each year.
Of course the American government is fully aware of the fact that sometimes people get married to avoid having to return to their home country. In order to discourage “sham marriages” the American government imposes harsh penalties on those who commit marriage fraud. The consequence to a U.S. Citizen is a fine up to $250,000, conviction of a federal felony, and up to 5 years in prison. The consequence to a foreign national is deportation and no green card – ever.
One of the ways the American government tries to discover marriage fraud is by checking on the marriage after two years have passed by making marriage green card holders file an I-751 Petition. If a couple is married less than two years at the time of their green card interview, the green card (also known as I-551 Card) is issued with a validity date of only two years.
In order to test if a green card through marriage is real, the USCIS requires the couple to file an I-751 Petition before the two year green card has expired. A new marriage is hard enough, no matter what age you are. Add cultural differences and children from previous marriages and although rewarding, the relationship takes work. On top of that, the newly married couple has to prove to the American government that they are really married through the filing of this I-751 Petition.
Because they are busy, many couples do not read the I-751 instructions thoroughly and fail to submit enough “proof of marriage” documents along with their I-751 Petition and therefore are required to go to a second green card interview to prove that their marriage is valid or “bona fide.”
The second green card interview can be easily avoided through the careful preparation of the I-751 Petition supporting documents. Even though the I-751 Petition is only two pages long and simple to fill out, the USCIS expects you to submit numerous “proof of marriage” documents along with it.
If you don’t submit enough documents with the I-751 Petition, or the right type of documents, the USCIS will schedule a second green card I-751 interview to question you and your spouse about the validity of your marriage. The second green card interview is easily avoided when the I-751 Petition is submitted correctly.
The legal standard for the government’s review of the I-751 documents is “whether substantial evidence supports a finding by clear and convincing evidence that a couple intended to establish a life together at the time they were married.”
There are hundreds of Immigration Court cases where Immigration Judge’s issue legal opinions concerning how many and what types of documents meet the legal standard and regrettably, because each case is different, there is no definitive list. For example, many couples think that the marriage certificate is proof of a real marriage, but in the eyes of the Immigration Judges’ the marriage certificate is not at all the type of evidence they are looking for to prove that a couple “intended to establish a life together.”
The documents that carry the most weight are jointly filed tax returns, joint bank statements (the balance doesn’t matter), proof of medical insurance, proof of life insurance, joint car registration, joint car insurance, joint ownership or rental of property, affidavits (statements), and of course babies born to the couple (children’s birth certificates). The documents should range over the span of at least two years (longer is better if possible).
For example, in the case of bank statements, choose two or three for each year (be careful about printing your online statement because it usually doesn’t have your names, address and bank account number on it). The new couple is proving that they live together, take care of each other financially, and care about each other personally.
Many other documents such as proof of joint utility bills, mail from friends and relatives (be sure to save the envelopes as well as the cards or letters to prove how it was addressed and what date it was sent), airline tickets for trips the couple took, and receipts from the wedding and reception are good too. The goal is to turn in an I-751 Petition package that is at least one inch thick and to make sure everything is copied on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper (copies are o.k.!) – imagine trying to keep all of those odd shaped receipts and envelopes in a file.
Do not put documents in protective plastic sleeves (the Officer will have to spend a lot of time taking them out!) or put a fancy cover on the documents. Don’t put the documents in a nice notebook. Do the reviewing Officer a favor and turn in a neatly prepared package that can be two hole punched at the top and placed in your official USCIS file.
Photographs also carry a lot of weight in terms of evidence of a bona fide marriage. In today’s society with camera cell phones, it is very suspicious if there are not a lot of photos. Select 30-50 photographs spanning a two year period (or more) and put them in chronological order. Keep in mind that practically speaking, the reviewing USCIS Officer does not have an easy way to put 4″ x 6″ original photographs in your file, and doesn’t have time to put the photos in order or look on the back of each one for the date, place, and name of people in the photo.
The reviewing Officer would like to see 30-50 photos copied on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, with the specifics (who is in the photo, where it was taken, and when it was taken) written neatly under each photograph. The photos can either be copied in black & white or color on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper at a place like Kinko’s, or printed out of your computer.
Be sure to include photos of your wedding (no matter how small it was!), holidays with each others’ friends and family, and photos taken in random places. Don’t worry if you don’t look good in the photos – the Officer is expecting to see the couple in a variety of situations (dinners, hiking, vacation, just sitting on the couch, etc.) and is not looking for a lot of “posed” glamorous scenarios.
In a real marriage, there should be candid unplanned photos. By the way, it is not a good idea to submit photos from the bedroom (if you know what I mean!) or partying heavily in bars.
Avoid the second green card I-751 interview by either having an Immigration Lawyer review your I-751 Petition (and attached documents) prior to submitting it to the USCIS, or having them prepare, submit and represent you and your spouse throughout the I-751 Petition processing, which can take up to one year.
Immigration lawyers specialize in different areas, so search for an Immigration Lawyer who routinely handles I-751 Petition matters and constantly reviews the Immigration Judge’s I-751 opinions.
If you choose not to seek an Immigration Attorney’s legal advice, be sure to at least make a copy of the I-751 Petition package before mailing it (use the U.S. postal service for mailing, and be sure to request tracking) so that if later the I-751 Petition is questioned, or you are requested to appear for an I-751 interview, you will have a copy to show an Immigration Attorney.