There are plenty of rumors and speculation on the internet about the marriage-based immigration petition, especially the green card interview. This is the oft-dreaded experience where a USCIS officer sits across a desk from you and your spouse (and your lawyer, if you have one) and asks you personal questions to ensure that the two of you are true husband and wife and not gaming the immigration system.
Because this process is such a source of rumor and speculation, we thought we would ask real immigrants and sponsors how they handled the marriage-based green card interview. Fortunately, we found that most couple’s anxiety was unfounded. But we did hear some horror stories, which we’ll cover in Part 3 of this post. Parts 1 and 2 of this series will focus on the experiences of a sponsoring spouse and an immigrant spouse respectively. Part 3, will reveal what happens when the green card interview doesn’t go quite so well, including some real immigration interview horror stories (but only the ones with happy endings.)
The following story is from Ellen, an American citizen who sponsored her husband from Venezuela. (Because immigration is such a sensitive subject and some cases are pending, we decided to stick to first names for this series.)
Despite assurances from our immigration lawyer, my husband and I went into our immigration interview very nervous. We were so nervous that we got into a screaming fight that morning in the car on the way to the interview! Fortunately, we realized that our fight was the result of nerves, and we made it to the interview with five minutes to spare. (Our lawyer had warned us to be on time at 8am sharp or we might have to reschedule our appointment for weeks or months later). When we arrived we had to walk through a metal detector, which meant lots of removing of wallets and phones from the pockets of our business professional suit jackets. (We weren’t taking any chances on offending the immigration officer by treating the process too casually!)
In fact, we took special note of the security throughout the whole process. Inside the non-descript concrete building, we had to sign in and were quickly joined by our immigration attorney. We were left to wait in one waiting area right inside the door, but after about 10 minutes, we were escorted, along with our lawyer, up an elevator to a second waiting area. Though we were in a large room, there were only three or four other couples, and only one other couple was accompanied by a lawyer like we were.
There were always security guards milling around, too. Their presence was intimidating, reminding us of dirty words like marriage fraud and arrest and deportation, even though we are legally and truly married and rightfully had nothing to worry about! I think all people feel like criminals when they are surrounded by intense security, sort of how you check your speedometer when you pass a State Patrol car even though you know you’re not actually speeding.
Don’t Mess With Texas
Strangely enough, the actual interview was less intimidating than the building. Perhaps because our appointment was at 8am, we didn’t wait long and the process wasn’t backed up. We were escorted to a private office by yet another a security guard. This is where we met our interviewing officer. He provided three chairs for our group. Our lawyer sat between us.
Even though we weren’t in Texas, our officer’s office was jam packed with Texas flags, cowboy hats, and a certificate of merit from the State of Texas. Being city people, we both later admitted that we had no idea what to expect in this “Don’t mess with Texas” atmosphere.
But despite the Texas regalia, our officer smiled and joked with us the entire time. My husband and I later agreed that while this made the process pleasant, joking was also a great way to catch one of us off our guard if we were trying to lie. Smart one, USCIS Officer!
We had no idea what to expect from the questions! Quizzing our immigrant friends and performing many Google searches had us expecting questions like “What color is your spouse’s toothbrush?” and “How did you meet?” Instead, the officer mainly focused on my husband. He asked him many of the same questions he had already had to answer on his I-130 form, such as whether he had ever committed any crimes or performed any terrorist acts. It was easy for my husband to answer no.
The next part of the interview consisted of the officer asking my husband and I questions about information that could easily be gleaned from our forms, such as our birthdays, the names of our parents, and our middle names. Apparently we answered satisfactorily, because he did not go into any detailed biographical questions beyond those.
Last, he looked at the pictures we were required to present as proof that we were truly married. He laughed at the silly ones, and set some of them aside. It quickly became clear that he was setting aside the pictures of my husband with my family. He showed some of these pictures to my husband and asked him to name my family members, which he did easily.
And after that, we were finished. Our officer shook both of our hands and congratulated us!
I remember my husband saying, “That’s it?” It was rather like the end of a dental procedure where you’re so numb that you’re not sure if the whole thing is over or not, and you have to ask the dentist!
From there, we were escorted back out, our lawyer told us we had done a great job, and we were sent home to wait for my husband’s green card to arrive in the mail, which it did in about 6 weeks!
Looking back on the whole process, I realize that it was extremely quick and simple. We were truly married and had truly been together for a long time, so the interview questions were second nature to us. I imagine that, even though we were both very nervous, the immigration officer read our comfortable body language, as well.
My advice to prospective immigrants and spousal sponsors would be not to stress out about the interview! If you are truly married, you have nothing at all to worry about.