As a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident trying to get your spouse an immigrant visa using the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, you may worry when you read that a marriage certificate is not enough for the USCIS to grant your petition. While that is true, you do not need to be worried. If your marriage is based on a genuine relationship with intentions to build a life together (what the USCIS calls a “bona fide marriage”), then you most likely have more than enough evidence to prove that to them. You just need to identify and collect it.
To keep things simple, we can group what USCIS considers to be “proofs of relationship” into two broad categories: Financial and Family. If you provide them with sufficient evidence in both of these categories, then you will be well on your way toward a successful conclusion to your visa application process.
Joint ownership of financial assets, and joint responsibility for financial liabilities, are perhaps the most substantial proof that you have a bona fide marriage with your spouse. USCIS knows that people who enter into a marriage solely to get a U.S. immigration benefit, what is called a “sham marriage,” are extremely unlikely to join their finances together in the process.
Examples of how married couples typically join their finances would include:
- Joint bank accounts (checking or savings)
- Credit card accounts
- Title deeds or lease agreements for a home
- Life insurance policies, retirement accounts (e.g., 401(k)), and wills or trust documents that specifically name the other spouse as the beneficiary
- Health, home or property, automobile, or other forms of insurance policies that name both spouses as insured
- Mortgages or other types of loans
- Utility bills
When assembling this evidence, remember that the documents must show the names of both spouses as either co-owners of the financial instrument or as authorized users or beneficiaries. It is also essential to show this joint ownership over the longest possible time. For example, if you have been married for two years and have had a joint bank account for that long, you should try to provide one of the earliest and more recent statements.
Financial evidence has an added strength in that it generally comes in the form of official statements issued by disinterested, third-party institutions and is easily verifiable.
Remember that the USCIS is looking for evidence that you are in a bona fide marriage relationship, not just in what amounts to a business partnership to obtain an immigration benefit. The wording they use is proof that you “live in marital union” with one another.
Most genuinely married couples live together in the same home, and that fact plays a major role in establishing a bona fide marriage. Some of the financial evidence listed above could be used here as well, for example, a mortgage document or lease agreement and utility bills that show both spouses’ names. Driver licenses or other forms of official ID that show the same address for each spouse also work well. If your current circumstances do not permit the two of you to live together (e.g., military deployment), you should submit an affidavit explaining the reasons why and your plans for when and how you will live together in the future.
Obvious and solid proof of a bona fide marriage would be the presence of natural-born or adopted children. Birth or adoption certificates should have both spouses named as parents. If you are expecting a child or undergoing fertility treatments, a doctor’s letter confirming this fact can also be submitted. If a child is from a previous relationship and thus their birth certificate shows the name of only one spouse, current medical or school records that list the other spouse as their stepparent can also establish a co-parenting relationship.
While living together and sharing parental responsibilities are perhaps the strongest proof of a bona fide marriage that you can provide, the USCIS would still like to see more. They will question the “marital unity” of relationships that have no other witnesses besides their own word.
To satisfy that requirement, here are some examples of pieces of evidence that may be useful:
- Wedding memorabilia: Invitations, guest books, social media posts, bills for venue and catering, photographs
- Life events: Photographs together on birthdays or other holidays, invoices or packing slips for gifts purchased for one another (especially if the “ship to” has one spouse’s name and the “bill to” shows the other spouse’s name)
- Communication records: time-stamped email or messaging threads between the two of you
- Outside relationships: Affidavits from parents, siblings, friends, employers, community leaders, etc., affirming their awareness of your marriage; photographs with relatives and friends (with an explanation of who they are, where and when the photo was taken)
- Travel records: itineraries, boarding passes, hotel receipts, attraction entrance tickets, and, of course, photographs together at these places. Travel records to the spouse’s country of origin seeking the green card are beneficial.
Remember that your ultimate goal is to demonstrate, to the best of your ability, that you have a genuine and long-term relationship with each other.
Preparing For the Green Card Interview
Once your petition is accepted, you will both be summoned for an interview with a USCIS officer. Most likely, this interview will be done together, but the officer may choose to do it separately. If so, you shouldn’t assume that means there is a problem with your paperwork.
It is impossible to predict the specific questions you will be asked at this interview. They may ask you about how you met each other, about peculiar habits that you each have, or even about challenges you have faced and how you overcame them together. Some officers may ask questions that are a bit more personal, for instance, if you can describe any identifying marks (e.g., tattoos) on your spouse’s body that may not be seen or known to the public.
The bottom line is this: if you indeed have a bona fide marriage, then proving that may be a bit tedious, but it will not be difficult. And the good news is that once the USCIS is satisfied with the legitimate status of your marriage, then you are virtually guaranteed an immigrant visa.
Let’s Do This Together
At Philip Levin & Associates, we want to see you and your spouse begin your life together in the United States as rapidly as possible. Of course, we cannot influence the government’s part of the process. But we can help you, the visa applicant, identify and prepare all the supporting evidence you will need to submit with your I-130 petition, which will help keep the process moving forward without delays. Reach out to us today, and let our team of immigration experts help bring your petition to a successful conclusion.