When you’re applying for a marriage green card, one of the most important steps of the process is to prove not just that you’re married but also that your marriage is “bona fide.” A bona fide marriage means that you and your spouse intend to build a future together and did not get married only for immigration purposes — in this case, to obtain a green card.
To accomplish this, you must first provide a marriage certificate with your green card application. But that alone won’t be enough to establish that your marriage is authentic. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) knows how easy it is to get married as a legal transaction. That’s why they look for other proof that the couple is planning a life together when evaluating marriage-based green card applications.
There are two primary opportunities to prove that your marriage is authentic:
- By providing documents in your I-130 petition package (the first step of the marriage-based green card process).
- By answering questions at your green card interview.
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As you prepare your I-130 petition package, it’s important to paint a picture of your relationship over time. For example, providing five photos over five years is stronger evidence of an authentic marriage than 10 photos of you together from just the past month.
Lack of evidence of a bona fide marriage is one significant reason why I-130 petitions get denied by USCIS. The following documents to include in your I-130 petition package can help you make a strong case of a genuine marriage. You won’t need to include every single document listed in each category below, but USCIS typically wants to see documents that fall into as many of those categories as possible. (If some of these documents are not available, see “Special Situations” below.)
Boundless also has a more comprehensive list of the documents needed for a marriage-based green card and which immigration forms they should be submitted with.
Financial documents showing that you and your spouse have combined both your assets and liabilities are an excellent way to establish that you have a bona fide marriage.
Examples of such documents include copies of:
- Joint bank account statements showing the names of both spouses
- Titles or deeds for jointly owned property (real estate or vehicles)
- Mortgage or loan documents showing joint responsibility for payments
- Joint credit card statements showing the name of each spouse as either account holder or authorized user
- Joint auto, health, and/or home insurance policies showing coverage for both spouses under the same plan or policy
- Life insurance policies listing each other as your primary beneficiary
USCIS expects married couples to live together. See below for what a couple can do if they do not live together.
For more typical cases, examples of documents that can help prove cohabitation (living together) include:
Copies of the following, showing both spouses’ names:
- Joint mortgage or lease documents (make sure to include a copy of the entire mortgage or lease)
- Utility or other bills showing both spouses’ names
- Property deed
Copies of the following, showing the same address for both spouses:
- Driver’s licenses
- Property deed
- Insurance statements
- Joint bank statements
Original copies of the following, showing the same address for both spouses:
- Letters from family members, friends, and/or employers
Living apart will generally raise red flags. If you haven’t lived with your spouse since you were married, it’s essential to include a strong explanation as to why you’ve had to live apart. Couples who do not live together should provide a letter, signed by both spouses, explaining why they live apart (for example, work or school), the date they intend to move in together, and the location where they plan on moving to (if available). The letter should be made out to “USCIS” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
If the couple honestly and thoroughly explains their unusual living situation and provides alternative evidence of a genuine marriage, the living arrangement itself should not prevent them from obtaining a green card.
Proof that you’re together raising children — from either your current or previous marriage(s) — is one of the strongest pieces of evidence.
Examples of such documents include:
- Your children’s birth certificates (listing one of the spouses’ names if from a previous marriage)
- Adoption certificates
- School or medical records listing the stepparent as an emergency contact for the stepchildren
Original copies of:
- A letter from a medical provider attesting to a current pregnancy or fertility treatments
- Family photos from vacations or other events showing both of you with your children and/or stepchildren
A marriage is about more than just money and kids. USCIS wants proof that you and your spouse have a real relationship — that you communicate and engage in activities together.
Examples of such proof include:
- Travel itineraries for vacations you took together, especially to the home country of the spouse seeking a green card
- Phone or chat records showing that you talk regularly
- Wedding photos, such as at the courthouse and celebrating with family
- Photos from parties, events, and trips (as a couple and with friends and family) spanning the course of your relationship and during major life events
- Letters, emails, or cards you sent to each other
- Receipts for any gifts (such as candy, flowers, or jewelry, not everyday household items, such as groceries) you purchased for each other (receipts or invoices listing one spouse as the “bill to” name and the other spouse as the “ship to” or “recipient” name are especially helpful)
USCIS considers some documents as more convincing proof of a real relationship. Here are examples of strongest evidence and weaker evidence, ranked, to serve as a guide:
- Strong evidence: Joint bank account, life insurance, wills, joint leases, joint utilities
- Medium evidence: Joint travel itineraries, split utilities, text messages, phone logs
- Weaker evidence: Cards, affidavits from friends/family, single travel itineraries, tickets to shows
The green card interview is the second opportunity for you to establish that your marriage is authentic. But it’s set up differently for every couple, depending on where the spouse seeking a green card currently lives:
- If the spouse seeking a green card lives abroad, they will attend their interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country — without the sponsoring spouse. A consular officer will conduct the interview.
- If the spouse seeking a green card lives in the United States, they will attend their interview at their local USCIS field office — with the sponsoring spouse. A USCIS officer will conduct the interview.
Some USCIS officers interview couples together, whereas others might interview them separately. Often, but not always, questioning the couple separately is a sign that the USCIS officer suspects marriage fraud.
Whether you’re interviewed separately or together, the interviewing officer will ask questions they would expect married couples to be able to answer easily. They often start with relatively simple, predictable questions about where you met and how your relationship began, but officers have significant leeway in the questions they can ask.
Don’t be surprised, either, if your interview gets personal. You might be asked:
- Whether you use contraception and, if so, what kind?
- Whether your spouse has tattoos or birthmarks and what they look like
- What kinds of marital difficulties you’ve experienced and how you overcame them
- Who sleeps on which side of the bed?
For a more detailed list of the most common interview questions, as well as helpful interview tips, check out our guide to preparing for the marriage green card interview.
Boundless stays with you until the finish line, helping you keep on top of interview preparation, follow-on forms, and every other important milestone along the way. Ready to start?
Some spouses seeking a green card do not have a U.S. Social Security number (SSN). This can be the case when, for example, they originally entered the United States on a temporary, non-employment-based visa then married a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
To prove the authenticity of a marriage in this situation, the couple could provide the following (in place of documents that would require an SSN to obtain):
- Documents of travel together (such as plane tickets showing you were on the same flight or hotel reservations showing both of your names)
- Photos of the couple together
- Personal affidavits (written statements) — plus copies of their valid photo IDs — from friends and family attesting to their knowledge of your marriage