When you’re applying for a marriage green card, one of the most important parts of the process is proving not just that you are married, but that the marriage is “bona fide.” A bona fide marriage means two people who intend to build a future together, and who did not get married only for immigration purposes.
You’ll have to provide a marriage certificate as part of the green card application, but that alone is not 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. So when processing marriage-based green card applications, they are looking for other proof that the couple is planning a life together.
There are two primary opportunities to prove that you are in an authentic marriage: First, by providing documents in your I-130 petition package (the first step of applying for a marriage-based green card), and then during your final interview, either with a consular officer (if the foreign spouse is outside of the United States) or a USCIS officer (if the foreign spouse is in the United States).
Evidence of an Authentic Marriage
Lack of evidence of an authentic marriage is one significant reason that I-130 petitions get denied by USCIS. The following documents to include in your I-130 petition package can help make a strong case that your marriage is genuine.
Showing that you and your spouse have combined both your assets and liabilities can be an excellent way to establish that you have a bona fide marriage. Some examples include:
- Copies of statements from a joint bank account
- Copies of the title or deed for real estate or vehicles that you own jointly
- Copies of a mortgage or loan document showing that you are jointly responsible
- Copies of joint credit card statements
- Copies of joint health, home, or auto, or life insurance policies
- Copies of life insurance policies that show the spouses as the beneficiaries of each other’s policies
Evidence That You Live Together
USCIS expects that married couples will live together—a couple that’s not living together will generally raise red flags. However, if an unusual living situation is explained honestly and thoroughly, and alternate evidence of a genuine marriage relationship is provided, the living situation by itself should not present a total barrier to obtaining a green card.
If you haven’t lived with your spouse since you got married, you’ll need to include a strong explanation for why you’ve had to live apart.
For more typical cases, here are some documents that can help prove that you and your spouse live together.
- Copy of a joint mortgage or lease showing both of your names
- Copies of utility or other bills with both spouses’ names
- Copies of driver’s licenses showing the same address for both spouses
- Copy of a deed to property showing both spouses’ names
- Copies of insurance statements showing the same address
- Copies of bank statements showing the same address
- Letters from family, friends, and/or employers showing the same address for both spouses
Evidence That You Have Children Together
Proof that you and your spouse have a child together is one of the strongest pieces of evidence you can present to show that your marriage is real. Alternatively, even if one or both of you have children from a previous marriage, showing that you are raising these children together can present compelling evidence that your marriage is bona fide.
Here are some types of documents that can help prove you are raising children together, or that you plan on raising children together.
- Copies of birth certificates of any children you and your spouse have together, showing both spouses names’
- Copies of adoption certificates for any children you adopted together
- A letter from a medical provider attesting to a current pregnancy
- A letter from a medical provider attesting that one or both partners are undergoing fertility treatments
- Family photos from vacations or other events showing your children and/or stepchildren with both partners
- Copies of school or doctors’ records showing the stepparent listed as an emergency contact for the stepchildren
Evidence That You Have a Real Relationship
A marriage is about more than money, kids, and a household. USCIS wants proof that you and your spouse have a real relationship—that you talk to each other, and plan and do activities together. Here are some things you can provide to help prove that you and your spouse do things together:
- Copies of travel itineraries for vacations you took together, especially to the foreign spouse’s home country
- Photos from parties, events, and trips together—both of you and your spouse as a couple, and together with friends and family
- Copies of phone records showing you talk on the phone regularly
- Letters, emails, or cards between you and your spouse
- Photos from your wedding
- Receipts for any gifts you purchased for each other
In general, as you’re preparing your I-130 petition package, it’s a good idea to paint a picture of your whole relationship over time. Providing five photographs that document your relationship over five years is stronger evidence of an authentic marriage than 10 photos of you together in just the past month.
You may not need to include every single document on the lists above, but USCIS typically wants to see documents that fall into as many of the above categories as possible.
The green card interview is the second important opportunity to establish that your marriage is authentic.
A spouse living abroad will attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in his or her home country. The sponsoring spouse does not attend this interview.
A spouse present in the United States will attend an interview—together with his or her sponsoring spouse—at their local USCIS office. Some USCIS officers interview couples together and some interview them separately. Often, but not always, questioning the couple separately is a sign that the USCIS officer suspects that the marriage is fraudulent.
In either case, the interviewing officer will ask questions that he or she would expect married couples to be able to answer easily. The officers often start out with relatively simple, predictable questions about where you met and how your relationship started, but officers have significant leeway in the questions that they can ask.
Don’t be surprised if this interview gets personal. You might be asked:
- If you use contraception—and, if so, what kind
- To describe your spouse’s tattoos or birthmarks
- What kinds of marital difficulties you have had, and how you have overcome them
- Who sleeps on which side of the bed
It’s important to be honest and open during this interview. You shouldn’t be penalized for admitting that you have had marital difficulties. You can think of the interview as an opportunity to give the officer a window into your life as a couple—not as an obligation to portray the ideal marriage.
If you find a question extremely offensive, you may say so to the officer and decline to answer the question. Most officers will understand, and move on to the next question.
It’s also a good idea to practice before the interview, especially if you or your spouse tend to be forgetful. Even people with very long-term marriages and relationships often find these interviews stressful.
While it’s essential to be honest and thorough as you document your marriage, it can also be fun—after all, you get to revisit the beginnings of your relationship and make sure your spouse does indeed know what you like to eat for breakfast!