The interview is the last big step in the green card application process, and it can be the most intimidating and stressful element. Couples can help reduce this stress by knowing what to expect and assembling an organized file to bring to the interview.
Once USCIS has completed all the background processing of the green card application materials, the file is transferred to the local USCIS field office closest to where the couple lives. The local office will then issue an appointment notice informing the couple that they must both attend an interview at a certain time, date, and location.
what to expect
The interview will be conducted by USCIS officer specifically trained for such marriage-based green card interviews. The interviewing officer’s primary goal is to assess the authenticity of the marriage.
Questions can focus on the history of the couple’s relationship, their daily activities as a married couple, and their future plans. The interview is also an opportunity for couples to present extra evidence to prove the authenticity of their marriage.
The interviewing officer is also looking to assess whether the foreign spouse qualifies for a green card. The officer will address details surrounding the spouse’s entry to the United States, any arrests, and previous immigration history. This includes previous statements made at embassies and consulates, and to customs and immigration officers at the airport.
interviewing together or separate
It is common for the couple to be interviewed together by the same officer. Sometimes, however, couples will arrive at a USCIS interview expecting to be interviewed together, but find that they will be interviewed separately – either by two different officers, or by the same officer but one at a time.
This type of interview is referred to as a “Stokes” interview. (In case you’re curious, the name comes from a court case, Stokes vs. INS, that established important rights for the couple being interviewed.) Often officers from USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security unit (FDNS) will conduct these interviews. Each spouse is interviewed separately and their answers are then compared for inconsistencies. A couple that has already been interviewed once could also be called in a second time for a Stokes interview.
In general, there are at least three reasons that a couple would get the extra scrutiny of a Stokes interview:
- USCIS has identified general “red flags” that suggest the possibility of a fraudulent marriage (for example: a large age gap between the spouses, a very short marriage, very different cultural backgrounds, or different addresses showing up for the spouses online).
- USCIS has uncovered potentially adverse evidence about the marriage based on a FDNS investigation.
- During the course of a regular interview, the USCIS officer can choose to switch to a Stokes interview format if new information has come up that he/she wants to explore more.
How to prepare
Whether you have a regular interview or a Stokes interview, the following recommendations can help you prepare:
- Sit down together the week of your interview and refresh your memories. It’s reasonable for you to have forgotten some specific dates and events in the history of your relationship.
- Prepare the original documents of all the copies you submitted to USCIS in your green card application package (including passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, court records, prior divorce documents, and photos and other evidence of the authenticity of your marriage).
- Prepare copies of more documents that help prove the authenticity of your marriage—examples include birth certificates of any children born to the two of you, joint income tax returns, recent joint bank account statements, joint property documents, joint insurance documents, and recent photos together.
- Organize all of these documents in a folder.
- Organize any photos in an album.
At the interview
It’s important to answer the interviewing officer’s questions honestly, directly, and succinctly. Check out this list of common interview questions, which can get very personal.
Often couples feel pressured to have an answer to every question. It’s better to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” than trying to make something up to answer a question.
If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that the marriage is not fraudulent, he or she will approve the spouse for a green card. The physical green card will arrive by mail, typically within 2-3 weeks of case approval.
This whole process, from start to finish, typically takes 35-39 months—first, 9-11 months for USCIS to process the I-130 petition, then a waiting period of ~18 months, and then 8-10 months for USCIS to schedule the interview.