Government, Tips & How-To

5 ways to ruin a marriage-based visa case

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With wedding season upon us, those with international marriages will face many questions about bringing spouses to the U.S. or keeping spouses in the country. There is a lot of guidance on the Internet – some good, lots bad – about how to apply for and acquire a marriage-based green card. But rather than repeat what’s been said before, let’s talk about what you can do to completely screw up your marriage-based immigration case, cause delays and possibly get your spouse barred from the U.S. for life.

Mistake #1: Come as a visitor, then apply for a green card

If you search online immigration forums, you’ll read about people who came to the U.S. on a visitor visa, also know as a B-2 visa, and then applied for a green card. Unfortunately, that’s a surefire way to get barred from the U.S. for life. Here’s why.

Those who come to the U.S. on a temporary status, including visitors arriving under the visa-waiver program, promise the U.S. government that they will return to their home country after their short stay in the U.S.

“Hey, U.S. government, I promise to go back home when my visitor visa expires.”

If that person remains in the U.S. and pursues a marriage-based green card, he will likely have a problem.

“Just kidding, U.S. government, I’m planning to remain here for the rest of my life.”

The real legal question hinges on whether the person decides to seek residency before departing his home country. I have some clients who came to the U.S. to visit someone who then proposed, and the client then decided to get married and pursue residency. Fine. But if you’re living in London and talking to your American wife about how to get U.S. residency, you should not travel to the U.S. as a visitor. You can be turned away at airport immigration screening and sent back on the next flight. If you do get through airport immigration and pursue residency, and the immigration officer decides you always intended to stay, you can be barred from the U.S. for life.

Instead, if you reside in a foreign country and want to pursue residency, you should pursue a marriage-based visa.

Mistake #2: Don’t sweat the details on the I-864 Affidavit of Support

When a U.S. citizen or resident sponsors a foreign spouse, the U.S. sponsor must promise to support the foreign spouse. This is done with an immigration form called the I-864 Affidavit of Support. The State Department’s National Visa Center is notorious for rejecting these forms if there is any, and I mean any, technical problem with how the form was completed. For example, they used to reject the form if they didn’t like the pen you used to sign it — seriously.

The U.S. sponsor has to report income on the form, and the form will be rejected if this is not done with 100 percent precision. So check, re-check and, even better, have an immigration lawyer look over your form before submitting.

Because of backlogs at the National Visa Center, each re-submission of paperwork causes a minimum 60-day delay in your case; these delays can add up quickly.

READ MORE: My e-book on I-864 financial obligations

Mistake #3: Over-prepare for your immigration interview

What makes immigration officers suspicious during marriage interviews? If you come in too prepared.

Imagine we’re at a party, and I ask how you and your husband met. You’ve probably told the story a bunch of times to friends, and it comes out naturally. Then I ask, “What did your husband eat for dinner on your first date?” You answer, “A 3.5-oz fillet, mashed potatoes, and also, here’s the name and address of the restaurant.” Who in the world would remember all that? Real couples don’t remember every tiny detail of their lives together, and no one expects them to.

Immigration officers want to engage you in a natural conversation about your relationship. If it seems like you’re reading from a script or like you’ve memorized 1,000 top facts about your spouse, your story will come across as strange and potentially suspicious. If you cannot have a natural, easy conversation about your marriage, the officer will assume your relationship isn’t legitimate.

I’ve seen clients almost come to blows during an interview when they disagreed about where they went on their first date. Did they memorize all the details? Nope. But the fight looked pretty authentic. Case approved.

Mistake #4: Ignore ‘minor’ criminal issues

This goes for all immigration cases, but it cannot be repeated enough: Never assume a criminal issue will be considered minor. Even if the case was dismissed, a single drunk driving incident or late-night bar brawl, for example, can raise questions about whether someone abuses alcohol, which bars them from the U.S. Point number one is that the “small” stuff can really matter for immigration purposes.

Point two: Immigration agencies will know about past infractions. The State Department shares information with law enforcement agencies around the world, so if the foreign spouse has had contact with law enforcement anywhere in the world, it’s safe to assume a record of that interaction will appear in the visa file.

Criminal issues are some of the top reasons marriage-based cases get complicated, and there is no safe do-it-yourself solution – becoming familiar with theForeign Affairs Manual requires a few million pages of reading. If you have any type of criminal record, speak to an experienced immigration attorney or hire an immigration lawyer to handle your case so they can help you make the best choices for your specific situation.

Mistake #5: Lie to the immigration service

The quickest way to damage your immigration case is by telling lies or by not telling the whole truth. Immigration forms like the I-485 and DS-260 have long lists of background questions, such as:

  • What trips have you taken to the U.S.?
  • What organizations do you belong to?
  • Have you ever applied for a visa before?

Don’t be fooled. There are no “small” questions in the immigration process. Failing to be completely honest can lead to a finding of fraud. If the immigration officer thinks you have been dishonest in an attempt to get an immigration benefit, that decision can bar you from the U.S. for life. If you find yourself tempted to fudge the truth or ignore a “detail” on an application, that’s a good sign that you need to stop and seek advice from an immigration attorney. Often the issue won’t be as harmful as you think. But if you try to hide something from immigration authorities, you’re taking a huge risk. Don’t do it.

READ NEXT: 3 ways to take control of your legal issue

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