Clients visiting my office often say they’ve been told that marriage is the surest path to a green card. And generally speaking, that’s correct. That does not mean there are not potholes in the road. Marriage, even a good marriage, even a legitimate marriage, is no guarantee of success. There are two steps to the green card process. Step one is the filing of a petition. That is like the ticket that gets you in line so that you can file the papers for the second step. The second step is the application for the actual benefits. In many cases, individuals can file both of those together; however, in logical and legal order, the first step must be completed successfully. In recent months, there have been more cases than ever before that have been denied at the first step. So in this discussion, I want to discuss the main reasons that petitions at the first step, marriage petitions, marriage petitions involving a U.S. Citizen and an immigrant spouse, are being denied by USCIS. Primarily, they all come down to a matter of evidence and preparation. So let’s dive into those areas. The first area is due to insufficient evidence of a bona fide relationship, of a genuine marriage. The second main area in which I have seen petitions denied in recent months has to do with inconsistent answers between the two parties, between the U.S. citizen and the immigrant spouse. The third area that has appeared on the radar more in recent months is the gathering of adverse information by the government. Negative information which has them look at the couple as if it’s an immigration sham, it’s a marriage sham. The fourth is that of suspicion not of immigration fraud in this relationship today, but in the immigrant’s past. The immigrant was married before and applied through a different person and was denied and they suspect, the government suspects, that the earlier filing was based on fraud. Each one of those issues has to be attacked separately. Essentially, the process works like this. When the government is intending to deny a petition. It is called an I-130 petition, an I-130 visa petition, a visa petition, an alien relative petition. It goes by different names. But when the government is intending to deny a petition, they issue a document that’s called a Notice Of Intent To Deny, a NOID, N-O-I-D, Notice Of Intent To Deny. In that document, very similar to a Request For Evidence, they lay out concerns of theirs. They lay out what they feel is the reason that they cannot approve the petition. In at least half of the cases I see, individuals have come after the time to respond to the Notice Of Intent To Deny has passed. There is a 30 day window. You have to respond within 30 days. There is a 30 day window and if you don’t respond within the 30 days, then they’ve already said they intend to deny. So what would you expect happens afterwards? Yes, the government denies the petition. They issue a formal decision. So the first step in fighting back is that immigrants and their spouses have to be aware of is don’t delay. File a response, seek to win. Seek to fight the denial. In many cases you can overcome that denial because the government’s information may be flawed. And what happens if you don’t fight it or if you lose? Well, then you are going to be sent to immigration court to face deportation. And that is the second important reason to respond: to prevent disaster. Even if you can’t win your case, present the evidence that you believe should be in your favor. That if you get sent to court, if the government officer, the district office, still denies your petition and you get sent to court, you have a record of what you presented to the government that you felt compelled a favorable decision, even though it was denied. So basically the process is respond with a Notice Of Appeal. If the Notice Of Appeal is denied, then the government is probably going to send you to immigration court. However, you have 30 days after an adverse decision, after a negative decision, to file an appeal, a challenge to the government’s decision. You send it to the district office that made the decision, be it New York, Miami, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego. You send it to the district office. But eventually that matter goes to the Board of Immigration Appeals where the denied I-130 petition is going to be reviewed and essentially it’s going to be reviewed as to whether or not you have enough evidence of a bona fide relationship, enough proof of a bona fide marriage. So make the record. Because then, afterwards, if the BIA appeal comes out negative, so now you have two strikes – you’ve lost your response to the Notice Of Intent To Deny, you’ve lost your appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals and now you go to immigration court, you have set the record, you have set the record to fight back. At an immigration court, now you can present, you can renew your application, and you can present evidence, which won’t seem to the judge as if you’re just making it up all of a sudden because you have already submitted it, even though it was in a losing battle. Make the record. So let’s talk about how to make the record. As I noted, the biggest problem is not preparing correctly and insufficient evidence, insufficient evidence of a bona fide relationship. The government wants to know that whomever they are going to issue an approved petition, which is only a step away from permanent residency, deserves it. They want to make sure that you have a bona fide marriage. I have seen cases where individuals did not present the full evidence because they live differently. They live sort of separately. They both have their income. The immigrant might have been a restaurant owner in another country and had sizable income and assets coming into the relationship. The United States citizen was also a professional with income. And so rather than merge all their documents, they kept them separated. So there was very little that they had joint. But it is not just the documents, although the government emphasizes the documents a lot. It is explaining the reason why when things aren’t, you don’t have as many things in joint ownership, credit card bills, telephone bills, utility bills, cable bills, car insurance, health insurance. Then you have to explain why. And what’s been done in the alternative. You have to present what you do have in common, which should include things like taxes, rent or mortgage receipts, shared trips, costs of trips. Make sure you are presenting the evidence that most couples, when they join together in matrimony, put together into one account. Make sure you present that. That is part, the most important part of the bona fide relationship formula. Give the government what you have and explain what you don’t have. The second problem is inconsistent testimonies. This is just really a lack of preparation. And this happens when couples go to non-lawyers for assistance, or lawyers who do not really prepare them. Or they just do it on their own and they go to an interview and they get tripped up. They get tripped up on simple questions. I had a couple where they fell short on questions like “When your husband bought you a cake for your birthday, what kind was it?” One spouse said it was chocolate and the other spouse said it was vanilla. Well, the reality was that it was a marble cake that was both chocolate and vanilla. However, neither one of them expressed that in the interview. They asked, “Where was the cake purchased from?” One couple said Store A. One spouse said Store A. The other spouse said Store B. They were conflicting on that. But to overcome the Notice Of Intent To Deny, they went through the credit card records and said this is the store. The one spouse that was wrong admitted that it was wrong. In addition, the couple was going though undue stress because of a family emergency to one of the children, so they were not fully focused on that day. And those records were important to explain why they were giving short quick answers, sort of blurting just things out without carefully thinking about it. So combined with the fact that they were poorly prepared, their answers seem greatly inconsistent. But that can be overcome, as it was in this case. By responding to the Notice Of Intent To Deny with a very rational set of documents. Adverse information. The third main area where I’ve seen I-130’s denied in recent months. This has really come down to social media, where individuals on social media have not changed their handles from the past. The spouse, the spouses are now married and yet one still has “single” on their Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts. Those types of problems, those are issues that are going to raise problems. They have photos. They have not taken very many new photos and all the old photos are with other individuals that they were romantically involved with. They have tons of videos as to parties and events they went to, and the other spouse is not showing up. Those are real, real problems. I discussed them more fully in another video just on social media and what you need to do to be careful about how you use social media. That type of information leads the government to have an adverse opinion as to the authenticity and legitimacy of your marriage. So be careful. Watch that. Another aspect of immigration marriages, of your immigration marriage, that could come under scrutiny is when an individual has filed through a previous marriage, a previous immigration marriage petition where they were married to someone before. I have seen cases where individuals run into problems because the couple is having problems after the filing of the I-130 petition, after the filing of the USCIS petition. They are thinking about breaking up, but they are not fully convinced. But on the day of the interview, they are angry at each other. They are upset. One or the other spouse does not want to be there. So they start to bicker. They start to argue. And as they are getting ready for the interview and they are called, they are arguing. The officer says, “Hey, you guys want to go through with this?” No. And one of the individuals is so upset and says, “No, I don’t want to go through with this. In fact, I want to withdraw my application.” Okay, so the government officer is more than willing to oblige and the application is denied. And in the officer’s notes, the officer states that there is a suspicion of immigration fraud. There is a suspicion that it was not a legitimate relationship, that it was not a bona fide relationship, a bona fide marriage. You have to be careful. And again, those situations arise – all four of those situations arise – because of poor preparation, because of poor guidance. If you are serious about wanting to win a green card, if you are serious about wanting to become a permanent resident, and you are placed in these situations, you have to respond to the Notice Of Intent To Deny. Don’t just let it go forward and become more evidence against you. You must respond to a negative decision and you have to prepare for the ultimate hearing perhaps at immigration court. Don’t just let it go. But for so many individuals who have poorly prepared their paperwork, who have not consulted with professionals who could help them, especially when they have sparse evidence, as the individuals I discussed earlier who kept their assets separate or individuals who were thinking of breaking up. You have to be careful. Because if you lose now, next time you could be one of those spouses who is questioned if you ever remarry and you try to get a green card through your new spouse, no matter how legitimate that relationship is. So with that, I just want to encourage you to be very careful, to be very cautious, and to prepare your paperwork properly. Even the first step, the petition, is not as simple as it looks. And as I’ve noted from the outset, even a legitimate marriage is no guarantee of success. With that, I want to wish you the best of luck going forward and may none of these situations ever befall you. I truly hope you reach your goal. You become a permanent resident and someday become a U.S. citizen. Take care.