From India to Saudi Arabia to Armenia to the Philippines to Vietnam, the US Government is cracking down on bogus relationships – and real ones too. The events in San Bernardino a couple of years ago – when a woman who came to the US on a fiancée visa and her US citizen husband killed 14 people – triggered a government crackdown and more rigorous scrutiny of fiancée and spousal visas. Unfortunately, we are seeing how many legitimate visa applicants are being victimized – and ending up in Visa Hell as a result.
Consular officers have a difficult job – trying to distinguish between a real relationship and a sham one. The visa applicant is asked a lot of questions at the interview about the US citizen petitioner, his family, employment, and meetings. Where does he live? Where do his parents live? How many people attended your wedding? When was the last time you saw each other? Who attended the wedding? What is his job? How many times did you meet before the wedding? How many brothers and sisters does he have? What rituals did you do at the ceremony? Was he previously married? Where was the reception? Did he file a fiancée petition for a woman before you? Do you have any relatives in the US? The list goes on… One or two wrong or inconsistent or suspicious answers can lead to a visa denial and allegations of fraud, which carry a lifetime bar from the United States.
In reviewing spousal and fiancée petitions, USCIS has a list of indices of a sham marriage or bogus relationship. Consular officers consider similar factors, such as a) large disparity of age; b) inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language; c) vast difference in cultural and ethnic backgrounds; d) family and/or friends unaware of the marriage; e) marriage arranged by a third party; f) discrepancies in answers to questions of which a husband and wife should have common knowledge; g) beneficiary is a friend of the family; and h) petitioner has filed previous petitions on behalf of prior foreign fiancées or spouses. The factor du jour seems to be the size of the wedding: a small, simple wedding – regardless of the reason – equates to a visa denial, particularly in countries where largescale weddings are the norm.
Another problem encountered by some is the case of the “benevolent” consular officer. Most consular officers are honest, intelligent professionals, but from time to time a US citizen petitioner may encounter an overzealous officer with good intentions. The benevolent officer “knows” the beneficiary and her intentions better after a 5 minute interview than the US citizen does after an 18 month relationship. He “knows” that she is up to no good, is really deceiving the US citizen just to get a green card. He knows the language and local culture, so in his opinion, he is better positioned to judge the sincerity of the relationship than the US citizen. He accuses the beneficiary of fraud – without regard to the US citizen. His opinion overrides the US citizen petitioner’s.
One lesson that should be drawn is that the relationship needs to be documented as well as possible from the beginning in order to minimize suspicions or questions about the legitimacy of the relationship. The typical petition should contain dozens of photographs, e-mails, text messages, wedding reception receipts, plane tickets, passport stamps, flower receipts, postcards, and social media posts. Tying it together should be a detailed explanation from the US citizen petitioner about the relationship. If any of the above suspicious factors are present (such as a small wedding or large age difference), it should be addressed in the explanation. Of course, if the pair have any joint children, property, accounts, and insurance, that documentation should also be included.
Another lesson to be learned is that US citizens have rights – rights to proactively challenge the decision of the consular officer or USCIS. A US citizen should not be idle or passive when dealing with the US immigration bureaucracy. Only by asserting those rights can you hope to be reunified with your loved one in the United States. Contact us if you are encountering problems or delays with your case.