What questions are asked in a family-based immigration interview?
Under the current administration, 2018 was a harrowing year for immigrants on many levels. Think tank the Cato Institute reported that, between 2016 and 2018, there was a 37% increase in the general denial of immigration benefits. And within that widening pool of denials were thousands of immigrants seeking a family-based “adjustment of status.”
What is an adjustment of status?
For shorthand, a family-based adjustment of status is commonly called an “adjustment of status,” or AOS. An AOS is the immigration application process followed by individuals who are already legally in the United States and want to get their green card without having to return home.
In these turbulent times, for those families with spouses, children and relatives already legally in America, the peace of mind that goes with being able to apply for a green card without leaving the country cannot be exaggerated. So let’s examine the all-important status interview, which will usually be scheduled several months after submission of your AOS application to the USCIS.
The Status Interview
The USCIS is formally an agency of the federal government known as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. It will set your interview to be taken at one of the local USCIS field offices, and with nearly 225 field offices worldwide, usually there is one relatively near your residence.
More often than not, the interview is simple, easy, and completed painlessly in 15 to 20 minutes. However, it can take longer when questions arise as to the authenticity of your family relationship, whether you fit within one of the categories of ineligibility, or your paperwork is not in order.
Unfortunately, for applicants who don’t appreciate or understand the details of the process, hang-ups can happen more often than desired. The paper you receive in the mail setting your appointment will advise you what to bring with you to the interview. It is crucial to read and understand the requirements, as misunderstandings are the biggest reason applications are initially denied.
Things to bring include a valid photo identification card such as a driver’s license or passport, your application papers, and whatever else is specified in the notice. And you will also be told who must attend with you. For example, if your application is based on your marriage to an American citizen or someone with a green card, you will be directed that your spouse must attend the interview with you.
What happens at the interview?
The interview process is one whereby the immigration agent assigned to your field office and file will ascertain that you are authentic and meet all the eligibility requirements. In addition, you will be required to give your fingerprints and stand for a photograph. These items will then be cross-checked with the U.S. database as you wait, to verify that you are who you say you are and that no red flags have been raised by your application.
Can you bring your attorney with you?
Yes, you can bring your attorney with you to the interview in addition to any required family member. If you feel uncomfortable going it alone, you are fully entitled to bring your attorney without any concerns or worries being raised, as doing so is not uncommon. His or her role will be simply to guide you through the process so you don’t make any mistakes resulting in denial of your application.
Can an interpreter accompany you?
Depending on the location of the field office, many immigrations agents are bilingual. However, you cannot call the office in advance to learn if there will be a bilingual agent on duty for your interview, and you cannot demand a bilingual officer once you arrive. And particularly for marriage-based applications, the field officer may not allow the petitioner to be an interpreter.
Being accompanied by a bilingual attorney can solve this problem, or you can bring a non-petitioner, non-attorney interpreter as well. That person must have valid identification, be over the age of 18, and be demonstrably bilingual. Though it varies from office to office, some immigration field officers insist that the interpreter also be a U.S. citizen or legal resident, so proof thereof must further be brought.
What should I expect from the USCIS officer?
Though the style and approach of immigration officers varies across the world, there is a standard protocol that’s generally followed everywhere. More likely than not, the process will unfold as follows:
- Upon arriving at the USCIS field office, you will produce your appointment paperwork and identification first. If this is in order, you will be processed through a metal detector and possibly other security checks. This could take time, depending on the location and its popularity, so make sure to arrive early.
- After clearing security you will directed to the waiting room, where you check in at the reception desk with your appointment notice. Once checked in you will take a seat and wait, and since several appointments could be scheduled to start at the same time, you may be required to wait. Don’t let this be a reason to arrive late, however, because interviews can and are cancelled should that happen. Notwithstanding, in fairly short order you will be taken into the status adjustments processing room.
- An USCIS officer will greet you and have you take a seat at his or her desk, where your identification will be double-checked. Next you will be asked to stand and take an oath under penalty of perjury to tell the truth in answer to any questions posed. Thereafter the officer will view all the paperwork – immigration status, passport, travel documents, work permit, Social Security card, and Driver’s License, whatever you have – as well as that of the family member who has filed as your Petitioner.
- At this point the officer will due his or her due diligence, meticulously reviewing all of the paperwork, asking you various bits of information related to your family status and application materials, and otherwise considering all the factors that go into the determination of issuing you a green card. Though all items are important, the key inquiry regards the grounds for application. Finally you will be asked to sign a document affirming that you have provided truthful information.
Couples applications founded on marriage only
If you are applying as a married couple, the immigration officer will inquire about your married life – when you met, how long you have been together, when and why you got married, circumstances surrounding your marriage ceremony, how you live and function as a couple/family, birth dates, things of that sort, all designed to ensure that you’re an authentic married couple and not a sham. This is where joint bills, lease documents, bank accounts, photographs documenting your time together, and so forth will be relevant.
Referral to the Fraud Unit
Sometimes that immigration officer suspects that something isn’t right. In that situation, an elevated level of scrutiny will be applied, beginning with your introduction to the Fraud Unit. Fraud Unit officers will interview both you and your petitioning spouse separately for your bona fides, seeking to resolve or highlight inconsistences to get at the truth of your situation. The purpose of separating you and spouse is to ensure that you are both telling the same story and indeed together as husband and wife.
Some discrepancies can be resolved to the satisfaction of the officers. This may happen on the spot or may require the submission of additional paperwork. In the later case, your application will be place on hold and you will be required to return home and submit the needed additional documentation by a set date. Sometimes, as when one spouse’s earnings are inadequate, a different family member may be required to act as petitioner by signing an Affidavit of Support, aka Form I-864.
Rarely will the USCIS flat out deny your application at the time of your interview. You will virtually always, absent extreme circumstances, be given an opportunity to meet the requirements for an adjustment of status through the submission of additional documentation or an alternative petitioner.
Completion of the Interview
If after the interview process your application for adjust of status is approved, you will be provided a document legally affirming your approved status. This document is only temporary, providing you a record. You cannot use it to travel in and out of the country like a green card. You may be asked to submit your work permit, if you have one, since you are technically not allowed to work until your status is adjusted. Since it may be several weeks until you receive your green card in the mail, you will have to adjust your work situation accordingly.