Dos and Don’ts for Marriage-based Green Card Interviews

by Elizabeth Brettschneider

“Are they going to separate us into different rooms and ask us what type of face cream my wife uses?”

This is a common question I am asked when meeting with clients before their marriage-based Green Card interviews. They have clearly watched the movie Green Card and with all the inaccuracies that Hollywood offers, I’m not surprised this is the way people think the typical interview goes. Of course, it’s my job to give as accurate a picture of what to expect in these interviews as possible.

Every US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) District Office—where these marriage-based Green Card interviews are conducted—operates a bit differently, and even within each office, each officer conducting the interview has a different personality and interview style; therefore, every interview is slightly varied. While there are certainly common topics that most officers will usually touch upon, there is no standard set of questions which a person can “look up” before their interview. While asking where a couple met, how long they dated before marriage, whether their families have met, and similar questions, is pretty typical, there are many other questions that may come up as the officer converses with a couple. 

One interview I attended felt more like a therapy session than an immigration interview. The officer asked: “What was the worst fight you’ve ever had and how did you overcome it?” To their credit, the couple answered the question with a very thoughtful story; the husband’s voice even cracked with emotion by the end of the answer. It was one of the most touching moments I’ve experienced in an interview. 

I can’t say this type of question is common, and I haven’t heard it since, but it just shows the variety of possible questions. With all the questions, USCIS officers are simply looking to assess for themselves whether the marriage is bona fide. 

The movie Green Card isn’t all incorrect. There actually is a type of interview where the applicants are separated into different rooms and asked more test-like questions. This happens if officers want to call couples back for a second interview because they weren’t convinced of the bona fides during the first interview; however, that isn’t typically how a first interview goes (at least in the New York City USCIS office).

What should couples aim to do in an interview?

Do show up on time;

Do dress in a way to show respect for the process. No need to wear a suit, but ripped jeans and a t-shirt with a disrespectful slogan will not give a good first impression;

Do be themselves. Most are bound to be at least a bit nervous but it’s important to take some deep breathes and take enough time to answer all questions;

Do be organized with all the paperwork. This will go a long way towards making the interview go more smoothly;

Do bring an original and a copy of all documents;

Do be respectful of the officer, even if they seem busy or curt;

Do get the name of the officer so that it is easier to follow-up if necessary after the interview;  and

Do be prepared to wait patiently.

What not to do in an interview? Of course, it should go without saying that applicants should not lie or be untruthful, but also what not to do:

✗ Don’t talk on cellphones in the waiting area;

✗ Don’t answer questions without knowing what is being asked. I was once in an interview where the person said “Yes” to a question about whether he planned to commit bigamy. Not knowing what that word meant, but thinking it sounded like a good thing, he answered in the affirmative. Since then I remind all clients to request clarification if they don’t understand what they are being asked;

✗ Don’t be afraid to explain if an answer can’t be thought of or remembered—i.e., if a question is asked and the spouse can’t think of the answer, explain why. Is it because of nerves? Bad with dates? Maybe the spouse doesn’t remember the exact date the couple met but knows it was in the spring of 2005. Explaining this instead of just saying  “I don’t know,” will often go a long way in the officer’s eyes.

✗ Don’t lose tempers or yell at the officer;

✗ Don’t expect the officer to know every detail of the file. Be prepared to explain; and

✗ Don’t answer questions not addressed to the specific individual—i.e., the officer will ask a particular spouse a particular question. It is that spouse that should answer; 

Overall, it’s important to expect the unexpected in these interviews. The best way to prepare for this is to anticipate that this can happen, remain calm, and above all, answer the questions honestly, because, well, I highly doubt very many husbands can name the type of their wife’s face cream.