If you or your spouse recently became a conditional permanent resident through marriage, now is the time to begin documenting your life together. Don’t wait until it is time to file Form I-751 to prove you have a good faith marriage.
In the 90-day period that precedes the expiration of a two-year conditional green card, the conditional resident (and spouse when filing jointly) must file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. In addition to the form, the couple should submit evidence that supports the bona fides of the marriage. In other words, they must prove that it is a genuine, good faith marriage.
Even if you are filing with a waiver for the joint filing requirement (rather than jointly with your spouse), you will need to prove that your marriage was entered in good faither and not created to circumvent immigration laws.
Good Faith Marriage Explained
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to make sure a marriage was entered for love, not for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card. A good faith marriage is one that is built on love and is entered with the intention of building a life together. USCIS can’t know what happens inside the privacy of your home. Therefore, USCIS will try to interpret the true intention of the marriage when reviewing your Form I-751 petition and supporting documentation.
A fraudulent or sham marriage, on the other hand, is when at least one of the parties of a marriage entered into the marriage for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws to falsely acquire immigration benefits.
Why Proving a Good Faith Marriage is Important
The burden of proving a bona fide, good faith marriage is on the petitioners. As the petitioners, it’s up to you to submit evidence of your mutual intent to establish a life together at the time of the marriage. There are severe consequences if USCIS determines that the marriage was entered into for the purposes of circumventing immigration laws. A finding of fraud will most likely bar the approval of subsequent petitions and have un-waivable immigration consequences far into the future.
Red Flags There Isn’t a Good Faith Marriage
According to the Adjudicators Field Manual (AFM), Section 21.3, a guide used by USCIS officers to make determinations on immigration cases, there are several factors that could flag a case for possible marriage fraud. Some of these factors include:
- Large disparity of age;
- Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language;
- Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background;
- Family and/or friends unaware of the marriage;
- Marriage arranged by a third party;
- Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States;
- Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge;
- No cohabitation since marriage (although there can be valid reasons);
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family;
- Petitioner has filed previous petitions in behalf of aliens, especially prior alien spouses.
The existence of one of the above conditions is not a reason to deny Form I-751. It is simply an indicator for the USCIS officer to probe further. In other words, the officer will likely ask more questions. For example, it is not typical for a couple to have a 30-year age difference and not speak the same language. It is reasonable for the immigration officer to ask more questions about how this couple met and what keeps them together.
Documents to Prove Good Faith Marriage
A marriage certificate proves the legality of a marriage, but it doesn’t prove that the marriage is genuine for the purposes of starting a life together. USCIS wants to confirm that the marriage was entered in “good faith” and was not for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws. When filing Form I-751, you will also be asked to submit copies of as many documents as you can to establish this fact and to demonstrate the circumstances of the relationship from the date of marriage to the present date. The documents can include but are not be limited to the following examples:
Engagement & Wedding
There are opportunities to document your relationship as early as the engagement. If you had a newspaper announcement for your engagement, include a copy. You may also document any of your wedding-related expenses. Examples of vendor receipts may include: reception hall (or restaurant), clergyman, caterers, florist, photographer/videographer, tuxedo rental, or the band/DJ. The receipt should name the couple being married. You might also include a copy of the wedding invitation.
- Child(ren) Born to the Marriage
Submit photocopies of birth certificates for any children born to the marriage. Having children is not a requirement for having a valid marriage, but it is good evidence that a couple has started a life together and has intentions of staying together.
- Joint Ownership/Occupancy of a Home or Other Real Estate
If you own property together, make copies of the deed showing both owners’ names. Other relevant real estate documents may include the closing papers, purchase contract, mortgage agreement, mortgage account statements, property tax bills.
If you lease a home (or other property) together, the central document to include is the lease agreement. Prepare copies of the lease agreement that shows the names of both the conditional permanent resident and the spouse.
Even if you do not own property together, it is helpful to demonstrate that the home is jointly occupied. The lease agreement may hold one person financially responsible but indicate both individuals as tenants.
Other relevant documents to demonstrate that you are living together may include: utility bills (gas, electric, telephone, water, cable TV, internet, etc.), homeowner association (HOA) bills and repair records.
- Financial records
Any documents showing that you have purchased things together (e.g., car, appliances, furniture, etc.), taken out a loan together or share equity in an account is useful. Examples may include: joint savings and checking accounts with transaction history, joint credit card statements, joint Federal and State tax returns, title of car showing joint ownership and other joint loans.
If you have (or had) joint insurance policies that show the other spouse as the beneficiary, provide the copies of these records. All types of insurance are applicable: health, dental, disability, auto, life, home, and renter’s insurance. Examples may include the account opening records (e.g., application, quote, and enrollment form), policy, and bills/account statements. If you have many statements for the same policy/account, take a sampling of about 10 records that cover the longest period possible. (For example, use the first statement that husband/wife are named together and include the most recent.)
If you have traveled together as a couple, provide evidence with travel records. Travel records are helpful to demonstrate that you vacation together and are especially useful if you traveled to the other spouse’s home to meet and spend time with family. Examples of travel records may include: airplane, train, rental car, or bus tickets, reservations, and boarding passes; hotel reservations and bills; and passports.
- Affidavits from Friends
Affidavits help to support other types of evidence listed above. You may supply affidavits sworn to or affirmed by people who have known both of you since your conditional residence was granted and have personal knowledge of your marriage and relationship. (Such persons may be required to testify before an immigration officer as to the information contained in the affidavit.) The original affidavit must be submitted and also contain the following information regarding the person making the affidavit: his or her full name and address; date and place of birth; relationship to you or your spouse; and details explaining how the person acquired his or her knowledge. For more information, read How to Write an I-751 Affidavit Letter of Support.
You may submit 10-20 photographs of the married couple together. Examples could include wedding photos, traveling, special events with family and friends, etc. (You should also hand write the place, names and dates on the back of photos.) Remember, the photos become more compelling evidence if they establish that you spend your lives together by attending family functions and socializing with community (e.g. religious, friends, schools, etc.).
Even social media can help you document your good faith marriage. After all, social media includes snippets of your life together, particular major life events. Demonstrating the couple’s participation in events together and interaction with a community of friends and family is especially helpful in establishing your good faith marriage. Examples may include: screen shots of Facebook pages, posts or messages from WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram.
All of the evidence above is made more effective if it starts when the couple met and documents up to the present time. However, it’s most important to document the period since a green card was issued. But don’t limit yourself to the above documents. Include any other documents that you consider relevant to establish that your marriage was not entered for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws. When collecting your own documents, think about the activities and obligations that a typical married couple will experience. If you can provide evidence of these life events experienced together, you help to build your case of a good faith marriage.
Prepare Form I-751 to Remove Conditions on Residence
As you can see, proving a good faith marriage starts well before you are required to file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. Once the conditional permanent resident is within 90 days of the green card expiring, he or she must file Form I-751. (If filing with a hardship waiver, there is more flexibility as to when Form I-751 should be filed.) Once approved, this petition will provide the foreign national with a 10-year permanent resident card (green card).
The average person does not require the expertise of an immigration attorney when filing to remove the conditions on a green card. However, anybody with a criminal history and/or immigration violations, should consult with an attorney before filing the Form I-751 petition. Likewise, anyone that will not be filing Form I-751 jointly with the spouse should also utilize an attorney for the best results.
CitizenPath provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application or petition. We provide support for the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Form I-751), Green Card Renewal (Form I-90), the Citizenship Application (Form N-400), and several other USCIS forms.
Note to Reader: This post was originally published on December 22, 2015, and has been modified with improvements.