Did you know that if you are going through the green card process based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen in the United States, sometimes an immigration official from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may show up at your home unannounced. How often does this happen and how can you prepare?
We invite you to learn more about this important topic.
The USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) was established to combat and investigate immigration-related fraud including marriage fraud. The FDNS also operates the Fraud Detection and National Security data system which tracks and manages cases which are under review for potential immigration fraud. Reports are generated by the FDNS data system and distributed to other government agencies for further investigation depending on the severity of the case, such as the Department of State (DOS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Surprise Home Visits: When do they happen and how do they happen?
Part of the responsibilities of the FDNS are to conduct site visits for both employment-based and family-sponsored immigration petitions. Most commonly, site visits are conducted at places of worship as part of the process to petition an R-1 nonimmigrant religious worker. Site visits are also frequently conducted at places of employment for H-1B workers. With respect to family-sponsored cases, the FDNS may conduct home visits in adjustment of status filings where marriage fraud is suspected.
This can happen in several different ways. In the most common scenario, the married couple has already been questioned at their in-person interview before a USCIS officer. In such instance, the immigration officer is not convinced by the responses provided by the couple during the interview and believes the marriage to be fraudulent. In some cases where marriage fraud is suspected, the couple is separated and questioned separately regarding facts about their relationship. At the conclusion of the interview, the officer may call upon FDNS to conduct an unannounced site visit at the couple’s home to confirm whether the information provided at the interview is authentic.
Immigration officers rely upon the couple’s responses to form the basis of their referral for a site visit. To help guide their decision, officers use a fraud referral sheet which outlines various factors to be considered when referring a case to the FDNS for further investigation relating to the bona fides of the marriage. Some common factors that may lead an officer to question the legitimacy of a marriage include a large age gap, living apart, failing to meet close relatives, doctored photographs or documentation, etc.
What can happen at a home visit?
The primary objective of a site visit is to determine the bona fides of a marriage and evaluate whether the information provided by the couple is authentic. An officer conducting a site visit will be concerned about whether the couple is living together in the same home. To verify this, the officer will look for clues to confirm this. For instance, the officer may look in the couple’s bedroom, their drawers, or closets to see if their clothing and personal items are kept there. If they find any evidence to the contrary, they will document such evidence and report back to the interviewing officer on the findings of their investigation which may lead to a second interview or potential denial of the application.
It some cases FDNS officers may even visit the home more than once, including multiple times in the same day, as part of their investigation into the bona fides of the marriage.
How can I expect the officer to behave?
Typically, FDNS officers conducting unannounced home visits will first identify themselves by providing their name and badge number. They will question you to verify your identity and request your permission to enter the home. You have the right to deny them entry. If they are denied entry, they may seek a warrant granting them entry (depending on the severity of the circumstances) or they may document your refusal to grant them entry and inform you that your refusal could result in the denial of your application.
Upon making entry, they will ask you questions about your relationship and ask to see certain areas of the residence to confirm the legitimacy of the marriage. The officer will make notes of his or her observations during the visit. Such notes will be reported back to the immigration officer handling your case. Once those notes are reviewed, a final decision will be made in your case – the officer may choose to approve, deny your case, or conduct further interviews.
Marriage Fraud Investigations are Increasing
FDNS investigations are on the rise for couples who are required to attend in-person interviews. For cases where an in-person interview has been waived, USCIS may still choose to conduct a home visit when the green card holder applies to removes his or her conditions on permanent residence (Form I-751). Additionally, home visits may occur at a later time, for instance when the green card holder applies for U.S. citizenship.
What can I do to prepare?
When you attend your first in-person interview with USCIS, make sure you are well prepared. If you do not have an immigration attorney already representing you, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to help prepare you and your spouse for the interview. An immigration attorney can also attend the in-person interview with you to monitor the questions being asked of you.
Remember you must not only provide supporting documentation in support of your good faith marriage, but you must also understand what questions will be asked of you and what to do if you and your spouse are separated during your interview.
Contact us. Need our help? To schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.
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