Marriage between an 88 year old and a 30 year old deemed valid for immigration purposes
That is exactly what the United States Immigration & Citizenship Service (USCIS) decided a week ago in one of our cases. I must admit that when this couple initially came in to see me I was totally suspicious and pessimistic. I asked many more questions and requested more documents than I normally would. I needed to know for myself that this was a good marriage. I needed to know that the older petitioner was not being taken advantage of. I also wanted to be sure that I was bringing a genuine marriage case to the USCIS, after all I have an excellent reputation that I strive to protect. Even after I was convinced that this was a genuine marriage I knew that the case presented a great challenge nevertheless. We still had to convince an adjudications official of the USCIS that this was not a marriage simply to obtain an immigration benefit. Not only was there a 58 year age difference, but he was Muslim and she was Christian. I did not set my or my clients’ expectations too high.
I prepared my clients thoroughly for their interview and made sure they had sufficient documentation to overcome what I knew would be a challenging interview and a certain follow up investigation. After waiting a few months for the USCIS to complete their investigation, my clients just this week received the approval notices.
The immigration laws do not precisely define what a good marriage is or is not. The immigration case law, which has slowly evolved over the years, can be boiled down to the simple proposition that the marriage must be legally valid, meaning that it must conform to the laws where it was entered and also must not be against U.S. public policy. So for example, a marriage may be legally valid in the jurisdiction where it was performed but may be against U.S. public policy (i.e., marriage to a child bride, or polygamist marriage), and therefore, would not be accepted for immigration purposes. Other than that, the only other requirement is that the parties cannot enter into a marriage "solely" for the purpose of evading the immigration laws, or obtaining an immigration benefit (i.e., lawful permanent resident status). Marriages for immigration purposes are often referred to as “sham” or “fraudulent” marriages. In evaluating the legitimacy of a marriage, the USCIS is tasked with the difficult job of trying to determine the intentions of the parties. Usually they will look to whether the couple hold themselves out as husband and wife, whether they have lived together, whether they have comingled assets, and if there are children of the marriage. Of course, age disparities, language barriers, religious differences are factors that may come into play in a close case. Ultimately it is the petitioner that bears the burden of proving that the couple intended to establish a life together at the time of their marriage.
Where the parties are newlyweds, as in our case, they usually will not have many pieces of evidence to show that they have established a life together. There may be no children, or joint assets. In these situations USCIS may suspect fraud. In addition, the fact that there is a large age discrepancy, cultural, religious and linguistic differences served to all the more raise the question of fraud.
When it’s time for the interview in a difficult marriage case, thoroughly preparing the clients is essential. That is exactly what we did. A good starting point is to review the documents needed for the interview to prove that the marriage is genuine. Such documents typically include evidence of a shared life together, combined finances, joint ownership of property, and common residence. Shared life documents can include birth certificates of children, receipts for trips taken together. Combined finance documents can include joint income tax returns, bank account statements, credit card account statements, and insurance policies (health, automobile, life, dental, vision). Property documents can include rental, lease, or purchase agreements, deeds, mortgage statements, and real property closing documents. Common residence documents typically include utility and telephone bills, and ownership of personal property documents such as car titles or furniture purchase receipts. Photographs are also essential, and they should show the parties over a period of time, including dating, the wedding ceremony, the honeymoon, at their residence, holidays and birthdays, and on trips.
In difficult cases with little of the above documentation available, the parties should also produce affidavits of people that know them as a married couple, attesting to the validity of the marriage by describing the parties’ courtship, wedding ceremony, shared residence, and experiences.
The fraud or sham marriage questions normally arise in the context of an interview that USCIS will require of the parties. Again, preparation is crucial. During the interview the adjudicating official will separate the parties and asked each a series of personal questions. For example, does your spouse have any hidden scars, birthmarks, or tattoos? If so describe it and its location. When the other spouse is brought back into the interview he or she is asked the same questions. The general notion here, is that if it is a genuine marriage the answers will be the same.
I knew our case would be subjected to extra scrutiny. Cases where marriage fraud is suspected are usually be referred to an officer or specialist in the Fraud Detection and National Security Unit. Such officers can carry out extensive investigations that include data mining, checks in law enforcement databases, credit monitoring databases, and checks into Facebook accounts. Field investigations may also be ordered. During a field investigation a USCIS trained investigator will make an unannounced visit to the couple’s home, employers, and neighborhood. They will talk to neighbors and co-workers. That is exactly what happen in our case.
If after the interview and or the field investigation USCIS still is not convinced that the marriage is a genuine marriage they will then issue a “Notice of Intent to Deny Visa Petition.” The petitioning spouse (and not the beneficiary) will have only 30 days to respond with additional evidence. Failure to submit a timely response will result in a denial. In our case we anticipated the Notice and were able to prepare in advance.
Because we understand the process we were able to explain it to our clients. Each step of the way we were prepared. The result was the approval of a marriage case between a Muslim and a Christian where the parties had a 58 year age difference.
Written by: Roberto Gonzalez