Permanent Residence or Green Cards

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

3 Mistakes That Can Lead to a Stokes Interview

So recently I’ve represented several clients at Stokes interviews that were scheduled as a direct result of lack of preparation and ignorance of immigration requirements and procedure on the part of the clients. Individuals who apply for a green card (permanent residence) through sponsorship by a U.S. citizen spouse must attend an interview with an immigration officer.  Stokes interviews are secondary green card interviews that are scheduled once an immigration officer has suspicions that a marriage is not legitimate or there is insufficient evidence to support the approval of the application.  At the Stokes interview the green card applicant and their U.S. citizen sponsor are subjected to an in-depth interview and also given an opportunity to provide additional evidence.

Many people chose to prepare their green card application and many commit the same mistakes that result in either an outright denial or a Stokes interview. I wanted to go over three common reasons that applicants end up being scheduled for Stokes interviews although they may have a strong case.  Lack of preparation is the main reason that most green card applications are not immediately approved, the applicant gets scheduled for a Stokes interview or eventually the immigration applications are denied.  Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key to obtaining positive results from the Immigration Service. Here are three common mistakes that green card applicants make that all stem from a failure to prepare:

1. Failure to understand immigration requirements and regulations

Whatever the application you are submitting to the Immigration Service, you must know the legal requirements that need to be met in order to obtain the immigration benefit.  Most applicants that represent themselves are not familiar with the immigration requirements; as such they cannot submit a strong application.  An experienced and qualified immigration attorney will be familiar with the immigration application requirements and laws and be able to easily navigate the immigration system.  If you choose to represent yourself, and many do, be certain that you know the requirements of the application you are submitting.  Be willing and able to put in the time and work necessary to research the requirements.

2. Failure to provide valid and/or sufficient evidence

So now you know what the immigration requirements are, now you need to prove, with evidence, that you satisfy the requirements.   It is not enough to know the rules you must prove to the Immigration Service that you qualify and you must do so clearly with sufficient evidence.  I have had many clients come to my office after receiving a denial letter from the Immigration Service that resulted from their failure to provide sufficient evidence or any evidence at all.  The Immigration Service will not prove your case for you, you have the burden and you must meet that burden by providing strong evidence. Here is where a qualified attorney comes in; they can help you build case with strong evidence using their knowledge of the immigration regulations and experience.

3. Failure to prepare for the interview

Applicants that fail to prepare for their green card interview usually end up with a Stokes interview appointment.  Nerves can create many problems for an applicant at a green card interview.  Being nervous at such an important interview is normal.  However, the way to reduce an applicant’s level of stress is to familiarize them with what to expect at the interview.  I find that after I prepare clients on what to expect at the green card interview, conduct a mock interview, and provide sample interview questions, they are much more comfortable at the interview and are usually successful.  In addition, I attend all of my clients’ green card interviews; as such, I am in the room with my clients which many clients find comforting.

For more information, call our office at 718-978-9000, and make an appointment today.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love, Hip Hop… and Immigration Marriage Fraud?

Online media outlets are buzzing with rumors that reality television star Amina Buddafly was allegedly deported due to immigration marriage fraud. The rumors are likely stemming from the recent storyline on VH1’s popular reality series Love and Hip Hop New York.

Reality television fans are likely very familiar with the popular VH1 series Love and Hip Hop New York. However, for those of you that are not familiar with the show I will give a bit of background. The show features hip hop artists and their love interests, and chronicles their professional and personal lives with high dramatics, and some would argue, pre-scripted content. This season of Love and Hip Hop New York premiered with several new recurring characters, most relevant Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz. In the early episodes of this season it is revealed that Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz are in fact married, despite his longtime relationship with the mother of his children. According to Amina Buddafly's VH1 biography, she was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Even more interesting, the biography describes Amina Buddafly’s immigration to the United States saying “In 2002, Black Buddafly took a leap of faith and without a plan, packed their bags and flew to New York City with nothing but $$600 and a dream. Leaving everything behind in Germany, they had no ‘choyce’ but to make it in America.”

According to one online report, in 2011 Amina Buddafly allegedly posted on an immigration forum that she was refused entry into the United States for violating the terms of her entry on the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of designated countries, including Germany, to enter the United States without a visa for a period of 90 days for the purpose of business or pleasure. So given the Love and Hip Hop storyline and Amina Buddafly’s immigrant status, speculation is rampant regarding the reasons behind her marriage to Peter Gunz and whether the marriage was based on Amina Buddafly’s need to obtain a green card in the United States. In an interview with Power 105.1 Peter Gunz denied the allegations and claimed that he married Amina Buddafly for love.

Let’s make two things clear, first, Amina Buddafly’s immigration status has not been revealed; and second, there no confirmation that she has been deported for any reason. Nevertheless, this very salacious tale sheds light on an issue that is widely pervasive in the U.S. immigration - marriage fraud. Many immigrants are desperate to obtain legal immigration status in the United States and some do marry U.S. citizens for the sole purpose of obtaining permanent residence (i.e. a green card). However, there are serious civil and criminal consequences for engaging in immigration marriage fraud. By law persons who have entered into marriages, for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit, face fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

It is also important to note that there are nonimmigrant visa categories that entertainers with demonstrated talent and international recognition can take advantage of, most notably the P-1 and O-1 visas. Moreover, the fact that Amina Buddafly is a talented musician who is a reoccurring cast member of a nationally syndicated television series leads me to question the rumors of her alleged deportation; as she may have been able to obtain legal status by obtaining a valid nonimmigrant visa. Nonetheless it remains to be seen if the rumors will be addressed in the dramatic Love and Hip Hop New York storyline or reunion show.


Monday, May 28, 2012

So you’ve been scheduled for a Stokes interview- What now?

This blog addresses what to do if you are in the unfortunate circumstance of being scheduled for a Stokes interview. First DON’T PANIC!  Being scheduled for a Stokes interview does not mean that your green card application will definitely be denied. It simply means that you will be subject to a second more in-depth interview.  So let’s explore some ways to prepare.

First, to be prepared you need to know what to expect.  At a Stokes interview the officer will meet with the couple together to explain the process and swear them in.  Then the couple is separated and asked numerous questions while being taped.  The officer then compares the answers given by each spouse to check for consistency and accuracy.  The couple is then given an opportunity to explain discrepancies between their answers.

Second, practice asking each other sample stokes questions; make them up or check online for sample questions. You should be aware that the officer may ask as many as 100 questions and the interview can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours depending on the number of questions asked.  Officers ask questions under the general categories of your relationship, home, employment and family. Examples of questions asked are listed below:

1. What is your spouse’s date and place of birth?
2. Please spell your spouse’s full name?
3. Does your spouse have siblings? How Many? Have you met them?
4. What are your monthly expenses? And how do you pay them?
5. How many windows are in your bedroom?
6. What type of door does your bathroom have?
7. How many TVs do you have? Where are they located in the home?
8. Where you do you do your laundry? How often?
9. Who does the cooking?
10. Where does your spouse work? How long has he/she worked there?
11. What did your spouse wear to go to sleep last night? What color?
12. How did you get to the interview today?
13. What did you have for breakfast today?

The questions listed above are only a small sample of the questions that you may be asked in a Stokes interview. The best way to prepare is to become very familiar with every detail of your relationship, spouse’s family, employment history and home. The problem with the Stokes questions is not that they are difficult, but that they require us to remember details we may deem insignificant and easily forget.  For instance, why do I need to remember the color of the curtains or my spouse’s pajamas?  Well in the Stokes context these minute details make a difference.  Also, again when you’re nervous you tend to forget many things you may know perfectly well otherwise.

My third piece of advice is to answer the question asked and think before you speak.  Now that may sound simple or obvious.  However, many people race to answer a question quickly and then say the wrong thing, when had they paused and thought about the question, they would have answered correctly.  Also, be concise with your answers, the officer does not want to know extraneous details about your life in the answer.  It may only cause the officer to delve deeper and create unnecessary confusion.

Finally, it may be comforting to know that you do not need to get every single question correct in order to pass your Stokes interview.   As noted above, you will be given the opportunity to clarify discrepancies.  Moreover, the important inquiry will be what questions you got incorrect and how many.  If you forgot what your spouse cooked for dinner the night before, it may not be that significant.  If you cannot remember where you got married or your spouse’s middle/maiden name, you may have an issue.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Three ways to avoid being scheduled for the dreaded Stokes interview

In part II of my Stokes interview blog series we are exploring three ways to avoid the Stokes interview. Now I must note at the outset that the Stokes interview is given at the discretion of the individual officer and you never know why an officer may suspect fraud and schedule the Stokes interview.  However, these are three general ways to avoid the most obvious traps that may cause a Stokes interview.

1. Submit evidence of the bona-fides of the marriage

In my last blog entry I mentioned joint documents necessary to show that the marriage was not entered into for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.  The idea behind the joint documents requirement is that when a couple starts a life together they share assets, bills, health care etc.   Therefore, the immigration service requires joint documents to show that the relationship is real this is the concept of establishing the bona-fides of the marriage.  In addition to joint documents, the couple can also provide statements from friends and family, pictures of the couple together and with family and friends etc. to further establish that the marriage is legitimate.  Applicants should submit as many forms of evidence available to demonstrate to the officer and the immigration service that their marriage is real.  A lack of evidence of the bona-fides of the marriage will not be viewed favorably and can result in a Stokes interview.

2. Be familiar with the documents filed in support of your application

This is especially true when an attorney prepares your application.  Be sure that you and your spouse review every document filed with the immigration service on your behalf.  For instance, if an affidavit was provided by a friend or family member, review it to ensure it is accurate and make sure that both you and your spouse are familiar with its contents.  Another example would be if a joint sponsor is used for the affidavit of support, ensure that both of you are familiar with the person giving the affidavit even if the joint-sponsor is only a friend of the applicant.  This may seem obvious and insignificant, but should the officer ask a question regarding these documents, and either the sponsor or the applicant is unfamiliar with the contents of the affidavit or the name of the joint sponsor, it can result in a Stokes interview.

3Prepare for the interview

In my experience with clients, I find that nervousness is a big reason why some applicants end up in a Stokes interview.  Obviously being interviewed by an immigration officer for something as important as a green card can cause nervousness; but one way to combat that is to be prepared. Prior to the interview, first you will ensure that you follow the advice in items one and two.  However, to prepare for the verbal interview, be sure to be familiar with the basic story of how you met your spouse and the evolution of your relationship.  In addition, applicants must be familiar with the basic biographic information about each other and their immediate family.  Think of this as an opportunity to reinforce information you already know about each other and to learn more about your partner.  By arming yourself with knowledge about each other you will feel more comfortable at the interview knowing that you are prepared to answer any question asked. This further helps to avoid getting a scheduled for a Stokes interview by avoiding making mistakes because you are nervous and unprepared.

Our next blog in this three-part series will address how to prepare for a Stokes interview if you are scheduled for one despite your best efforts.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The dreaded Stokes interview- How did we get here?

Recently I attended a Stokes interview with one of my clients and thought it would be an excellent topic for my blog.  So I’ve decided to do a three-part blog series on the topic.  In this blog entry, I will attempt to shed some light on why some green card applicants get scheduled for the dreaded Stokes interview.

Many of you may be familiar with the Stokes interview from movies like “Green Card” with Gérard Depardieu or “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock.  However, I’ll give a brief background to put us all on the same page.  In the family green card process when a U.S. citizen sponsor’s their spouse for a green card while in the U.S., they are required undergo an initial interview to allow the immigration officer to determine if the marriage is bona fide or legitimate.  In New York, if at the initial interview the officer suspects that the marriage is based on fraud for any reason, he/she has the authority to schedule the couple for a more in-depth follow-up interview called a Stokes interview.

Now the burning question is what are the reasons an officer would schedule a couple for a Stokes interview?  First, it’s important to understand that in a marriage-based green card application the sponsor (US citizen spouse) and the beneficiary (foreign national applicant) must prove that they did not enter into the marriage solely for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit. Therefore, the Immigration Service has instituted certain requirements to find fraudulent or “scam” marriages.  For instance, applicants must provide joint documents with their initial application (I.e. joint bank statements, joint utility bills, joint health insurance etc.).  So the reason an officer may schedule a Stokes interview is because either the documents or something said in the interview makes them believe that the marriage is not real.  Specifically, officers may schedule a Stokes interview in cases where one or more of the following circumstances apply:

1.  Couple were married shortly after meeting each other;
2. Couple has not been married for very long before filing the green card application;
3. Cultural or large age difference between sponsor and beneficiary;
4. Couple does not have any or has very few joint documents;
5. Couple is not able to answer basic questions about each other or spouse’s relatives;
6. Couple’s story of how they met and fell in love does not seem real.

These are just a few examples of reasons an officer may schedule a Stokes Interview. This list is in no way exhaustive, it is a very subjective process as it really depends on the impression the interviewing couple makes on the officer.  Further, it’s up to each individual officer to determine whether or not to schedule a Stokes interview or not.  In my next blog I will address how to avoid being scheduled for a Stokes interview.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Five Ways to Obtain a Green Card through a Family Relationship

One of the most coveted U.S. immigration benefits is obtaining an I-551 permanent resident card or green card. Individuals with a green card are permitted to work and live in the United States permanently provided they abide by U.S. laws. One pathway to obtain U.S. permanent residence is through a familial relationship with a green card holder or U.S. citizen.  To follow are five different categories of family relationships that can lead to permanent residence:

1. Immediate Relatives
Foreign nationals who are the children, spouses or parents of a U.S. citizen are considered “immediate relatives.”  However, under immigration regulations to qualify as a child, one must be unmarried and under the age of 21 at the time of filing the application.  “Immediate relatives” are not subject to the long wait times that other green card applicants face, since they are not subject to the numerical limitations as the family preference categories.
2. Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
Persons who are adult (i.e. over the age of 21) sons or daughters of U.S. citizens fall under the first preference family category.  Preference categories include family relationships that are not classified as “Immediate Relatives” and thus are subject have annual numerical limits. An immigrant visa becomes available for an applicant when the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed) becomes current.  The distinction between the first preference category and the immediate relative is that the child has reached the age of 21 prior to the filing of the application for permanent residence.
3. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents/green card holders
Relatives of green card holders can also gain permanent residence through that relationship. Spouses and unmarried children of green card holders who are under the age of 21 fall under preference category 2A; while unmarried adult (over 21) sons and daughters of green card holders fall under the preference category 2B.
If the permanent resident obtains U.S. citizenship while the green card application is pending, the application can be upgraded to the relevant category as determined by the beneficiary’s relationship to the sponsor.
4. Married Children of U.S. citizens
Unfortunately, married children of U.S. citizens fall all the way to the third preference category.  In this category the age of the beneficiary (i.e. the foreign relative) does not matter, if they are married, they fall under this category.
5. Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens
U.S. citizens over the age of 21 can sponsor their siblings for a green card provided they can demonstrate that they have one or two of the same parents.
Generally, to qualify for a green card under any of these categories the sponsor must provide evidence of their relationship to the beneficiary in the form of a marriage or birth certificate.  Also, it is important to note that the processing times vary greatly and generally gets progressively longer with each of the higher categories.  
For specific guidance on whether you qualify for a green card, contact us today.  


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