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How to Establish the Bona Fides of Marriage?

In order to obtain a green card through marriage, a couple must be able to prove that they have a bona fide relationship. A bona fide marriage simply refers to a legitimate marriage between two people, rather than a sham marriage that is entered into solely for immigration purposes. Since immigration is a hot topic in America, government officials want to ensure that persons applying for permanent residency (previously known as a green card) aren’t faking their relationship in order to allow the non-citizen to stay in the country. An immigrant can obtain a green card if he or she has entered into a bona fide marriage with a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

As a result of these immigration concerns, before approving permanent residency the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires proof that a marriage is bona fide. While there are no black and white rules regarding the proof required to establish a bona fide relationship, the more evidence presented to USCIS the better. The following is a list of important documents that will increase the petitioner's chances of approval:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate. The marriage has to be valid in the location where it took place, and a marriage certificate provides documentation of this validity.
  • Copies of rental agreements, leases or title documents evidencing joint residency. USCIS expects that the married couple will live together, so unless there’s a necessary reason for living separate and apart (which can be adequately explained), the couple should share a residence with a lease agreement showing both names. If the married couple own a home, a mortgage reflecting both names is helpful.
  • Copies of joint utility bills (e.g., electricity, telephone, gas, water). These bills can provide additional proof that the married couple reside together. If both names aren't reflected on these statements, it is a good idea to contact each utility company and ask that the accounts be changed to reflect both the husband and wife as account holders.
  • Copies of joint bank account statements (checking and savings). USCIS assumes that a married couple will commingle finances. For this reason, a married couple should be able to provide copies of joint bank account statements, as well as other financial documents that include the names of both parties (e.g., joint credit card statements, joint savings account statements). It's important that these bank accounts are active and that both the husband and wife's payroll checks are deposited into the accounts. USCIS is suspicious of joint bank accounts that reflect limited account activity.
  • Copies of joint income tax returns. Filing taxes jointly as a married couple is evidence of marital status.
  • Copies of love letters, emails, phone records, greeting cards, restaurant receipts, and affidavits from friends and family evidencing the romantic relationship prior to and during the marriage. Postmarked envelopes from letters and greeting cards sent to one another are also helpful.
  • Photographs evidencing the romantic relationship. This is an important part of the marriage petition package. Photographs are a great way to evidence a romantic relationship. Be sure to include pictures (approximately 10) taken at different times during the relationship at different places (landmarks are especially helpful) wearing different clothes and with different people (especially family members - pictures of the husband with the wife's family and pictures of the wife with the husband's family). Be sure to take additional photographs and albums (as many pictures as you can) to the interview in case the immigration officer wants to see more.
  • Copies of travel documents. Couples in romantic relationships tent to take trips or vacations together, and they should be able to provide evidence of that travel. Evidence can include bills and receipts for hotels and plane tickets, itineraries and postcards mailed to friends and family.
  • Affidavits from friends and family. In closer cases (where the totality of evidence is limited for whatever reason), it is helpful to including affidavits from friends and family who can attest to the legitimacy of a marriage. Each affidavit should describe how the affiant knows the couple and the extent of the affiant's knowledge of the couple's relationship, including memories of double dates and family events. It’s usually best for these affidavits to come from people who are already U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. In some cases, affidavits from respected community leaders provides additional credibility. For instance, an affidavit from a priest attesting to the fact that the couple attends church every Sunday is very persuasive.

Other helpful documentation includes insurance policies reflecting the spouses as beneficiaries, automobile registration under both names and trusts, wills and other estate documentation. No one document is absolutely required. The idea is to present as much documentation as possible to convince USCIS that the marriage is indeed legitimate.

If you have questions about proving a bona fide marriage for the purposes of obtaining permanent residency in the United States, contact San Diego Immigration Attorney Donald R. Oder today for a free consultation at (888) 900-9002.