This guide provides tips for individuals preparing for a non-immigrant visa interview at their local U.S. consulate/embassy.
Plan to be on time.
Scout the location ahead of time. You definitely do not want to be late. In fact, considering that there will probably be long lines at check-in, plan to arrive 15-30 minutes before your scheduled time. Also, note that some immigration offices do not allow cell phones. Any item that will delay you in the security line, leave in your car or at home.
Immigration officers; they are just like us. Sometimes, they make conclusions based on appearance and mannerisms. Treat the immigration interview like a job interview. It’s your job to impress. You can never go wrong with business casual. More than wearing an appropriate clothing, wear a good attitude.
Be your “professional” self. Avoid showing irritation. Assert yourself but remember your approval is within the officer’s discretion. You definitely don’t want to piss “him” or ‘her” off. I have stories, but for another day.
Hire an Immigration Lawyer/Attorney.
If you are in the U.S. applying for adjustment of status, even if you didn’t hire an attorney to help you submit your documents, it is highly advisable to hire an attorney to accompany you to your interview. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you an attorney just sits quietly at the interview. An experienced attorney is there to protect your rights and step in when he or she suspects your rights are being violated or you are being treated unfairly.
Just last month, I attended an interview where the couple had a joint account statement, and yet maintained individual accounts. The officer expressed his distaste and insinuated that they must not have intertwined lives as a husband and wife should. I could sense him holding it against my clients and I had to step in and ask the officer if he did not have any individual bank accounts. I factually stated that in 2019, many couples also maintain some independence in marriage. I asserted that it was actually a healthy characteristic that a couple maintain a certain level of financial autonomy. Not secret autonomy, but transparent independent functionality. The officer agreed with me. The application was approved.
If you get to the interview before your attorney, make sure to wait for your attorney. Sometimes, an officer may call you prior to your appointed time, because you “checked in” early. Insists on waiting for your attorney to arrive. If you give in to the pressure of going in solo, you are literally on your own. You become susceptible to inappropriate questioning or badgering. The proper thing to do is respectfully sate that your interview time is still ahead and that you will wait for your attorney to arrive.
If you are attending your interview at a U.S. consulate abroad, (again, if you did not have an attorney help you with filing – which you should) you should really consider having an immigration attorney in the U.S. review your application and all the documents you submitted. Just in case, you missed something. If your interview is delayed due to a missing document, you could get thrown into the hole that is “Administrative Processing” which could take up to a year. To maximize your chances, don’t wait till last minute. Hire an attorney as soon as you can.
Get Interview Prep with an Attorney.
Even if you decide not to hire an attorney to do anything else, it is imperative that you get one to enlighten you on what to expect at that interview. It is irreplaceable to get interview prep from an attorney. I repeat, it is irreplaceable to do so. Experienced immigration attorneys know the “standards” USCIS interviewing officers hold applicants to. Some of us even have a compiled list of questions officers often ask. More so, many lawyers know what each U.S. embassy or USCIS Field Office is popular for. This is often based on the particular state or country’s notoriety. So, you need to be prepared to go into that interview with a mission to overcome that “stereotype”. For e.g. The Bangkok embassy is popular for assuming all young female applicants are prostitutes and met their U.S. citizen husbands that way. Even where there is no criminal record, they often get these young ladies to inadvertently “admit” to it. I can’t tell you the amount of “waiver applications” I have filed for my Thai clients. The Lagos embassy is popular for assuming marriage fraud. So, if you go into an interview there, you should be prepared to provide evidence profiling the “history” of your relationship and marriage. You have to get “petty” with the evidence. This is the time all the “this is my king, my honey my lover” noise you’ve been making on “social media”, will come to good use. Print it out for your interview.
Documents. Documents. [I repeat] Documents. More Documents.
When applying for an immigrant visa, less is definitely not more. Too many times, applicants make the mistake of attending interviews with minimal documents. There are two times you should be gathering documents: 1. Before you submit your application 2. Immediately AFTER you submit your application. This is especially true for marriage-based cases. Please do not wait last minute to start collecting documents that prove that your marriage is legitimate and that you reside together. If you don’t reside together for good reason, you should be gathering evidence to prove same.
Start on time and just pile on. For e.g. if you have a joint bank account, even if you only submit one month’s statement with your package, by the time the interview comes around (at least 8 months later), you should have at least 6 months’ worth of bank account statements with ample “worthy” transactions. If the U.S. citizen resides in the U.S. while the spouse is still in the home country, they should keep record of any money transfers between them.
If you both have driver’s licenses and are in the U.S., take the time to ensure the addresses on both licenses match. DMV definitely takes its time to issue those. Ensure that all the tax returns filed when you were married, all your tax returns show that you are married. Again, this cannot be done the day before your interview. Lastly, do not forget the photos. Not just selfies. By the time an immigrant visa interview comes around, a “normal” couple, especially considering the ease of accessibility of camera phones, should have a good number of photos from various events. Note that photos in public and with family and friends, are stronger than selfies.
Other examples of documents to prove the legitimate nature of your marriage include joint health, life, and car insurance; joint credit card statements; lease or mortgage agreements; and birth certificates of children born of the marriage.
Additionally, for all documents you take to the interview, take the original and a photocopy. Arrange them so you can be ready to provide on request. The officer will likely examine the original, and keep a copy in the file.
Make your Interview Priority.
Calendar it. Plan for it. Take off work ahead of time, if you need to. Avoid rescheduling your appointment, unless it’s an unavoidable emergency. USCIS field offices and consulates is currently backlogged. Rescheduling can cause undue delay in your case.
Reflect on your past.
Seriously. Take time to think about your life and comb for anything you may have forgotten that could be a hiccup in your application. Do you have any criminal history (in the U.S. or any other country which may come under the U.S. radar)? I had a client who applied for his 80-year-old mother in Israel. The Jerusalem U.S. consulate denied it. It was only after they hired me and I looked into it, did I realize his mother had been arrested for a misdemeanor in 1981 in San Diego when she was on a visiting visa. We had to pull the records, close the case and submit a brief about why the particular crime did not constitute an inadmissible bar to the U.S.
Also think about any time, period, or instance, during which you had any interaction with the U.S. embassy, officer, etc. What have you ever said or written in past U.S. visa interviews or applications? The Dept. of State keeps records. Make sure you keep your story straight and remain credible. Another client previously submitted a nonimmigrant visa application where it was falsely stated that he was married. Then, when he actually married a U.S. citizen, they did not mention the “previous marriage.” The embassy immediately requested evidence that his previous nonexistent marriage was legally dissolved. Without evidence of that, his present “legitimate” marriage is null and void.
Bring an Interpreter
It is really important that you understand the questions the officer will ask of you. After all, if you do not understand it, you cannot answer properly. If you are not fluent in English, plan to have an interpreter attend the interview with you. Inquire from the particular embassy or USCIS office to know if they will allow a family member or friend interpret for you.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Give concise pointed answers. Avoid giving answers that beg for more questioning. Immigration officers get really irritated when the applicant answers a question that is not being asked. It seems, sometimes, as if the applicant is evading the actual question. Be mindful of “when” vs. “why” vs. “how” vs. “where”. For e.g. if asked, when did you get married, just give a date. The only time I would advise answering a bit beyond the question is when the simple answer, standing alone, gives a wrong impression. For e.g. for a couple who doesn’t live together, when asked “Have you ever lived together?”, a simple “no” seems as if the couple just doesn’t care to live together. In that case, I would advise my client to follow the response with a brief reason. For e.g. “No, my wife is in school, so she lives in the dorm” OR “No, because my mother-in-law is ill and my wife is helping take her to her appointments. I have to stay at the house because my job is here.” OR “No, because my husband works on the rig, but he comes home every other week.” All in all, practice listening attentively and responding effectively.
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