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Immigrant Visa Application, Form
I-485 Adjustment, and a Suspect Marriage

1. The Process at the National Visa Center after Form I-130 Approval 

After USCIS approves the Form I-130 petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition.  NVC will begin processing the applicant’s case by contacting the applicant and petitioner with instructions for submitting the appropriate fees. 

After the appropriate fees have been paid, the NVC will again contact the applicant and petitioner to request that the necessary immigrant visa documentation be submitted to the NVC, including the Affidavit of Support, application forms, civil documents, and more. 

Although USCIS does not charge a fee for Form I-864 - Affidavit of Support, the Department of State does charge a fee when the Affidavit of Support is reviewed domestically. This does not apply when the Affidavit of Support is filed abroad.

2. The Immigrant Visa Application at U.S. Embassy or Consulate

If a U.S. citizen marries an alien abroad, an I-130 petition must be filed after the marriage to begin the immigration process for the alien husband or wife. This can be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the United States.

The Immigrant Visa Unit at U.S. embassy or consulate will process the application for an immigrant visa. While no assurance can be given regarding the appointment date of the visa interview, the alien spouse should prepare for that appointment and obtain the documents required for the visa application. As a U.S. citizen, you should also be prepared to prove that you meet the income requirement of a sponsor. When your spouse has been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview with a consular officer overseas, or when your spouse is about to submit an application for adjustment to permanent resident (Form I-485), you will need to complete an I-864 Affidavit of Support.

In general, the following documents are required:

1) Passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S.;
2) Affidavit of Support (I-864, I-864 EZ or I-864W, as appropriate) from the petitioner/U.S. sponsor.;
3) Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Form DS-260;
4) Two recent photographs.
5) Civil Documents for the applicant (such as birth and marriage certificates). 
6) Completed Medical Examination Forms.

The applicant must submit specific information about documentation requirements, including information on which documents may need to be translated. The consular officer may ask for more information. Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, and any required translations to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents can then be returned to you. The medical examination forms are provided by the panel physician after you have successfully completed your medical examination and vaccinations.

3. The Form DS-260 for Online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration

After your form I-130 is approved by USCIS, the form U.S. Department of States form DS-260 is used to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa. The form DS-260 is an online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration form used to collect the needed application information from persons seeking U.S. immigrant visas. This form is completed and submitted online to the Department of State via the Internet through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC).

You can access the DS-260 from the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website, by going to Immigrant Visas.state.gov and clicking on “Submit Visa Application and Civil Documents,” or on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will apply.

After you pay your fees, you and each qualified family member immigrating with you must complete the Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (Form DS-260) in the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You may wish to preview a sample  DS-260 before beginning.

    * Submitting Form DS-260 does not formally execute a visa application.  The visa application is not formally made until the visa applicant is interviewed by a U.S. consular officer.

    * You will need your NVC Case Number, Beneficiary ID Number, and Invoice ID Number from your NVC Welcome Letter, to access CEAC.

    * After submitting Form DS-260 online, you must print the confirmation page and bring it to your interview. You can print this from CEAC any time after you complete your DS-260 application.

It is important to distinguish the mandatory use of the DS-260 for processing at all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide from the "Electronic Processing Program" used for electronic submission of documents and the I-864 Affidavit of Support for processing at select embassies and consulates. Under this program, the I-864 is downloaded, completed, signed, scanned, saved as a PDF file and e-mailed to the NVC.

Also, the required civil documents and supporting documents must be converted to PDF files and then e-mailed to the NVC. For these select consular posts it is not required to mail the I-864, civil documents, and other supporting documents to the NVC, but the applicant must be prepared to present the original physical documents at the time of the visa interview. For all other posts, the I-864 and documentation are still mailed to the NVC.

For additional information on the DS-260, DS-261 and Electronic Processing Program, you should go to travel.state.gov and read the FAQs on DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and the instruction pages on Required Electronic Processing and Optional Electronic Processing.

4. How to Fill the Electronic Immigrant Visa Application Form DS-260 

The Form DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application (also called "Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application") replaces the paper-based DS-230 Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (parts I and II); while the Form DS-261 Choice of Address and Agent will replace the DS-3032 Choice of Address and Agent.

The Department of State (DOS) has implemented use of the DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, and the DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. These two forms are used for immigrant visa applicants processing at all U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. The online forms are submitted to DOS through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC) website at https://ceac.state.gov/ceac/. In order to access the online forms, the applicant must input his or her NVC case number and invoice I.D. number.

All of the information entered online is accessible by the National Visa Center (NVC) and the consular posts, the applicant is not required to submit a paper version to the NVC or bring a copy to the visa interview.

    *  Most fields on the DS-260 must be completed before the application can be submitted to DOS. The system will not allow you to continue without providing the required information unless the field is specifically marked "Optional."

    * If a mandatory field is left blank, an error message will appear and the applicant must complete the required field before proceeding with the form. A partially completed application can be saved by clicking on the "Save" button at the bottom of each page.

    * It is recommended that data be saved often to ensure information is not lost. A saved application can be accessed by returning to the website and selecting View/Edit from the Alien Registration section of the Immigrant Visa.

    * The applicant can continue completing the form by clicking on the "Edit" button on the right side of the application's listed status. Once all of the fields are completed, the applicant submits the form by clicking on the "Sign and Submit Application" button.

    * Should the applicant need to make any changes to the form after submission, he or she will have to contact the NVC to request access to the form. If a case has already been sent by NVC to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate interview, any changes to the form will have to be made at the post. 

5. The Immigrant visa Interview, and the Medical Examination and Vaccination Requirements

Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the file, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, petitioner, and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address if available), containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination. 

Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.

As an alien spouse in preparing for interview, she or he will need to schedule and complete an medical examination and any required vaccinations before the interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. Applicants are provided instructions by NVC regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians. U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of immigrant visas.

6. Application Related Fees for Filing USCIS Form I-130

Immigration application related fees are charged for different services, such as fees for Department of State government services, fees for Visa Services, and fees for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • Filing an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, this fee is charged by USCIS;
  • Processing an immigrant visa application, Form DS-260;
  • Medical examination and required vaccinations - costs vary.
  • Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and travel expenses to go to the embassy or consulate for the interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.

Also, Form I-864 is required for most family-based immigrants and some employment-based immigrants to show that they have adequate means of financial support and are not likely to rely on the U.S. government for financial support. There is no fee when filed with USCIS or abroad with the Department of State (DOS). DOS does charge a fee when this form is filed in the U.S.  

7. The Differences Between Sponsor, Joint Sponsor, and Substitute Sponsor for USCIS Form I-864 - Affidavit of Support

An affidavit of support, USCIS Form I-864, is a document an individual signs to accept financial responsibility for another person, usually a relative, who is coming to the United States to live permanently. The person who signs the affidavit of support becomes the sponsor of the relative coming to live in U.S.  The sponsor is usually the petitioner of an immigrant petition for a family member. An affidavit of support is legally enforceable; the sponsor's responsibility usually lasts until the family member or other individual either becomes a U.S. citizen, or can be credited with 40 quarters of work - usually 10 years.

A joint sponsor is someone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting the family member with you. A joint sponsor must meet all the same requirements as you, except the joint sponsor does not need to be related to the immigrant. The joint sponsor, or the joint sponsor and his or her household, must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with that of a joint sponsor to meet the income requirement.

If the visa petitioner has died after approval of the visa petition but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides to let the petition continue, a substitute sponsor must file a Form I-864 in place of the deceased visa petitioner.

Some other eligibility requirements apply to the substitute sponsor as well. He or she must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of at least 18 years of age who has a domicile in the U.S. And the sponsor must be a relative of yours. In order to be a substitute sponsor, you must be related to the intending immigrant in one of the following ways: Spouse; Parent; Mother-in-law; Father-in-law; Sibling; Child (if at least 18 years of age); Son; Daughter; Son-in-law; Daughter-in-law; Sister-in-law; Brother-in-law; Grandparent; Grandchild; Legal guardian of the beneficiary.

Serving as a substitute sponsor is a primarily financial relationship, and it involves filling out an Affidavit of Support on USCIS Form I-864. The Affidavit must indicate that the new sponsor is able to support the immigrants and his/her own household, at a level that is at or above 125% of the federal Poverty Guidelines. In fact, by filing Form I-864, the substitute sponsor promises the U.S. government to pay back any need-based public assistance that the named immigrants receive for approximately the first ten years of their having a green card.

8. The Form I-485 Adjustment of Status for a Spouse

Adjustment of Status (AOS) refers to the procedure that allows foreign nationals already in the U.S., who are eligible to receive an immigrant visa and for whom immigrant visa number is immediately available, to apply for immigrant status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Adjustment of status within the U.S. is available for immediate relatives of spouses or parents of U.S. citizens provided the alien entered with a visa, even though the alien’s authorized stay has expired.

The Form I-485 adjustment of status application is for an applicant who is in U.S. already on a non-immigrant visa. If the eligibility of your I-485 application is based on an immigrant petition, you need to attach a copy of the approval notice for an immigrant petition that makes a visa number immediately available to you. If your eligibility is based on the Form I-130 approval, you need to attach a copy of the Form I-130 approval notice. The medical examination, endorsed by a civil medical doctor on Form I-693, Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status, is a necessary part of the Green Card application process. If your spouse is currently inside the United States, then your spouse may be eligible to file Form I-130 and Form I-485 concurrently.

A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident can be the sponsor of a family based immigration petition. However, the sponsor has to meet some requirements and legal obligations. The sponsor has to execute a legally binding affidavit of support for the beneficiary, in which the sponsor guarantees to maintain the standard of living of the intending immigrant at a level not lower than 125% of the national poverty level. This obligation continues until the beneficiary has become a U.S. citizen, or has worked in the United States for 40 qualifying quarters. 

9. The Adjustment of Status in United States and the Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficience

USCIS has issued a Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, that must be filed with all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Form I-944, also known as the “Declaration of Self-Sufficiency,” is a form used by green card applicants to provide information about their financial situation. It was introduced as part of the Trump administration’s overhaul of the public charge rule, and must be included with any green card applications filed once the rule goes into effect.

The declaration of self-sufficiency is somewhat similar to Form I-864 (“Affidavit of Support”), which is completed by a green card applicant’s sponsoring relative and used to show that the sponsor has the means to support the applicant. Unlike Form I-864, however, the new I-944 form provides a snapshot of the applicant’s own financial situation, not that of their sponsor.

Form I-944 is used by USCIS to decide whether an immigrant is likely to be able to support themselves and their household without relying on public benefits. The ultimate goal is to determine whether an immigrant is more likely than not to need to use public benefits for more than 12 months within any 36-month period. This test is applied “in aggregate,” meaning that using 2 separate benefits simultaneously for 6 months, or 4 separate benefits for 3 months, would count as 12 months of total benefit use.

The public charge decision is made based on the “totality of circumstances,” which means that USCIS officials will weigh all positive and negative factors against one another before reaching a decision. The decision is not just made based on your income or financial resources, but also includes factors like your employability, your age, and your health.

Some factors are “heavily weighted,” or seen as more important, while others are considered “regular,” or less important factors. Unfortunately, there is still some uncertainty around how USCIS will weigh an applicant’s positive and negative factors against one another. That means it is important to make sure you complete Form I-944 accurately and completely, and do not forget to include any details that could tip the balance in your favor.

10. Requirements for Adjustment of Status - Inspection and Admission or Parole to the U.S.

The U.S. immigration law requires that all aliens must present him/herself to an Immigration Officer for questioning at the time of entry into the United States, and this is called inspection. The admission into the U.S. only occurs after the Immigration Officer found the foreign individual to be admissible.

Generally, the proof of inspection and admission is the Form I-94 which is stamped by the Immigration Officer at the port of entry. A foreign individual not legally admitted and inspected cannot adjust his or her status by using the Form I-485 application inside the United States. The application of this immigration requirement is very strict, and some exceptions may include VAWA applicants, Asylees, and certain special immigrants.

An alien spouse must prove that your marriage is real, not a sham just to get a Green Card. Collect and photocopy as many of the following items as possible. Do not send originals to USCIS. You should prepare the wedding invitations, church certificates, or other reliable documents that show the required relationship including:

    * Joint bank accounts;
    * Joint credit card statements;
    * Joint club memberships;
    * Joint federal and state tax returns;
    * Copies of actual credit cards, health insurance cards, or other "joint" cards that you have together, showing same account number;
    * Photographs of you and your spouse taken before and during your marriage, wedding photographs preferably those that include parents and other relatives from both families.

11. A Suspect Marriage and Investigation of USCIS

The USCIS has the discretion to suspect and then accordingly to investigate a marriage that may bring immigration benefits to the aliens. If the USCIS has reasons to suspect that the marriage is a "sham marriage", the USCIS officers have the authority to investigate. Usually, the USCIS officers may visit the suspect couple at their residence, or visit their neighbors to investigate whether they reside together, share a household, or own property jointly, etc. 

Also, the USCIS officers may arrange interviews with the couple at their residence or at USCIS offices. In the interview, the USCIS officers may ask private questions regarding all aspects of their marital relationship, such as the brand of the other spouse's underwear or the favorite food, except those which are too offensively intrusive.

12. How to Prove a "Bona Fide" Marriage or Relationship for the Immigration Purpose

To obtain a U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card) based on marriage, the petitioner has to prove that the marriage is real or "bona fide". This means a marriage in which the two people intend, from the start, to establish a life together as husband and wife.

Although marriage can mean different things to different people, a marriage entered into for the sole purpose of getting the immigrant a U.S. Green Card is clearly not bona fide. It’s called a “sham” or “fraudulent” marriage.

Uncovering sham marriages is a top priority of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which believes that a high number of the marriage-based green card applications it receives are fraudulent. USCIS is well aware that some U.S. citizens accept money to marry a foreign-born person, and some even create illegal, organized services that arrange marriages between U.S. citizens and green card seeking foreign nationals.

The result is that, when it comes to deciding whether a marriage is "bona fide", USCIS will take a hard look, and expect the applicant to provide plenty of solid proof that their marriage is real. Below are some ways that you can prepare to supply the needed proof, including steps you can take far in advance.

    * make your spouse a beneficiary on your retirement account or other accounts that require or allow a payout to a beneficiary upon the holder’s death;

    *  make sure that both spouses are covered under your health insurance policy, if the other spouse doesn't have his or her own insurance;

    *  if you live together, add your spouse to your house deed, mortgage, or apartment lease;

    *  if you live together, add your spouse’s name to your garbage, utility, cable, and other bills;

    * take out a joint credit card;

    *  open a joint bank account;

    *  file joint tax returns;

    *  join a gym or club together.



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