1. Remember the Burden is on You
It is vitally important to understand that the burden is on you to prove that you are in a bona fide relationship. You probably have friends or family members who got married and never merged their finances, got joint credit cards, took out a life insurance policy, or got on the same health insurance. Or maybe they took their time and did not take these steps for years. This is completely normal.
When you are applying for a spousal green card or a fiancé visa, you cannot afford to take your time. You need to take these steps as soon as you can so that you have documentation sufficient to prove that you are in a bona fide relationship. The most convincing evidence will be proof of financial co-dependence, although there is not one silver bullet that will alone prove that you are in a real relationship. You should plan to take all possible steps now to put yourself in a position where there is no question in the immigration officers mind that your relationship is real.
The immigration officer is not in a position where they must prove that you are committing immigration fraud. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. You are in a position where you must prove to the immigration officer that your relationship is real, and that you are not committing immigration fraud. You should keep this is in mind at the outset of your petition.
2. Focus on the Timeline of Relationship
The immigration officer will be interested in the timeline of your relationship. When did you meet? When did you start dating exclusively? Were you introduced by family, friends, was it an arranged marriage? The officer will want to know how the relationship started. You will then want to clarify when you decided to get married and what led to that decision.
It helps to draw out a short timeline of your relationship, to get the important dates solidified in your mind. Especially if your relationship has progressed over many years, it can be difficult to pick out a particular event and place a date on it. Thinking through when you met, when your relationship became more serious, and when you decided to take the next step and get married and writing it down on a piece of paper can help tremendously in preparing to show that you are in a bona fide relationship.
Once you have laid out the timeline of your relationship, you can better see your case from the eyes of the immigration officer and start to think about how to prove that you were in a real relationship throughout that time. Collect pictures from each point in the relationship, plane tickets or hotel reservations from the trip you took at that critical juncture in your relationship. Nail down exactly where you went and what you did on your first date. The human mind works chronologically, and even though that is not how you look at your relationship, for someone who is just learning about it, it helps to keep things chronological.
3. Produce Ample Supporting Documentation
Supporting documentation is unquestionably the most important aspect of proving that you are in a bona fide relationship. No matter how smoothly your interview goes, the immigration officer will need supporting documentation that shows your relationship is real. While every case is different, following are the most common and important documents you can collect to show you are in a bona fide relationship.
Proof of Joint Ownership or Lease of Real Property
It is obviously very helpful to prove that you have been living together and share joint financial responsibility for your home. This could be an apartment lease, sublease, mortgage statement, or deed to real property. What is important is that both of your names are listed on the document to show that you are sharing the responsibility for the financial burden of your home.
Joint Bank Accounts and Other Assets
You should plan to either become joint account holders or authorized users on all of your bank accounts. This is one of the strongest forms of documentation you can use to prove that you are in a bona fide relationship, as immigration assumes that if you were in a fraudulent marriage you would no trust each other with your assets. You should print out all of the bank statements since you became joint account holders, including the transactions, to show that money is actually moving in and out of the account. Other assets that are helpful to provide to immigration are proof of joint car ownership, stock or bond accounts, and that one spouse has made the other the beneficiary of a retirement account.
Joint Financial Responsibilities
Proof of shared financial responsibility is also helpful, such as shared car payments, utility bills, or cell phone bills. Proof that one spouse has been sending remittances to the other. Joint insurance, such as home, auto, life, and renter’s insurance. You should plan to become joint account holders on all of your credit cards and other lines of credit. You should also include joint tax returns from federal, state, and local government.
Proof of Shared Activities, Trips, Correspondence, Etc.
You should plan to produce photos from the length of your relationship. The most helpful photos are from trips you have taken, major life events, and with friends and family. The immigration officer is not interested in 20 selfies. You should also produce proof of trips such as plane tickets or hotel reservations. If you have been living apart or doing long distance, you should save and produce copies of your correspondence by email, WhatsApp, Viber, or Skype. A phone call log can also be helpful.
Letters from Friends or Family
Letters from friends and family, either that you have received in the past or that are prepared specifically for your petition are helpful. These could be letters of congratulation when you were engaged or married, holiday cards or emails, or a letter prepared explaining the timeline of your relationship and testifying to personal knowledge of the character of your relationship.
4. Make Things Easy on the Immigration Officer
The key in preparing and submitting your documents is to make it easy for the immigration officer to review your file. You should submit a large volume of documentation to show that you are in real relationship, but you want to keep the evidence organized and readable. You should create a cover letter to go along with your filing that numbers each of the documents you are submitting, and then create and add tabs to your filing so it is easy for the officer to go through your submission and find any particular piece of evidence.
5. Know When to Get Creative with Supporting Documents
Depending on the circumstances of your relationship, you may not have many of the supporting documents listed above. If you are living in different countries and applying for a fiancé visa or going through a spousal consular processing case, couples will typically not have joint bank accounts and credit card statements.
If you are lacking in documents proving financial co dependence, you should plan to produce as much as possible in the other categories. Make sure that pictures you send are relevant and useful to the officer, and make sure to produce as much proof of communication as possible. Most officers will conclude that a couple who speaks 3 times per day on WhatsApp and can produce 500 pages of printed communications over a six-month time span is not in a fake relationship. Make sure to provide affidavits from friends and family members.
Remember that there is no one silver bullet. It might be more difficult for you to produce documentation than a couple that has proof of financial co dependence. However, you can still prove that you are in a real relationship if you think creatively and are thorough in preparing your supporting documentation.