Chris Blattman

Green card interview bleg

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Jeannie and I go for our green card interview on Tuesday morning. I’ve applied through marriage, and so we need to prove that our union is a true one. The wedding and vacation photos, joint accounts, and other documents are gathered in neat little folders on my desk.

Now, normally you’d think a Canadian professor with a job and a work visa wouldn’t be a big worry to the INS. Plus I’m interviewing in Connecticut and not Arizona. But Jeannie quizzed me the other day, and it turns out (1) I have no idea what color her toothbrush is, (2) I overestimated how long we have been married, and (3) we live in different cities and  have different last names

Also, if you squint, you could mistake us for Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. This bodes ill. I could be blogging from Canada on Wednesday.

Has anyone been through one of these interviews? I’m curious what to expect. There is also the worry that the INS agent could get up on the wrong side of bed, having eaten a bad poutine the night before, prepared to inflict his cheese curdled fury on his meek neighbor to the north.

20 Responses

  1. All the best for your interview. Be confident, you will not have any problem. Immigration people know what questions are answerable and what not… they are not going to ask you color of toothbrush or things like that. there will some genuine questions which you will be able to answer easily and with all the confidence as you are legally married.

  2. My husband (a French citizen) and I went through the green card process just about a year ago. From start to finish, it took approximately two months and was far less painful than I anticipated, and we didn’t use an immigration attorney. At the time of our interview, I was in Chicago and my husband was in Pittsburgh; our interviewer raised an eyebrow at our different addresses, but was satisfied with our explanation (jobs had taken us to separate cities, but we had set plans to both be in Chicago by the fall). The whole interview took about 20 minutes and there were no trick questions. She basically wanted to hear the story of how we met, got married, etc. (which is easy enough to tell!). Be sure to bring documentation that shows both your and your spouse’s names (sounds like you’ve already got it prepared) and good luck!

  3. As an immigration attorney who prepares people for and accompanies them to these interviews as part of my job, I do think you will probably be just fine. Most officers see a highly educated professional with his paperwork in order and will just go through the basics and might even be a bit star-struck to be sitting with a professor. Maybe just a few questions to make sure they are getting the right vibe. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared because every Immigration office has at least one of those officers that will try to find anything to pick on and will make you feel like a liar and/or a criminal. If you are unlucky enough to get such an officer, an attorney can help keep him/her in line, but you can still get through on your own. Just keep calm and be yourselves and ask for a supervisor if you think the officer is being unreasonable or asks you for additional evidence that doesn’t seem like it should be required. If you don’t get a decision that day and do get asked to submit additional evidence to prove the validity of your marriage, you might want to consult with an attorney at that point to make sure you give them what they are looking for and avoid any further complications.

  4. We didn’t have an interview as a couple, but when he went for his fiance visa interview alone, my German husband was asked offhand whether he’d visited my mom in Las Vegas, which was a trick question, since it’s my dad who lives in Las Vegas. He pointed out that he had visited my mom in Portland, not Vegas, and apparently passed the test. Point being, it’s quite simple for them to see a real bond between two people, and I wouldn’t stress too much about it. Good luck!

    Also a comment on experiences with INS vs USCIS – not to discount others’ experiences, and definitely not to give any praise to an inefficient government agency, but I do believe the processes have improved significantly. I doubt you have much to worry about.

    And one more thing – when people buy toothbrushes, they buy different colors every time! But I’ll admit I loved the movie nonetheless :-)

  5. My parents went through this process in the 1970s. Both were born in Ecuador, but my mother emigrated to the US when she was young, became a naturalized citizen and, after a wild visit to the homeland, met and later imported my father.

    The immigration officials they saw in the US originally thought it was a sham marriage. They separated my parents into different rooms, and asked my mother if she really, honestly loved my father. She started crying, and rambling on about how they would be okay living in Canada, or another country that wouldnt persecute them for their love. Long story short, her genuine tears seemed to convince the officials that she really was in love with the scruffy, sideburned chap in the room next door.

    You’ll be fine. If all else fails, though, bring on the waterworks.

  6. Chris,

    I call myself a “love-exile” but fortunately things have been a lot easier in Northern Europe if you are not Pakistani and not planning to marry one of your cousins before you turn 18.

    Everything is possible with US immigration officers, just keep in mind that history is made of many versions that can sound totally different at times. I sincerely hope the officer have some historical perspective to undesrtand that you and Jeannie are just telling the two sides of a love story….

    Hei Steve, the boatloads someone told you about are history now, time have passed and things changed. The US government, like any other government, deserves to be mocked by whoever has a reason, personal or not, to do it, or just by any one who just feels like doing it. It is the fun of democracy you know, we make fun of governments with or without reason. Are you the guardian of the US government image or you just lack sense of humor?

    Good luck Chris

  7. I think you have an unreasonably low opinion of America’s openness to immigrants. We’ve been taking immigrants by the boatload for two centuries and helping them escape from poverty. Wouldn’t this be a lot more difficult in Europe, or Canda for that matter?

    I agree that it’s nice to mock the government, but you come off like you WANT to be pidgeonholed as an America-bashing liberal elite.

  8. God, you scare me.

    I’m marrying my Czech girlfriend next year, and we’re rather concerned that if I get a sudden job in the US that she wouldn’t be able to join me for over a year. Or even more. Hate hate hate.

  9. Based solely on personal experience, I’d save the money on the lawyer too. My French wife and my interview was pretty easy. They looked at our house keys to see if they matched, asked some benign questions, and the whole thing took half an hour at most. At one point they asked if I carried a photo of my wife in my wallet. I told them I didn’t carry a wallet. They asked if I carried a photo anyway. I said, “where, in my sock?” They laughed, but I do not recommend this. Carry a photo in your wallet.

  10. There’s no need to hire a lawyer. My wife and I went to the interview in the Northern California area expecting the worst. We furiously tried to memorize any/all of the most mundane facts about each other. The interview was a breeze though. Providing enough evidence in the form of pictures (especially pictures with your extended family, wedding pictures, etc…) and joint documents was all that you needed. The interviewer barely asked any questions and merely just checked through our application to make sure everything was properly filled out.

    For more information, we found the forum at to be incredibly helpful. Good luck and congratulations!

  11. My Canadian wife and I had a disagreement over something during our interview. As we were arguing away, the INS official said “Stop! You guys are married!”

  12. My Indian husband and I went through one – we too had different last names & were living in different cities at the time. I agree with the other commenters that having an immigration lawyer can ease the process – ours took care of all the paperwork, accompanied us to the interview, and so forth. I suppose hiring a lawyer is a good signal to INS that you’re serious about the green card…

    Our two questions were “Did you meet in college?” and (to my husband) “Have you met her family?” – to which we replied “yes” and “yes, and here’s some pictures”. That was it – other than the standard questions they are required to ask the person seeking the green card, like “Have you ever been a member of the Nazi Party?” or “Have you ever committed acts of genocide?” or “Have you entered this country to commit espionage?”. Because, of course, if you’ve done any of that, the US wants to make sure you don’t get a green card.

  13. Lawyer is a good idea. Also, consider taking along a friend (US citizen) who has known you for some time as a married couple. My wife and I were once witnesses for a fellow PhD student and his wife. The agent asked us how long had we known the couple, did they live together, and perhaps another question or so and that was it.

  14. My Canadian husband and I went through our interview a few years back, but in San Diego. We also have different last names and had lived apart for 2 years. The interview was not memorable in any way. Of course, it didn’t hurt that our 1 year old daughter was bouncing on my knee wanting to be held by Daddy. Can you find a baby?

  15. In our interview we’d gone through almost the entire process, There had been no probing questions at all, the guy seemed just focused on processing the paperwork. But then when he was almost done he stopped, looked up seriously and said he had just one question: “Whose voice is on your phone answering machine?”
    We were both stumped. Perhaps under I’d have been able to answer the question under normal circumstances but the question came so unexpectedly that it knocked us both off guard. I tried to remain calm but I felt a slow rising panic. The officer took one serious look at us, then stared down as he shuffled through our papers. Eventually he slowly raised his head to stare at again with a serious concerned look but then broke into a wide grin, stood the papers up in a neat pile and said “it doesn’t matter!, you guys are done here!”

  16. I’ve been through this in a similar low-risk, should be open and shut case way.

    I have one piece of advice. Hire a lawyer. You can get an immigration attorney for a few hundred dollars. (Ours filed, did all the paperwork, and accompanied us for $700 flat-rate in Washington DC). The lawyer walks in with you, smooths the process, and keeps the agent from “having a bad day”. Totally worth it as insurance and as a signal that you are serious.

    The agent looked at the stack of stuff, asked when we met and what her birthday was, and we were out in 5 minutes.

    But we were the only couple at the office that day working with a lawyer.

    Also, you should know that just because the interview is done, you aren’t finished. There is lots of processing and a probationary period ahead.

  17. My mother made a funny comment the other day, after she askeed me to do some grocery and toiletries shopping for her and could not remember the name of her deodorant and facial cream, nor the name of the cereal she likes. She said: ‘I’d fail my own Green card interview’.
    I think they would not expect you to know the colour of her toothbrush. And men are not expected to notice things like that :-)
    I’m sure you’ll be fine.

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