USCIS recently released new guidance pertaining to I-130 marriage cases that directly impacts spousal petitions involving minors. Under the new guidelines, the agency will begin scheduling in-person interviews for I-130 petitions involving minor spouses. Ordinarily, the parties to an I-130 are normally interviewed during the adjustment of status stage or, if the case is abroad, the foreign national is questioned regarding the marital relationship at the visa interview. Now, however, USCIS will begin conducting interviews at an earlier stage, that is, at the time the I-130 is adjudicated. At the interview, the petitioner or parties will be expected to furnish evidence that the marital relationship is genuine. Such evidence is often referred to as the "bona fides" of the marriage and can include such things as joint financial accounts, leases, insurance policies, and any other relevant evidence tending to prove that the marriage was entered into in good faith and out of genuine motivations. USCIS will also be determining whether the marriage was legally performed and whether the marriage is not outlawed in the jurisdiction where the couple resides or intends to reside, even if the marriage was valid in the jurisdiction where it was originally performed. So, for example, one state or country may permit marriages by minors under certain circumstances while others don't. If the couple will live in a state that would not recognize the marriage if performed in that state, that might pose a substantive obstacle in getting the I-130 approved.
A few years ago, an internal USCIS fraud referral sheet was leaked online that provides incredibly useful insight into the adjudicatory process and just what types of factors officers are looking at. While the document appears to have been last updated in 2004, it references fraud "indicators" that are timelessly problematic. While the presence of one or more of these factors does not conclusively establish fraud, they are triggers that will likely expose a couple to heightened scrutiny, which can potentially evolve into a "Stokes Interview," site visit, investigation and possible prosecution. A married couple anticipating filing a case should be alert as to whether any of the following red flags applies to their situation. For I-130 family based petitions, the sheet references the following: