Many things in immigration and general law, when they have a weird name like Stokes, it’s based on a case.
The Stokes Interview is the name of the thing that is that secondary deep dive exploratory interview.
Often it’s rare that a couple will randomly get selected for a Stokes Interview, although it could happen.
If you get a notification that that’s happening, we would say that’s usually an indication that there’s a red flag in your case.
Definitely 100 percent never fail to get an attorney if you are doing a Stokes Interview or if you get called in for one, do not go alone to a Stokes Interview.
What happens is the couple will be separated and interviewed, but more like interrogated by an immigration officer.
The officers that they call in for these types of interviews are usually investigative types, they’re law enforcement minded, the people who are drawn to this type of work love to play busted, so you’re not going to get the friendly guy who wants to approve everybody in a Stokes Interview.
The structure of it is that they’re videotaped, and the couple will be separated and interviewed separately by the officer.
The attorney will be able to be in both of the interviews and that’s why we say have an attorney there because you’ve got someone who’s in both places who can speak up if the officer isn’t asking the questions properly, and that is a thing.
We were looking back through one of our own Stokes Interview notes that happened earlier this year, and the officer was accusing our clients of lying, because one of the questions was how did you communicate with each other when you were not living together, and one person said Whatsapp, and the other person said their phone.
The officer was accusing them of having a discrepancy, so it’s really important to have someone there to clarify when there’s an accusation of a discrepancy because that’s what they’re looking for, they’re looking for differing answers between the couple.
How To Know When You’re About To Get A Stokes Interview?
Typically the way it should work is that the couple will already go to their interview, and then, they get called back, it can be the same day and it can be sprung on people.
Because these interviews are so rare we can’t give a lot of data, but about 50 percent of the time you know, and the other half you don’t.
Less than one percent of applications go through the Stokes Interview but you’re supposed to get a notification that that’s what you’re going in for.
Why do people go into the Stokes Interview? When they get pulled into this, it’s usually because there’s a red flag or there’s some fraud.
Maybe the petitioner, the U.S citizen spouse, or the permanent resident spouse has already petitioned for like three or four other immigrants, there’s a pattern developing here, or they suspect that there’s some sort of fraud ring going on there.
We’ve seen cases where notarios were supplying people with fake marriage documents that were never registered with the county, and eventually what will happen is that immigration will start catching on to that a lot of people are submitting the same type of documents.
Then, they’ll start before they crack down on everyone, investigating and gathering information, and it could also be just that there’s something curious about this pair, it could be a major age difference, although that’s more and more common going both directions between genders.
We’ve also seen cases where the husband was an immigrant from a devoutly Muslim country, and the wife was from a southern baptist family, and they’re both still practicing their religion. How does that work?
There are other cases when they don’t speak the same language like neither of them speaks the language of the other, and that could be the trigger.
More often than not, it’s something in the file that indicates fraud, and so that’s why we say if you get notification of a Stokes Interview, the number one action is to call your lawyer if you have one, if not you can call us and we can help look at the file and see because what we want to do is dig in and figure out what are they suspecting here, what’s going on before you get to the interview so you’re prepared.
Divorce & Stokes Interview
Sometimes people never finalized their previous divorce, they have initiated a new one but didn’t get the final stamp. Sometimes people know that they didn’t get divorced, and they obtained fake divorce documents.
There are several countries where it can be very difficult to get these documents. There are a lot of countries where there’s a high amount of corruption and fraud within the Government, and U.S Immigration knows about that.
For example, Nigeria is a country where if an immigrant from there is applying, and they have had a previous marriage, the immigration agency USCIS is going to dig into that.
Rightly or wrongly it’s the reality, so just understanding which country you come from, and how those countries’ documents are typically viewed by immigration.
This happens if you are from a country that gets a higher level of suspicion by immigration officers doing an extra special deep dive review of those documents and making sure they’re all legitimate because that’s the kind of thing you want to catch before you turn it into immigration.
Once they have something in their hands that is fraudulent, it’s really difficult to climb back out of that hole with them because they assume that the applicant was involved in the fraud, and they knew all about it even if you didn’t.
Can I Go To The Stokes Interview Alone?
Often we talk about this, and a lot of people say: Well, I can look online and research how to fill out the forms and go to the interview. Yes, true, and this is a very big deal for most of the people who are going through the process, and that’s why we think it’s a wise investment to get an attorney who attends the interview with you because not all immigration lawyers include that service.
Even in clean and easy cases, it’s just a good idea to have an attorney go with you to the interview.
There’s nothing like the peace of mind when someone’s sitting there waiting with you in the waiting room, they’ve told you what documents to bring, they’ve reviewed them, they make sure everything’s in the file, they’re sitting there next to you throughout the whole process just to bring some sort of calm to what can be a very stressful process.
Giving False Information At An Interview
Typically the way that this has gone down in our experience is that things go badly between the couple, and then, the U.S citizen or permanent resident spouse is upset, and they feel like they got duped, whether or not they did.
They feel like they got tricked by this immigrant into filing for the Green Card, and it was all about the immigration status, and it wasn’t about love.
When they feel like this thing is falling apart, they will often try to tell immigration that the whole thing was a fraud and that the immigrant was just tricking them the whole time.
They can sometimes tell other stuff like that the divorce decree was false or whatever other document was false.
We’ve heard this a lot from petitioners when the relationship breaks down, and that definitely will have an impact on the immigrant when that information gets to immigration.
We had a client where that case went down and it was a valid marriage, it just didn’t work out, the citizen’s spouse was very upset about it, and submitted a written affidavit about the whole thing being a fraud.
The immigrant got put into deportation proceedings and didn’t have enough time in the U.S or other relatives to defend themselves, and that person ended up getting deported, so that can go down.
One thing we will say is that we talk about VAWA a lot, the Violence Against Women Act, and it’s something to keep in mind, that an immigrant who has been subjected to cruelty in their relationship can file for their own Green Card under VAWA.
Once you file a VAWA application, immigration is no longer able to receive information from the abuser, they literally cannot take their phone call, and they cannot take their information, it’s prohibited by statute.
If you’re in a situation as an immigrant, where the relationship’s breaking down and the petitioner is threatening you to call immigration, act as fast as you can by filing a VAWA application.
If it’s a true case of cruelty you can file, it doesn’t have to be physical violence, it can be emotional violence, financial abuse, or controlling behavior.
If you’re in that situation, file a VAWA application, that will protect you from having their claim that the whole thing was fraudulent.
How To Prepare For A Stokes Interview?
If you’re not in a valid marriage you cannot prepare for a Stokes Interview because there’s no list of questions, and the officers are the investigative type ones, they can ask anything they want, and they’re going to ask all sorts of random questions.
If you Google what to expect in a Stokes Interview, you’ll find yourself with lots of articles where you can get themes.
Here’s a list:
- How did you meet?
- Where did you go on your first date?
- How many bedrooms do you have in your home?
We’ve seen people being asked to draw a diagram of the furniture set up in their bedroom that they share.
- Who cleans the house?
- On what days is the garbage picked up?
- Who pays the bills? Do you pay online? Do you write checks?
- How many windows do you have in your home?
- What kind of curtains do you have?
- Who wakes up first?
- Where do you go to work?
- Which car do you drive?
- What’s the work schedule?
- Who sets the alarm clock?
- What are your pets?
- Where did you buy your furniture?
- How many televisions do you have?
- How many cars?
- What’s your cell phone plan? Do you have a shared cell phone plan?
- What music do you listen to?
- What kind of appliances do you have?
- What do you drink in the morning?
- How often do you eat out?
This is one we’ve seen a lot:
- Where do you keep your toothbrush?
- What color is your husband’s toothbrush?
What Happens If You Get A Wrong Answer At A Stokes Interview?
We would say on the front end, try not to do that. Everybody gets nervous before an interview, and the key thing is when you’re nervous.
Do the things that you know would help you regulate. Get up early, go for a walk, do some breathing exercises, don’t drink too much coffee, and pay attention to taking care of yourself going into this process.
When you’re sitting in the interview and you’re panicking, then, take a moment. It’s okay to say that you’re feeling nervous right now because this matters so much to you, and you need to just take a minute to breathe, you need to go to the restroom, and you need to take a break.
Before you blurt, handle yourself. If you get in a situation where you have blurted something, as quickly as you can, say: You know what, I don’t think that was right, I am remembering that it was something different, or, I just said that but the truth is I don’t remember. As quickly as you can, obviously not after you’ve been called out on the discrepancy do it beforehand.
Is There Any Type Of Evidence That I Should Bring To The Stokes Interview?
It could be that you’ve been called to this interview because you didn’t submit enough evidence, and we often have to supplement evidence at the interview.
We like to submit a lot of good faith marriage evidence with our application because although you only need the required things to get it through the mail room, and through the process, when that officer opens up your folder the morning of the interview, they pull it out, and they flip through it, they’re deciding, they’re forming an opinion before they ever even lay eyes on you before they walk out in that waiting room and call you in.
Try not to wait until a Stokes Interview to gather all your evidence, do it before your first interview. Ideally, when you submit your application.
How Long Do The Stokes Interviews Take?
It normally takes hours. One of the attorneys at our office was talking about an interview she had that was four hours long, and this was with someone who had a shared child.
There were lots of complicating factors in that one, but generally, they all are exhausting, so you gotta be ready emotionally and mentally.
That’s why we say that part about taking care of yourself, getting sleep the night before, making sure you’re rested, you’ve had a good breakfast, and you’ve taken care of your body and your mind before you go into this gauntlet.
Bring an energy bar, that kind of thing, bring a water bottle, and just try to be as chill as possible that day.
The USCIS Is Looking For A Reason To Deny You
You are being interrogated and the officer usually is looking to deny you, it’s not a friendly person.
When you’ve gotten yourself into a Stoke’s Interview territory, you are fighting a battle, you’re defending yourself, and these interviews sometimes get ridiculous.
That’s why you want to have an attorney with you in both of these places, so they can point that stuff out and make the record while it’s happening.
If there’s a denial or an appeal or all of that, we can later reference these things.
Does A Stokes Interview Still Happen If Your Partner Doesn’t Know English?
Of course, it’s just like any other immigration situation. In the specific case of the immigration agency USCIS, if you don’t speak English you’re expected to bring your translator.
We don’t typically do that with Spanish because most of the officers speak Spanish.
If it’s some other language, we would say, yes, bring your translator to the Stokes Interview because it’s still happening, and you have to attend even if you don’t speak English.
If My Marriage Is Fraudulent, Can I Continue My Immigration Process?
You can stop your immigration case, at Lincoln-Goldfinch Law Firm we would advise that you don’t ever do that, don’t ever do fake marriage for a Green Card, it’s a criminal offense and it can hurt everybody, petitioner and beneficiary forever.
It’s not a good idea if you’ve done it, you know people doing it, or you’re thinking about it, it’s because someone else you know did it, and they got through it.
Just remember the longer time goes on, the more information is out there, and we’re talking about a federal agency that has access to all sorts of law enforcement federal records that we don’t even know about, but they can at the click of a button access FBI, DHS; all sorts of records about you.
If you’ve done it, stop it as soon as you can, because if you wait till the Stokes Interview and you panic, that’s the moment to do it.
If you’ve just mailed your application, this is the moment to do it, you can submit a withdrawal letter. If you’ve just applied, and you submit a withdrawal notice, it’s probably not going to trigger any investigation.
If you’ve already been invited to a Stokes Interview and you withdraw, you’re probably going to be investigated by HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) and they’re probably going to look into that.
Depending on what they have on you (which would be the reason for the Stokes Interview) they may pursue you or not.
It’s all about withdrawing. It is not necessarily going to save you but it’s always preferable to continuing the fraud.
What Happens If I Don’t Pass The Stokes Interview?
We haven’t had any denial cases in the Stokes Interview with any of our clients recently, so our guess is you’d get the denial, and you’d have a window of time to reopen or to appeal.
Usually in the world of immigration, there are different types of appeal options, depending on the type of case but it’s always a really quick turnaround.
The minute you get a decision, if you haven’t had an attorney yet so far, pick up the phone and call the attorney, because most attorneys, ourselves included, to do a good job for you, need as much time as possible on your case.
How Long Does The Process Take?
For example, the San Antonio processing time on the I-485 is something that you always want to check online and see what they’re saying.
We compare that with our anecdotal experience, and most of our clients are in Central Texas but we can represent people all over the world. The San Antonio field office is taking about a year, and that’s what their system says, 80 percent of the cases are completed within 11 months. It’s a pretty quick turnaround right now.
A lot of offices of different timelines, Houston, for example, can take a while on cases like these, so it’s always worth checking the USCIS processing time website, and you’re going to enter your form number which is the I-485, that’s the marriage-based Green Card application, and then, your field office where you will be interviewed, for Waco, Austin, you’re going to go to San Antonio.
That’s a Non-Stokes Interview timeline, that’s assuming no complications.
If you’re gonna have a Stokes Interview, it’s probably gonna add a few months to the process because you go to that second interview.