A stokes interview is when a husband and wife are separated from each other and asked a series of personal and intrusive questions, such as what is the color of their shower curtains.
Contrary to what is depicted in the movies or on television, the Immigration Service does not always and automatically put a couple through this grueling ordeal. When an individual sponsors his or her spouse for permanent residence (green card), the Immigration Service will schedule them for an interview to determine if the marriage was entered into in good faith. At this first interview, the husband and wife are not separated from each other, and the interview usually lasts about half an hour. The questions asked at this interview are usually straightforward and not too invasive. If the Immigration Officer is satisfied that the marriage is a genuine one, he or she will approve the green card application.
What Happens If You Are “Stoked”?
Only after an Immigration Officer is not convinced of the bona fides of a marriage will a couple will be referred to a secondary interview, known as a “Stokes” interview. It is during this second interview that an Immigration Officer will question the husband and wife separately.
So what can one expect at the Stokes interview? First, dress comfortably, because the interview will last a long time! Depending on the examiner, a Stokes interview can take up to four and a half hours. This does not include the time spent waiting to be called for the interview, which can be as long as several hours. Second, be prepared to be asked intimate details about your life with your spouse. Although examiners are not supposed to ask private or embarrassing questions, they have been known to push the envelope. The interview will start with the examiner administering an oath to the husband and wife that they will answer all questions truthfully. After being sworn in, the examiner will ask the couple whether they wish to submit documentary proof of their life together as husband and wife. You bring with you as much proof of your marital relationship, including copies of joint tax returns, joint bank account statements, joint bills (utility bills, credit card bills, etc.), joint insurance (health, life, car, etc.), joint lease agreements or joint deeds to any property you may own together, and photographs of you two together, with family and friends.
After collecting these documents, the examiner will escort one spouse out into the waiting area and then begin questioning the other spouse (there is no particular order as to who will be interviewed first). It should be noted that the entire interview is taped, so that a record of proceedings is created on which the examiner will base his or her decision. This taped record of proceedings is also important in case the couple does not agree with the officer’s decision and wishes to file an appeal (see below for more details).
So what kind of questions are asked at the Stokes interview, you may wonder? Expect the questions to be much more extensive and in-depth than those posed at the initial adjustment interview. The examiner’s questions will delve into the minute details of a couple’s daily lives. You would be surprised at how personal and seemingly trivial or insignificant the questions can be. Some of the questions that I have heard posed at Stokes interviews include:
- Who woke up first this morning – you or your spouse?
- Did your spouse have breakfast this morning? What did he or she eat?
- What side of the bed does your spouse sleep on?
- How many drawers are there in your chest?
- What time did your spouse go to sleep last night?
- What did you and your spouse have for dinner last night?
- What subway train did you take to come to the interview? From what station?
After the examiner is finished questioning the spouses individually, he or she will call both the husband and wife back into the office. If there are any discrepancies any of the answers, the examiner will give the couple a chance to explain or clarify. The examiner usually will not render a decision on the petition immediately after the interview, but will probably want to compare the answers for consistency and review any joint documents submitted. Hopefully, if the examiner is satisfied that there is sufficient proof that the marriage was entered into in good faith, he or she will approve the petition.
What happens if the petition is denied?
If the immigration examiner denies your petition but you believe that the decision was made in error, you may appeal that decision by filing Form EOIR-29 Notice of Appeal. Should you wish to file an appeal, it is highly recommended that you consult an immigration attorney, as the appeal will require a close review and analysis of the taped record of proceedings. Moreover, the deadline to appeal is very short – the notice of appeal must be received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services no later than 15 calendar days from the date of the denial decision (or 18 days if the decision was mailed). The short deadline is sometimes exacerbated by the fact that the officer’s decision is not always mailed out the same day as the date of the decision. Therefore, it is crucial that you save the envelope in which the decision is mailed, in order to preserve your time to file the appeal.