The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new guidance for adjudicating officers processing a Form I-130 spousal petition involving a minor party. Now, those petitions involving a minor party will require an initial interview as a part of the early stages of the Form I-130 adjudication.
From April 12th, 2019 on, all Form I-130 spousal petitions with a petitioner or beneficiary under the age of 16 years old will require an interview in the early stages. Those petitioners or beneficiaries seeking a spousal petition aged 16 or 17 will additionally be flagged for an initial interview if there is a 10 year or more age difference between the spouses. While there is no minimum age requirement for a spousal petition in the Immigration and Nationality Act, USCIS notes that the service will now consider these petitions with greater scrutiny given the unfortunate circumstances often surrounding child marriage. In many countries and areas around the United States, marriage is permitted before the age of 18 given specific requirements are met. The new initial interview process will ensure that the circumstances of the marriage were both legal and voluntary.
Circumstances Considered in case of Child Marriage
When adjudicating a spousal petition with at least one minor petitioner or beneficiary, USCIS adjudicating officers will now consider the following:
- Whether the marriage, at the place of celebration (e.g. country, municipality, etc.), was permissible under the local law;
- Whether the marriage is valid under the current legislation of the couple’s present or understood state of residence, as filed in their Form I-130;
- Whether the marriage conflicts with current public policy;
- And, whether the marriage is legitimate under immigration guidelines.
This backstop will now help to ensure that all Form I-130 petitions are submitted without coercion or abuse of minor parties. In a statement, the Director of USICIS, L. Francis Cissna emphasized the Service’s dedication to additional scrutiny for spousal petitions involving minors, noting that the duty now falls upon Congress to provide “more clarity under the law” for USCIS adjudicating officers. Given the absence of federal law restricting the age of petitioners or beneficiaries seeking spousal immigration benefits, USCIS officers must assess these petitions on a case by case basis.
USCIS does however, have the power to issue a request for evidence (RFE), which largely places the responsibility of proving a bona fide relationship to the petitioners for cases involving child marriage. Regardless, all petitions filed with a minor party are automatically flagged in the electronic system. USCIS then is alerted if a minor spouse or fiancé is involved in a Form I-130 petition. If the birthdate of a spouse was incorrectly filed, petitioners will have the opportunity to correct the mistake.