What Time-Sensitive Steps You Must Take
Receiving a green card, which confers lawful permanent residency, represents a major step in any immigrant’s journey to live and work in the United States. A person with lawful permanent residency can apply for employment, remain in the country so long as their green card is valid, and, after a mandatory waiting period, move to become a permanent U.S. citizen.
One popular way to pursue a green card is through marrying a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Obtaining a green card through marriage can be a protracted process, as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) goes to great lengths to ensure the union is legitimate. There is a pervasive fear of fraud throughout the process, so you and your spouse will be required to provide ample evidence proving the authenticity of your marriage. You will also have to undergo an in-person interview with USCIS officials.
Should your efforts be successful, you will finally receive your green card. However, if you were more recently married, you will receive a conditional green card. Any spouse to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident that was married for 2 years or less at the time of beginning the application process will receive the conditional green card.
Nonconditional green cards have 10-year terms that can generally be easily renewed. Conditional green cards are given because USCIS institutionally places younger marriages under increased scrutiny. The agency is attempting to identify fraudulent marriages that dissolve after lawful permanent residency is granted.
Of course, it is only natural that newlyweds would want to expediently move to settle immigration matters after marriage, but regardless, careful steps will need to be taken to remove conditions and avoid any unintended consequences. Below, we review the process for removing conditions on your green card, including in extenuating circumstances.
Why You Must Remove Conditions On-Time
The good news is that a conditional green card has nearly all the same benefits as a nonconditional green card. Beneficiaries will still be able to apply for work permits, travel in and out of the country, and live where they please.
The only substantial difference between conditional and nonconditional green cards is the rate in which they expire. Conditional green cards will expire after 2 years of their issuing, and compared to nonconditional green cards, the renewal process is more involved. Once conditions are successfully removed, though, conditional green cards become nonconditional, meaning they have 10-year validity periods.
If you fail to remove conditions on your green card, it will expire after the 2-year period. Should this occur, you (at least temporarily) lose your status in the United States, which makes you susceptible to removal proceedings and deportation. You will likely also start accruing unlawful presence, which can make you inadmissible to the country in the future. If your conditional green card has already expired, you should immediately contact qualified legal representation for advice on how to proceed.
Filing Form I-751 On-Time
In order to formally remove conditions and keep your green card from expiring, you will need to file Form I-751, the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, with USCIS. Form I-751 must be filed within 90 days of your conditional green card’s expiration.
The importance of timing in filing Form I-751 should be emphasized. If you apply too early, your petition will be automatically rejected, and you will need to file again. If you file too late – without a sufficient excuse for your tardiness – you risk accruing unlawful presence and other consequences.
For example, say your conditional green card expires on July 31, 2021. The first day you will be able to successfully submit Form I-751 is May 2, 2021. The last day you can submit is the date of expiration.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you are filing Form I-751 after your conditional green card’s expiration, you will need to provide an additional written letter explaining the lateness. USCIS is not obligated to accept late submissions but may do so if there were “extraordinary” circumstances beyond your control that only resulted in a “reasonable” level of delay. This might include a debilitating injury that kept you in the hospital throughout your 90-day window, for example.
Completing Form I-751
Form I-751 includes several sections that must be completed in full. Assuming you are still married to your spouse, the petition will need to be completed jointly with them. (There are some scenarios where you can still successfully apply to remove conditions, which we will discuss more below.)
Form I-751 requires the following information:
- Personal information about the applicant. This includes your name, mailing address, Alien Registration number, and USCIS online account number.
- Biographic details. You will need to provide information about your physical appearance, including ethnicity, height, weight, and eye color.
- Basis for petition. For most marriages, you will formally acknowledge you are filing the petition jointly. If extenuating circumstances prevent this from occurring, you will indicate why.
- Information about the sponsoring party. You will also need to include some basic identifying details about the individual who sponsored your green card. This will in most circumstances be your spouse. You will also need to provide basic information about any minor children you have.
- Requests for accommodations. If you are disabled, you must specifically explain your impairment and request accommodation from USCIS, in advance. This will become important during your interview with USCIS agents.
- Signatures. If you are filing jointly, but you and your spouse will provide signatures confirming all of the enclosed information is accurate and truthful.
- Preparer or interpreter acknowledgments. If a lawyer or interpreter helped you complete any part of the form, their information must be included.
In addition to the contents of Form I-751, lawful permanent residents seeking to remove conditions on their green card will also have to submit a wealth of supporting documentation. Remember, the primary point of the process is to root out marriage fraud, so much of this supplementary material will be in service of proving the continuing legitimacy of your marriage.
Since you have already provided evidence supporting your marriage to obtain your initial green card, you should attempt to submit additional evidence USCIS has not yet reviewed. Ideally, you will have newer evidence showing the growth of the marriage over the past 2 years. This might include documentation supporting children you had together, photos of trips you recently took, or proof of new joint accounts.
If you are not filing jointly, you will instead submit information that supports why you are filing alone. Other elements you will have to provide include information about any criminal record and copies of your current green card.
Situations Where You Can File Form I-751 Without Your Spouse
If your spouse is no longer in the picture when it comes time to remove conditions, you may still be able to successfully complete the process without them. Submitting Form I-751 non-jointly requires additional paperwork and will likely be closely examined by USCIS officials.
Situations where you can remove conditions without your spouse include:
- You and your spouse divorced. Despite concerns about marriage fraud, it is possible to remove conditions in the aftermath of a divorce. You will still need to prove that the marriage was legitimate and entered in good faith. It can also be helpful to submit evidence indicating you took steps to save the marriage. If a divorce is finalized prior to your green card expiring, you can submit Form I-751 at any time before its termination. You do not need to wait for the 90-day window to open.
- Your spouse was abusive.There are situations where your spouse may become abusive and refuse to sign Form I-751, in effect “trapping” you. If you can provide evidence of the abuse, including photos of physical injuries and copies of restraining orders, you may still be able to remove conditions without their participation.
- Your spouse died. Should your spouse pass away prior to your being able to remove conditions, you will be permitted to submit Form I-751 at any time prior to your green card’s expiration. You will need to include proof of death and evidence that you were together in the time before they passed.
There are some very limited situations where conditional green card holders can maintain status if removal would result in “extreme hardship,” even if your marriage has ended. This approach does not necessarily require that you engaged in an authentic marriage and only focuses on whether deporting you would indeed result in the hardship you are claiming. “Extreme hardship” is tremendously difficult to prove, especially in situations involving marriage green cards. Decisions will center on events that have occurred since you entered your marriage, such as sociopolitical imperiling your home country.
What Happens After Submitting Form I-751
Given the small window of time in which you can submit Form I-751, you might be worried that you will not receive a response before your green card expires. USCIS will promptly send you Form I-797 upon receipt of your petition that extends your lawful permanent residency. In other words, so long as you submit Form I-751 on-time, your conditional green card will not expire until a decision has been reached.
Next comes what is likely to be a lengthy waiting period while USCIS processes your application. During this time, you are permitted to continue living and working in the United States. At any point, USCIS can reach out requesting additional evidence or documentation.
Eventually, you will be summoned for a biometrics appointment to procure updated fingerprints. Following this, your in-person interview with USCIS officials will be scheduled.
This follow-up interview will be fundamentally similar to the interview conducted when you were first pursuing lawful permanent residency. If you and your spouse are still married, you will attend the interview together. The USCIS agent will ask questions about your petition and marriage. Should they be satisfied that the marriage is genuine, they will approve your request to remove conditions.
From here, you need only wait for your nonconditional green card to arrive in the mail. This green card will have a validity period of 10 years, and the process for renewing it is much simpler. Note that should you be interested in pursuing U.S. citizenship, your 2 years under a conditional green card will also count toward your naturalization mandatory waiting period.
We Can Help You Remove Conditions on Your Green Card
For over a decade, Gambacorta Law has helped immigrants pursue their American dream. We are familiar with the procedures involved in efficiently removing conditions on marriage-based green cards and can help you through the sometimes-confusing process. Our lawyer knows how to navigate extenuating circumstances that can complicate removal of conditions and is prepared to help you overcome any obstacles you may encounter.
If you need assistance removing conditions on your green card, call (847) 443-9303 or contact us online to schedule a comprehensive consultation.