Conditional Permanent Residency, Explained
If you’ve just gotten your marriage-based green card, you might be surprised to find out that your green card is “conditional,” and is only valid for two years.
Not to worry! If you and your spouse had been married for less than two years at the time your green card was approved, your green card will be “conditional,” and only valid for two years. After two years, you’ll once again need to prove that your marriage is real, and then you’ll be able to get a “permanent” green card (valid for 10-year renewable periods).
Every marriage-based green card applicant who has been married for less than two years receives a conditional green card, also known as "conditional permanent residency." It has nothing to do with how much proof of a valid relationship you and your spouse provided or how convinced U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is that you have a genuine marriage. It does, however, mean that there is one more step to becoming a permanent green card holder.
Here’s what you need to know if you have conditional permanent residency…
History of Conditional Permanent Residency
Marriage fraud has been a concern in U.S. immigration law ever since family ties—and especially marriages—became one of the primary ways to immigrate to the United States. In 1986, the precursor to USCIS estimated that one in three marriages between a U.S. citizen and a foreign national were fraudulent. That same year, Congress began enacting tougher requirements for marriage-based green cards, and introduced the "conditional green card" as part of the effort to deter sham marriages.
As it turns out, the estimate that a third of couples who apply for marriage-based green cards got married solely for immigration reasons was grossly exaggerated. The agency revised its estimates downward, saying that only 8 percent of marriage-based green card applications are fraudulent. Less than one percent of marriage-based green card applications are denied for fraud.
Conditional green cards for relative newlyweds have remained, even though the concerns about fraud that led to their introduction were overstated. They give USCIS another chance to revisit the authenticity of your relationship and ensure that you have a genuine, or "bona fide," marriage.
What to do if you have conditional permanent residency
If you or your spouse has conditional permanent residency, you’ll need to file Form I-751, the "Petition to Remove Conditions," so that you can get a permanent green card. Here are some of the most important things to remember:
- The timing is important. You'll need to file your I-751 during the 90-day window before your conditional permanent residency expires. Your application will be returned if it’s filed too early, or denied if it’s filed late—and if you can’t show any extenuating circumstances to explain why the application is late.
- The Form I-751 is a joint petition. Both spouses will need to complete the form together, and both spouses need to sign the form.
- You’ll need to include additional evidence that your marriage is real. USCIS expects that since you’ve now been married for two years longer, you’ll have new photos together, new joint financial documentation, and possibly even children together. You should include the same types of evidence that you included with your original green card application, but this should be evidence that you’ve accumulated in the time since your original green card application was approved.
- You'll need to include a copy of the front and back of your conditional green card, along with the filing fee of $680.
What happens if you don’t remove the conditions
If you don’t remove the conditions on your permanent residency, you will be “out of status” as soon as your conditional green card expires. You could very likely be placed in deportation proceedings, and in any event you will start accruing "unlawful presence" that could lead to you being barred from the United States for three or ten years if you left and tried to reenter.
Why you might be denied
There are typically only three reasons that an application to remove the conditions on permanent residency might be denied. They are:
- Filing the application late without providing evidence of extenuating circumstances.
- Failing to provide enough documentation that you and your spouse have built a life together.
- USCIS suspects that your marriage is fraudulent.
It’s possible to avoid all of those reasons for denial by ensuring that you file Form I-751 at the right time, that you provide strong evidence that you’ve built a life with your spouse, and by responding to any Requests for Evidence (RFEs) you get from USCIS.
What if we get a divorce?
If your marriage falls apart, you can still apply to remove the conditions on your green card, but you will need to include a request for a waiver of the requirement that your spouse file the form with you. However, you will still need to prove that the marriage was entered into in good faith and not for immigration purposes.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to include valid evidence that the U.S. citizen or green card holder who sponsored your marriage-based green card application was at fault for the end of the marriage, and/or that he or she was the one who requested the divorce. It’s also a good idea to show attempts to save the marriage, like marriage counseling.
If your marriage ended in divorce before you could file Form I-751, you can submit it at any time before you are deported from the United States—you don’t need to wait for the 90-day window before your conditional permanent residency expires. You should include a copy of your final divorce decree as part of the application packet.
What if my spouse dies?
If your spouse dies before you can remove the conditions on your permanent residency, you will have to file Form I-751 and include a copy of your spouse’s death certificate, as well as any evidence you have of the life you shared together.
In this circumstance, you can file your Form I-751 any time between when your spouse dies and when your green card expires—you don’t need to wait for the 90-day window before your conditional permanent residency expires.
What if I was abused/battered during my marriage?
If your spouse was abusive during your marriage, you can apply to have the conditions on your permanent residency removed without your spouse’s assistance. You should include evidence of the abuse, such as restraining orders, affidavits from domestic violence shelters, photographs and/or medical reports detailing injuries as a result of the abuse, or other evidence. If you have divorced, you should include a copy of your final divorce decree.
What if my marriage ended, but termination of my residency will result in “extreme hardship” to me?
This category is the trickiest, because it doesn’t technically require that you prove that your marriage was entered into in good faith, or for reasons other than to get a green card. Instead, you’re asked to prove that you would face “extreme hardship” if you were to have to return to your home country. When USCIS looks at applications that claim “extreme hardship,” it only considers factors that have arisen in the time since your green card was originally approved.
For example, if a civil war started in your home country during the time between when you initially applied for a marriage-based green card and the time when you are applying to remove the conditions on your green card, that might qualify as “extreme hardship.” See this website for more information about extreme hardship.
If more than one of the above special circumstances apply, you can ask USCIS to consider all of them by checking as many boxes on Form I-751 as are relevant to you— for example, if you were in an abusive marriage which ended in divorce, and removal from the United States will cause you extreme hardship, you would check all three boxes on the I-751 to request that USCIS consider all your circumstances.
Removing the conditions on your permanent residency is a crucial last step in the marriage-based green card process. You can help this process go smoothly by continuing to assemble proof of your relationship's authenticity even after your marriage-based green card application is originally approved.
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