In certain cases, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue green cards dependent on special conditions. Usually, these green cards are given to the spouses of U.S. citizens when the marriage is less than two years old.
While these green cards offer the same protections as a normal green card, you must apply to have the conditions removed after two years of permanent residency. Otherwise, you’ll lose your residency status, and will most likely be deported from the country.
You are eligible to apply to remove the conditions from your residency if you:
- Have remained married to your spouse during the 2 years;
- Are a widow or widower who was married in good faith;
- Are a divorcee whose marriage was in good faith; or
- Were battered (or your child) by your spouse
In order to apply to have the conditions removed from your green card, you must file Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence with USCIS. You must file this petition jointly with your spouse within 90 days of your green card expiration date. If for any reason you cannot file the petition jointly with your spouse, you must also apply to USCIS for a waiver of the joint filing requirement.
Filing I-751 Jointly with Your Spouse
If, like many couples, you and your spouse are still happily married in two years, you should not have a problem filing the petition together. Even if you are still legally married but not so happy, and your spouse is willing to sign some forms, you may still file jointly.
In cases where couples are still married but live in separate homes, sometimes USCIS requests that you complete an interview at one of their local offices.
The key to filing Form I-751 jointly is that you want to make sure you do not miss the deadline. This deadline is listed on your green card and if you haven’t yet filed by the date, you run the risk of being deported to your home country.
If you are at a point where you can apply to have your conditions removed, you should already be very familiar with the USCIS and its application processes. Form I-751 is no different and as you have probably already guessed, you will have to provide USCIS with proof that your marriage is legitimate.
It is one of USCIS’s many jobs to crack down on fake marriages that were entered into just so an immigrant could obtain residency in the United States. While we know it may seem repetitive after a while, this is one of the last times, if not the last time, that you will have to prove your marriage is real.
Evidence that you and your spouse may send with your application includes:
- Copies of statements from joint bank accounts.
- Documents showing that you live together.
- Copies of documents showing joint property ownership.
- Affidavits from people who can attest to the legitimacy of your marriage.
Filing I-751 without Your Spouse
In the case that you are no longer married at the end of your conditional residency, or your spouse refuses to file Form I-751 jointly, you are required to apply to USCIS for a waiver of the joint-filing requirement.
You may request a waiver if:
- Your spouse is no longer living.
- You and your spouse have undergone a divorce.
- You (or your child) were battered by your spouse.
- Your deportation would cause you extreme hardship.
Applying for a waiver involves that same application process as filing jointly. The only difference is that you must also include proof that you are eligible for a waiver by submitting documents that demonstrate one of the above circumstances.
Just like with the joint application, you want to make sure you file your Form I-751 in a timely fashion. Otherwise, you will be in the U.S. illegally, and may be deported.
What Happens Next?
After you file Form I-751 with USCIS, they will send you a receipt (Form I-797 Notice of Action) confirming that they received your application.
USCIS will then schedule you for a biometrics appointment. This appointment is necessary for your application. At the biometrics appointment, a USCIS officer will perform a criminal background check on you by taking your fingerprints.
The officer will also take a picture of you and obtain your signature. Once they approve your I-751 form, your permanent green card will arrive in the mail. You should note, however, that just this process can take several months.
How Long Will The Entire Process Take?
USCIS typically handles I-751 applications in the order they received. Since there are only two USCIS service centers (California and Vermont) that handle these applications, the process can sometimes take longer than expected.
Currently, the California Service Center is processing Form I-751 in 6 months or less. However, the Vermont Service Center is currently experiencing a delay and their last processed application took about 9 months. You can always check current processing times on the USCIS website.
[Update 8/23/18: The processing times have now lengthened to between 15 and 20 months for both service centers.]