If you have entered the United States on a K-1 Visa, or on a marriage visa but your marriage was less than two years old, your residency in the country will initially be conditional.
This means that you are a legal resident of the United States, and may be in the country, but that there are certain conditions that you must satisfy before you are granted full permanent residency.
This article will explain when and how to remove these conditions and become a permanent resident.
What Does it Mean to be a Conditional Resident?
As a conditional resident, you’ll have all the normal rights of a permanent resident, but the government is reserving the right to revoke your residency.
Before it removes the conditional status the government will take a second look at your marriage in order to make sure that it’s the real deal, and wasn’t a sham that you used for the convenience of obtaining entry into the country.
Your first two years in the United States will be as a conditional resident.
After a two-year conditional period, the conditions will expire and you’ll be granted full permanent residency.
Form I-751, the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, is how conditional residents apply to have the conditions removed in order to make them full-fledged permanent residents of the United States.
When Do I File?
You’ll need to file your Form I-751 90 days or less immediately before your conditional residency expires.
When you first enter the country the border official will stamp your passport with the date that you entered the country, along with a “CR” indicating conditional residency.
He will also stamp your passport with the date that your conditional residency expires – two years from when you entered.
So, during the 90 days before this expiration date is when you’ll want to file.
For example, if you initially entered the United States on February 2, 2015, then your conditional residency will expire on February 1, 2017.
You would be eligible to file Form I-751 beginning November 1, 2016.
This gives you a 90-day window during which you may file.
You don’t want to file any earlier than 90 days before the conditional period’s expiration date, as the USCIS won’t even look at the petition, and will send it back to you.
If you file later than the expiration date, you risk being deported, as your conditional residency will have expired, and you’ll no longer be a legal resident.
What If I Miss My Filing Window?
If you miss the deadline for filing your petition (your conditional residency expiration date) by a relatively small margin, you may still be able to get the government to accept a late petition.
The USCIS will accept a late petition if you can demonstrate “good cause” for the lateness.
This means a legitimate reason for missing the deadline, not just absentmindedness, and must be supported by some evidence of the cause.
Do I Need My Spouse’s Cooperation?
Generally, you should file Form I-751 jointly.
However, you may file on your own, without your citizen spouse, if your spouse has died, you have divorced, your spouse has physically abused or assaulted you, or the denial of your permanent residency would create an extreme hardship for you.
If you wish to waive the requirement that you file jointly with your spouse, you’ll need to submit evidence that you meet an exception to the requirement.
This can include your spouse’s death certificate, or your divorce or annulment decree.
View our article, “Waiving the Joint Filing Requirement for Form I-751,” for additional details.
We also recommend that you hire an attorney in any immigration situation that requires a waiver.
What Accompanying Documentation Will I Need?
When you file Form I-751 you need to submit various accompanying documents, primarily documents demonstrating that you entered into a good faith marriage.
However, the exact documentation you submit with your application varies depending on the particulars of your situation.
For example, an application which includes a joint filing waiver will be sent with very different evidence than a standard application.
Additionally, if you have ever been arrested or detained by law enforcement, you’ll need documentation of these incidents.
If you were detained, but charges were never filed against you, you’ll need to submit something from the arresting agency describing the incident, and saying that no criminal charges resulted.
If you were arrested or detained, and were charged with a crime, you’ll need some evidence showing the outcome of the prosecution, such as a record of conviction, acquittal, or dismissal.
Where Should I File My I-751 Petition?
You will file your Form I-751 with one of the two USCIS service centers. Which service center you use will depend on the state in which you are currently living.
Residents of about half the states will send their form to the Laguna Niguel, California service center, and the other half will use the St. Albans, Vermont service center.
You can find the respective mailing addresses for these locations on the USCIS’s website.
What Happens After I Submit My I-751 Petition?
Once the USCIS has received your Form I-751 Petition, it will send you a Receipt of Notice, though it may be a few weeks before you get your receipt.
The receipt will extend your residency by an additional 12 months and, combined with your expired green card, will be the basis for your continued presence in the country until the USCIS actually removes the conditions on your residency.
Generally, you’ll receive your permanent residency card before this 12-month extension expires.
If the petition is incomplete due to missing signatures, filling fees, supporting documentation, or the like, USCIS will deny your petition.
This is why it’s important to get it right the first time, and make sure that you’ve assembled the complete package of documents that must accompany your petition.
If USCIS denies your petition it may send you a request for more information in order to get all the documents that it needs to make a decision.
USCIS may also ask you to appear for an interview to make sure your marriage is legitimate.
Once USCIS approves your petition, either directly or after an interview, it will send your permanent resident card to you in the mail.