Last updated on June 11th, 2019
By default, conditional permanent residents may only remain in the U.S. for two years. Before that term is up, you need to send a petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS) to remove the conditions on your green card.
If you fail to do so, you will lose several benefits, such as the ability to work, and will also possibly face deportation.
In this article, we’ll talk about what it means to have the conditions removed from your green card.
Although sometimes called “green card renewal,” this process should not be confused with replacing your green card. Instead, it’s better to think of it as an extra step on your path to permanent residency.
What’s the Difference?
A conditional permanent resident has all the same legal protections as a normal permanent resident. However, they may only live and work in the U.S. for two years. At the end of that period, the conditional resident must petition for the removal of the conditions on their residency.
Usually, this is done around 90 days before your conditional green card expires.
If USCIS accepts your petition, you will receive a brand new, unconditional green card. This will allow you to live and work in the United States indefinitely, and, optionally, allow you to apply for citizenship down the line.
There are two circumstances in which USCIS issues conditional green cards. In most cases, conditional green cards are reserved for new spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. However, investors in the EB-5 visa program can also receive conditional green cards.
Conditional Spousal Green Cards
If you were married for less than two years before applying for a spousal visa, you will receive a conditional green card. In order to receive a permanent green card, you will need to file an I-751 petition.
You may also need to supply a variety of evidence to prove that your marriage is “legitimate”, meaning that you did not marry for the sole purpose of gaining a green card.
EB-5 Investor Green Cards
If you apply for a visa through the EB-5 program, you will receive a conditional green card. In order to remove the conditions on your green card, you must file an I-829 petition. Essentially, this is a form showing that you have completed or will complete the investment and employment requirements of the EB-5 program.
Petitioning to remove the conditions on an EB-5 green card is a complicated process. What’s more, the stakes are extremely high due to the investments required. For that reason, it is important to get in touch with legal counsel before you apply for an EB-5 visa.
For a more complete view of the EB-5 visa program, make sure to check out our in-depth article on the subject.
How can I Remove the Conditions on my Spousal Green Card?
The first step in petitioning for the removal of the conditions on your spousal green card is filing an I-751 form. However, in order to do so, you need to fulfill certain eligibility criteria.
For example, USCIS will require that you provide evidence that your marriage is legitimate. This may include wedding pictures, bank statements, and any number of other documents which help prove your relationship is the real deal.
Within a few (usually three to five) weeks of filing your I-751 petition, you should receive a Notice of Action from USCIS. This is simply a response showing that USCIS has received and will be processing your application.
If you fail to receive a Notice of Action after six weeks, you should contact USCIS or your lawyer immediately.
Depending on your specific case, the full I-751 process can take anywhere from several months to a few years. As of this article’s publication, the process generally takes between 15 and 20 months, depending on your processing center. For that reason, it’s important to check your case status online regularly.
Fortunately, as long as you file on time, USCIS will extend your permanent resident status until they finish processing your application.
In order to be eligible to have the conditions on your green card removed, one of the following must be true at the time of your application:
- You are the spouse of a U.S. citizen or qualifying permanent resident.
- You are the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Note that you will still have to demonstrate the legitimacy of your marriage.
- You were previously the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but your marriage ended.
- Divorce and annulment are treated identically when it comes to immigration law.
- You were previously the spouse of a U.S. citizen, but they subjected you to battery or extreme hardship.
- Domestic violence and abandonment are common examples of this.
Normally, you may include any unmarried children under the age of 21 on your I-751 form. However, married children and those over the age of 21 must apply separately through the family immigration system.
Answering Requests for Evidence
After USCIS has received your I-751 form, they will take several months to process it. During that time, you may receive a request for evidence from USCIS. This is a document requesting certain information or documentation in order to prove the legitimacy of your marriage.
RFEs can extend your green card process significantly, so it’s always important to send all the evidence you have with your original I-751. This will save you a good deal of trouble and money in the long run.
Common types of evidence requested include marriage documents, joint financial statements, insurance policies, and the like. They are also very likely to request proof of your spouse’s citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Finally, USCIS may request photo albums to prove that you and your spouse regularly spend time together.
If you receive a request for evidence, it is important to answer it as quickly as possible. However, make sure that you send in copies of the requested documentation. Never send original documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc.) via mail.
Attending a Stokes Interview
Depending on the evidence you send them, USCIS may ask you to attend a Stokes Interview. This is most likely to happen in cases with minimal supporting documents, or where your documents are of recent origin.
The interview is basically an extra step that helps USCIS make sure your marriage and application follows all their rules. Usually, they perform it to help prevent fraud, and as such the interview itself is relatively uncommon.
While a Stokes interview may indicate some suspicion on USCIS’s part, it is a normal part of the immigration process and does not mean that your application will be denied.
Can I still file an I-751 Petition if I’m Divorced?
You may still file an I-751 petition if you are divorced or going through divorce proceedings. However, if you do so, you may want to submit a joint filing waiver. This will prevent you from having to file an I-751 together with your spouse.
Just as with any I-751 petition, you will still need to demonstrate that you entered your marriage in good faith. Additionally, USCIS may send you a request for evidence asking for a copy of your divorce agreement.
The process is also the same for the spouses of deceased, separated, and divorced conditional green card holders. In all three of these cases, it’s important to consult with an immigration attorney to make sure you’re still eligible to remove conditions.
Applying to have the conditions on your permanent residency removed can be a difficult, stressful process. Further, you can only file within the 90 days before your conditional green card expires, so time is of the essence. For that reason, many petitioners choose to hire legal counsel.
By getting in touch with an experienced immigration lawyer, you can create a strong, thorough application. This will give you the best chance of success, as well as allowing you to receive your permanent green card in a timely manner.