How to Obtain a Permanent Green Card as a Conditional Permanent Resident
One of the most popular paths to citizenship in the United States is through what is called a “marriage green card,” obtained by marrying a current United States citizen. The beneficiary is permitted to live and work in the United States.
However, after going through the extensive process of obtaining a marriage green card, the spouse of the U.S. citizen is only considered a “conditional resident.” In other words, there are “conditions” on their green card, marked with the letters “CR1” on the physical card. This does not mean you did something wrong: You still have the right to live and work in the United States so long as your green card is valid.
The “conditional” element to your green card is that it will expire in 2 years if you take no action. Consequently, you will need to “remove conditions” on your green card by following a sometimes-complex series of steps mandated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Below, we review what you will need to do to obtain a permanent green card and what happens should you fail to do so.
Why You Are Considered a Conditional Permanent Resident
It can be helpful to understand why “CR1” status even exists. USCIS has historically suspected a significant portion of marriages were fraudulent in an effort to facilitate U.S. citizenship. Partners would get married, go through the marriage-based citizenship process, then legally separate soon after.
Seeking to end this practice, the agency introduced “conditional residency” as a sort of waiting period and deterrent to fraudulent marriages. By forcing spouses to wait several years, USCIS hopes to disincentivize the practice entirely.
In other words, the goal of the conditional residency process is to ensure that your marriage is genuine. Much of the process is demonstrating to USCIS officials that you and your spouse continue to share a legitimate relationship in the 2 years since your previous interview with the agency.
Filing to Remove Conditions
You will need to complete the “Petition to Remove Conditions,” Form I-751, to obtain a permanent green card with no expiration date. The timing in which you submit this application is critical and is the source of many rejections.
Form I-751 must be submitted within the 90-day window your conditional permanent residency is set to expire. If you submit too early, your application will be returned. If you submit too late, you are likely to be denied, which can lead to drastic consequences. You may be able to argue extenuating circumstances prevented you from filing the application on-time, but this can lead to additional delays and may not work in your favor.
The application is not a document you will be able to fill out on your own. Your spouse will need to participate, as much of its contents include further documenting your legitimate relationship. This evidence must be new and more recent than the evidence you provided when seeking your conditional green card.
Examples of new evidence you should consider submitting with Form I-751 include:
- Joint bank account records that show continued use since your previous green card application approval
- Joint titles to assets, like a house or car, that were acquired since your previous green card application approval
- New, recent photos of you and your spouse together
- Evidence of any new children, if relevant
The more evidence you provide, the better: You should leave no doubt that your marriage is genuine and ongoing. An experienced immigration lawyer can advise on what specific documentation you should include.
You may at any time receive additional Requests for Evidence (RFEs) from USCIS if they suspect your marriage may be fraudulent. You should always respond to these requests promptly and thoroughly, involving your legal representation if possible.
Interview with a USCIS Officer
Once you submit Form I-751, you will probably need to wait a minimum of 12 months before you hear about next steps. More often than not, you will receive a time and location to appear with your spouse at a USCIS field office for your interview. Complications relating to the COVID-19 pandemic have also slowed USCIS processing across the board and limited the amount of in-person interviews that can be safely conducted. You should expect even greater wait times as a result.
You may be wondering: If it takes a year or more for USCIS to process my application, but I have to wait to submit it within 90 days of my conditional green card’s expiration, won’t I have an expired green card for much of the waiting period? The good news is that, upon correctly submitting Form I-751, you will receive a receipt notice that officially extends the validity of the green card until the application has been processed. You can continue to live and work in the United States while you await a decision from USCIS.
Previously, Form I-751 and any included evidence was sufficient for most green card holders to remove conditions. Only rarely did USCIS summon green card holders for a second interview, typically in cases of insufficient or questionable documentation. As of December 10, 2018, however, USCIS now requires most applicants seeking to remove conditions on their green card to complete an in-person interview.
USCIS will only consider waiving the interview requirement if they feel there is sufficient evidence in Form I-751 to confirm the authenticity of the marriage. In practice, this appears to rarely happen, and most applicants are now required to appear in-person. The interview is fundamentally similar to the one you had to undergo for your conditional green card, with a focus on ensuring you and your spouse’s relationship is ongoing and legitimate. Should the interview go well, you will typically receive a prompt decision, with a permanent green card being issued and mailed to your address soon after. Once your application is approved, you will have successfully removed conditions and will have no set expiration date on your new green card!
What Happens If You Fail to Remove Conditions or Your Application Is Rejected
Should you fail to file Form I-751, your conditional green card will naturally expire 2 years from the date it was originally issued. More likely than not, you will be soon summoned or even visited by an immigration official and placed in deportation proceedings. Even if you are not immediately summoned or detained, you will now be considered “unlawfully present” in the country. This can lead to your being barred from reentering the United States for many years should you leave the country and attempt to return.
If you do file Form I-751 but your application is rejected, one of two things will happen. Your rejection will either include a Notice to Appear, which will likely result in the start of removal proceedings, or you will be given a brief window of opportunity to file Form I-751 again. The former tends to occur if USCIS believes your marriage is likely fraudulent, while the latter tends to happen when the applicant did not submit enough supporting documentation.
Special Scenarios that Impact Removing Conditions
Should your marriage not work out for one reason or another, you might be wondering if there is any chance of successfully removing conditions. The answer is yes, there are certain scenarios where this is possible, some of which modify the rules on when you can submit Form I-751. However, it should be noted that these situations can be regarded with suspicion by USCIS officials.
If you and your spouse divorce before you are able to remove conditions, you will have to file a request waiving the requirement that your ex-spouse jointly file Form I-751. If you were the primary cause of the divorce, it is unlikely your application will be accepted. Applicants tend to have better results if their documentation suggests their ex-spouse was both the cause of the marital strife and the one who sought the divorce. Showing evidence of attempts to save the marriage can be helpful, and you will have to include the divorce decree in your application. You do not have to wait for the 90-day threshold if you and your spouse legally separate, however; you can submit Form I-751 as soon as the divorce is final.
If your spouse was abusive, you can again petition to waive the requirement of jointly completing Form I-751. You will need to include evidence of the abuse – pictures of injuries, communication records, testimony from shelters or hospitals – as part of your application. You will have to wait for the 90-day threshold to submit Form I-751 unless you and your abusive spouse divorce.
If your spouse dies, you should file Form I-751 as soon as possible. The 90-day threshold and requirement to file jointly is waived, and you can submit at any point after your spouse’s passing so long as you are still located in the United States. You will need to include a copy of the death certificate and any evidence of your marriage before their passing.
We Can Help You Remove Conditions
After living and working in the United States for 2 years with your spouse, it is essential you get this next step of the process right. Our immigration attorney at The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC is prepared to assist you with Form I-1751 and work to ensure your green card’s conditions are removed with as little friction as possible. We can guide you through each step of the process and make sure you are submitting a sufficient level of documentation to USCIS.