If you obtained your green card through a petition by your spouse and you were married less than two years at the time of receiving your green card, then your new green card will only be valid for two years. This is called a “conditional residence” green card and you must apply to remove these conditions before the two year period is up.
Why is this done? USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) considers new marriages of two years or less to be suspect. This is understandable since there have been, and will continue to be, fraudulent marriages arranged only for the purpose of obtaining a green card. NEVER put yourself into such a position because it can ruin your ability forever to seek lawful status in the United States and it could even get you deported and/or face fines or imprisonment. The U.S. citizen involved in such a scam marriage can face prosecution for criminal conspiracy. The severity of the penalty will depend on the unique facts to the situation. The couple who is casually dating but gets married in order to allow the foreign person to stay in the U.S. (this is still considered immigration fraud if the sole purpose for the marriage was to get a green card) would not be punished as severely as the couple who exchanges money in a pre-arranged marriage where they didn’t even know each other.
How does a couple prove that their marriage was entered into in good faith? This becomes a critical factor in the petition to remove the conditions on your green card. By collecting documents that show joint ownership of property, joint bank account statements, and joint tax returns, you can establish co-mingling of finances, something that is expected in a bona fide marriage. Other documentation can be insurance policies showing the spouse as the beneficiary and affidavits from friends and family that attest to the relationship they have with you as a married couple. And of course, if you had a child together, then that is definitely evidence of a bona fide marriage! Make sure to provide a birth certificate for your child showing the names of both parents.
You may or may not be called for an interview with an immigration officer once your petition to remove the conditions of residence application has been reviewed by USCIS. If you are called for an interview, do not panic. As long as you are well prepared with original documents proving a bona fide marriage then the interview process should not be a problem. Your immigration attorney can maximize your chances of not being called for an interview by submitting a well documented application.
Update: When this blog post was written, not all of these types of applications received immigration interviews. This has now changed – the directive from the Department of Homeland Security is that ALL types of permanent residence applications will be given interviews.
Once the conditions are removed from the green card, citizenship is not too far off! You will have only one more year to go before you can become a naturalized citizen of the United States if you have been married to a U.S. citizen during your conditional residency status (and you must still be married to the U.S. citizen at the time of applying for the citizenship application in order to take advantage of the 3-year filing rule). Otherwise, you will have to wait three more years to apply for citizenship.
And, should your marriage not be the happily-ever-after experience you expected, remember that USCIS does not expect you to remain in a bad marriage just for the sake of keeping your green card. Read more about this on our post, “Don’t accept abuse for threat of loosing your green card.” If you are no longer married to your spouse you can apply to waive the joint filing requirement. This application should be done as soon as you divorce – you do not need to wait until the two years are up if you are no longer married. What you do have to show in this case is that removal from the United States would cause extreme hardship to you. This can be shown by demonstrating that you now have strong ties to the U.S. through employment, residence, and personal/business relationships with others. You must still demonstrate that the marriage was entered into in good faith.
What if you missed the two-year deadline for filing your removal of conditions application? Again, don’t panic. It is best to seek the advice of an immigration attorney who can help you with this situation because even if filed late, USCIS does have the discretion to approve the petition and restore your resident status as long as you can prove that you had a good cause for filing late. Time is of the essence here and you must not delay this unless there are truly extenuating circumstances.
Be aware of the documentation required and start early by setting up a “removal of conditions” file folder during your second year of marriage. You can apply to remove your conditional residence status up to 90 days in advance of your green card expiry date. It will be easy to get your application in early because your file folder will already contain much of the documents needed and all you will have to do is supplement it with some recently dated statements.
Many couples find this two-year waiting period to be stressful because they are concerned about what’s going to happen when they submit this application. The first two years of marriage can certainly be an emotionally challenging time for any couple, however, by being well prepared and knowing in advance what is expected, the removal of conditions application process does not have to be a roadblock to your future happiness.
Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net