Understanding Conditional Green Cards and How To Manage Them
Green cards, which bestow lawful permanent residency, represent a huge achievement for immigrants looking to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Not only does a green card confer numerous benefits, including the ability to sponsor certain relatives and eligibility for certain government benefits, they also eventually open a path to U.S. citizenship, the end goal of many immigrants.
Despite the term lawful permanent residence, green cards do not automatically last forever. Many green cards carry a 10-year eligibility period. Beneficiaries of this type of green card – a nonconditional green card – generally do not have much trouble renewing, though, with the process being more of a formality. Many will end up applying for citizenship once their mandatory waiting period has concluded, making the far-out expiration date moot.
Depending on how you obtained lawful permanent residency, you may instead receive a conditional green card, which is only valid for 2 years. Instead of “renewing,” you will instead need to move to get the conditions “removed” entirely. This can be a more involved, confusing process that requires careful attention and timing.
The consequences for failing to remove conditions and letting your green card expire can jeopardize your future in the country. Below, we explain who gets a conditional green card and what steps must be taken to successfully remove conditions.
Who Gets a Conditional Green Card?
The most common way of receiving a conditional green card is obtaining lawful permanent residency through marriage when you have married to your partner for less than 2 years at the time your visa was approved. If you were married for greater than 2 years, you will in most circumstances receive a nonconditional visa with a 10-year term.
Younger marriages receive conditional visas because the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) remains concerned about fraud. If you have gone through the process of obtaining a visa through marriage, you already know that you were required to exhaustively prove the authenticity of your marriage, including undergoing an interview with an USCIS agent.
The agency is concerned that some married couples will manage to clear the first hurdle of receiving the conditional green card, even if the marriage is not legitimate. Therefore, the “conditions” are meant to dissuade inauthentic marriages from attempting to circumvent the immigration system, as the authenticity of the marriage will be adjudicated again when it comes time to remove conditions.
If you have a conditional green card, “CR1” – “conditional resident” will literally be stamped on your physical card. To remove conditions, you will again have to prove your marriage is real to USCIS. While this might seem a bit excessive to a couple that is happily and genuinely married, it is unfortunately another obstacle you will need to manage in your path toward staying in the country long-term.
Immigrant investors who obtained lawful permanent residency through the EB-5 Investor Visa will also receive a conditional green card only valid for 2 years. Similar to marriage-based conditional green cards, investors will need to again establish that they met all of the investing requirements of the EB-5 program in the 2 years they have lived and worked in the country.
When Do I Need to Remove Conditions on My Green Card?
Correctly timing when you file the necessary forms to remove conditions is essential to avoiding overstaying your visa and accruing unlawful presence. Whether your conditional green card is the result of a young marriage or the investor program, you will need to file the appropriate documents in the 90-day window before the green card is set to expire.
If you file the appropriate documents too early, you will be automatically rejected as such. If you file too late, you risk your application being denied, especially if there are no extenuating circumstances contributing to the tardy submittal. This leaves you with that narrow 90-day window to submit the necessary forms. Note that forms necessary to removing conditions includes filing fees, so be prepared to have the necessary funds available.
What Forms Do I Need to File to Remove Conditions on My Green Card?
If you received your green card through a young marriage, you will need to demonstrate the continued legitimacy of the partnership to the satisfaction of USCIS agents. Specifically, you will have to file Form I-751, the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, in the 90-day window ahead of your visa’s expiration. This is a joint petition, meaning you and your spouse will need to complete and file the form together. There are situations where you may still be able to file if your spouse is unavailable, which we will discuss more below.
You will need to include additional evidence of your evolving marriage with Form I-751. This can include new pictures together and evidence of new joint accounts, loans, or major purchases. Remember, the goal is to assure USCIS that your marriage is real and has continued to authentically exist since your green card was initially approved.
If you are an entrepreneur with an EB-5 visa, you will need to file Form I-829, the Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, in the 90-day window before the conditional green card expires. In order to demonstrate continued compliance with the EB-5 program rules, the applicant will need to provide proof that they made a capital investment in a qualifying business entity, established a commercial enterprise that has continued to do business throughout the 2 years since they received their initial green card, and created the necessary number of jobs for American workers through that enterprise. USCIS may have additional questions or request more evidence, which the applicant will be obligated to answer or supply.
What Happens After You File to Remove Conditions?
Regardless of the circumstances in which you have a conditional green card, you will be sent a receipt from USCIS extending the validity of your status for up to 18 months. This permits you to continue living and working in the United States while USCIS processes your petition.
USCIS processing times can vary but historically have been frustratingly slow, sometimes taking multiple years to respond to marriage-based green card petitions. You do not need to worry about your visa expiring during the processing period, even if it extends past the initial extension maximum of 18 months. Your visa will continue to be extended until a decision has been reached.
Eventually, you will be summoned for a biometrics appointment, where your fingerprints and photographs will be taken. Those with marriage-based green cards will then need to undergo a second interview with USCIS agents. Previously, it was often not necessary to conduct the second interview, but new rules issued in 2018 make the follow-up mandatory for most case.
The interview will be fundamentally similar to the one you had with a USCIS agent when you first applied for your green card. They will ask questions about the contents of your petition and your ongoing marriage.
Once a decision by USCIS has been reached, you will receive your 10-year, nonconditional green card in the mail. As we mentioned above, renewing this type of green card is a much less involved process. Additionally, if you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, note that time accrued with a conditional green – including time spent waiting for a decision on removal of conditions – generally counts toward the mandatory waiting period.
Can I Remove Conditions If My Partner and I Are No Longer Together?
When dealing with a conditional, marriage-based green card, the answer depends on the reason for why you and your partner are no longer married. We go into more detail about how divorce impacts marriage-based green cards on another blog post. The short answer is you can sometimes still remove conditions if you and your partner have divorced, but you will have to apply for a waiver. Your case will also be placed under additional scrutiny, and you are more likely to succeed if your partner was responsible for some wrongdoing that contributed to the divorce.
If your spouse was physically or emotionally abusive, you can in most circumstances still apply to remove conditions without their participation. The abuse does not necessarily have to result in a divorce, but you will have to provide some form of evidence the abuse occurred, which can take the form of photographs of physical injuries or copies of restraining orders.
If your spouse has died, you can apply to remove conditions immediately and do not have to wait to hit the 90-day window before expiration. You will need to include proof of death and evidence demonstrating you were still married at the time of their death.
What Happens If I Fail to Remove Conditions?
Immediate and grave consequences can result if you fail to remove conditions from a conditional green card on-time. It is worth reemphasizing how important it is to submit the relevant petition to remove conditions within the 90-day window before expiration. USCIS can and will reject petitions merely on the grounds that they were filed late. If there was some sort of extenuating circumstance that prevented you from filing on-time, like your being hospitalized, you should include an explanation of the justification for the lateness with your filing.
If your filing is rejected or you forget to file at all, you will immediately begin accruing unlawful presence for every day you remain in the United States with a valid form of status. If you accumulate too much unlawful presence, you will unable to reenter the country for as many as 10 years should you depart and attempt to return. Unlawful presence can also jeopardize future attempts to legally immigrate, even if you wait out the punitive reentry bans.
If your conditional visa expires, there is also a good chance you could be targeted for immediate removal, or deportation, from the country. Deportation carries its own set of consequences beyond the immediate practical implications and could prevent you from legally immigrating in the future.
We Can Guide You Through Removing Conditions
Obtaining a conditional green card is no small feat, costing a great sum of money, time, and resources. Navigating the removal conditions to ensure you procure a nonconditional green card, often the path to citizenship, is both vitally important and an additional source of stress. Because the stakes are so high, you should consider retaining the legal services of our team at Kanu & Associates, P.C. Our immigration attorneys over 15 years of experience assisting Arizona clients, and we have a complete working knowledge of removing conditions on green cards. No matter how the specifics of your situation, we are prepared to guide you through this frustrating but pivotal piece of your immigration journey.
Schedule a consultation to see how we can efficiently and effectively work toward removing conditions on your green card. Call (602) 353-7795 or contact us online to get started.