USCIS issues a conditional green card to immigrants whose permanent resident status is based on a marriage that was less than two years old (as of the date permanent residence is granted). A conditional green card will list the abbreviation “CR” under the immigrant category and has a much shorter expiration date than normal. While a standard green card comes with a 10-year expiration date, a conditional green card will expire in two years.
In this case, the immigrant’s permanent status is conditional until the permanent resident can prove that he or she did not get married solely for immigration benefits. While it’s impossible for immigration officials to tell if someone marries for love or immigration benefits, it’s certainly a good indicator of a bona fide marriage when the couple establishes a life together in the United States and maintains their relationship for several years. This is why a conditional green card expires in two years—before USCIS issues a standard 10-year green card, they would like to see that the couple is still married and living together for two years.
That’s not to say that a conditional permanent resident cannot remove the conditions on their green card if they are no longer with the US citizen or lawful permanent resident whom they initially married. There are several eligibility categories for individual filers that can include immigrants who have divorced, annulled their marriage, separated due to abuse, or widowed. However, it’s safe to say that immigrants who are no longer married will have a much more challenging time obtaining approval from USCIS to remove the conditions on their green card.
When to File for Removal of Conditions
Conditional permanent residents who are still married and plan to petition for removal of conditions jointly with their spouse (the preferred method) may file their petition within the 90 days before their green card expires. Joint petitioners cannot file earlier than 90 days before the expiration date, and USCIS typically doesn’t accept petitions filed after the expiration date, so it’s a particularly short window.
Certain conditional permanent residents who are widowed, divorced, had their marriage annulled, or separated due to abuse, may be eligible to apply for removal of conditions prior to the standard 90-day window. If you fall into one of these categories, you should consult with an immigration attorney to determine the optimal time to petition for removal of conditions.
Removal of Conditions Process
Petitioning for removal of conditions is a relatively straightforward process (at least compared to some of the other complex USCIS filings). The process begins when you file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, and it generally takes about a year and a half before you receive your new green card from USCIS. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the process may include up to six steps (though it can be as short as four):
- File Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence
- Receive Form I-797, Notice of Action, in the mail
- Complete the biometric services appointment
- Requests for Evidence (if applicable)
- Complete a USCIS interview (if applicable)
- Receive your new green card
Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence
Form I-751 can serve several purposes. For most petitioners, it’s a joint application to be filled out by the conditional permanent resident and his or her spouse. For petitioners whose spouse passed away, it’s an individual application for the conditional permanent resident. Lastly, for conditional permanent residents who have a divorce decree, annulment order, or separated due to abuse, Form I-751 serves as a request for a waiver of the joint filing requirement.
Form I-797, Notice of Action
You should receive a receipt from USCIS within 2 – 3 weeks of filing Form I-751. The receipt will come as Form I-797, Notice of Action, and will include important information to help you track your case. The receipt should also include a one-year extension for your conditional green card while USCIS reviews your application.
Biometric Services Appointment
Next, you should receive a notice from USCIS requesting a biometric services appointment (expect this in the mail 1 – 2 weeks after receiving your receipt). You’ll need to follow the instructions in the notice and book an appointment at the designated location. At the appointment, an officer will scan your fingerprints, take your picture, and record your signature. There is typically an $85 fee for these services.
In the interest of processing your application in a timely manner, you should complete the biometric services appointment as soon as possible. Procrastinating the appointment will end up delaying your petition for removal of conditions, which elongates an already lengthy process.
Furthermore, failing to complete the biometric services appointment may lead USCIS to believe that you have abandoned your application, in which case the adjudicator may dismiss your case altogether.
Requests for Evidence (RFE)
Requests for Evidence (referred to as an RFE) aren’t always required but may be necessary if the adjudicator needs additional information to determine whether you qualify for removal of conditions. Don’t be alarmed if you receive an RFE in the mail—it doesn’t mean your case is on the chopping block. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to strengthen your case. Be sure to respond in a timely manner with the documents requested, but feel free to add further evidence to bolster your case, too.
Generally speaking, USCIS will start issuing RFEs about six months into the review process. If you don’t receive an RFE, don’t panic—that’s a good thing! If you receive an RFE and you are concerned, consider consulting with an immigration attorney before responding.
An interview with an immigration officer at the local USCIS field office is fairly common for petitions for removal of conditions, but as with RFEs they are not always required. If an interview is necessary, you will receive a notice from USCIS with instructions on how and when to schedule the interview. Pay special attention to the request, as USCIS may wish to speak with both spouses, or they may only require an interview with the conditional permanent resident.
In most cases, the USCIS interview takes place towards the end of the review process, often one year or later after the application was filed. If you receive a request for an interview and are concerned about how you will perform, you should speak with an immigration attorney. A good attorney can help you prepare evidence to present to the USCIS officer, and practice responding to questions that may be of concern.
Receiving Your New Green Card
As stated previously, the review process for removal of conditions takes approximately a year and a half. Due to lengthening processing queues at USCIS service centers and field offices, it may even take up to two years. For an up-to-date estimate, check the USCIS Processing Times website.
Help With Removal of Conditions in Arizona
When you go to remove the conditions for your green card you want to make sure that you are prepared, as this can determine your legitimacy in the United States for the next 10 years. In order to receive the highest possible chance of your removal of conditions petition to be accepted (and shorten the timeline to completion) it is highly recommended to work with an immigration attorney.
JakcsonWhite is an Arizona based law firm, with a dedicated immigration team lead by attorney Pace Rawlins. Pace and his team are devoted to helping Arizona families with their immigration needs. If you and your family are located in Arizona and want to start the process of petitioning for removal of conditions, contact our immigration team today.
Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.
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