When USCIS issues a green card based on a marriage that’s less than two years old, the agency will place conditions on the card holder’s lawful permanent resident status. The permanent resident must prove that he or she did not marry solely for immigration benefits by maintaining their marital status and cohabitation for two years. At the conclusion of the two-year probational period, the permanent resident can apply to have the conditions removed` and receive a green card with a standard ten-year expiration.
On average, it takes USCIS about a year and a half to process a petition to remove conditions on a green card. If you have already submitted your petition and you know which service center or field office is reviewing your case, you can check the USCIS Processing Times website for an up-to-date estimate. You can also check the status on your specific case using your receipt number.
Following is a summary of estimated processing times for removal of conditions on a green card based on projections from the USCIS Processing Times website:
- California Service Center – 17.5 months to 21 months
- Nebraska Service Center – 17.5 months to 22 months
- Texas Service Center – 17 months to 18.5 months
- Vermont Service Center – 13.5 months to 16.5 months
- All USCIS Field Offices – 22.5 months to 43.5 months
Regardless of how long it takes USCIS to review your petition, you don’t need to worry about an expired green card. When you initially file your petition for removal of conditions, USCIS will issue a standard one-year extension. If your petition has not been processed by the end of the first extension, USCIS will issue another extension so your conditional green card does not expire.
Eligibility to Remove Conditions on a Green Card
There are five eligibility categories that may qualify for removing the conditions on a conditional green card:
- You are a child and cannot be included on your parent’s petition
- You are still married to the same US citizen or permanent resident
- You entered into a marriage in good faith, and the marriage ended through divorce or annulment
- You entered into a marriage in good faith, and you (or your child) were battered or subject to extreme hardship by your US citizen or permanent resident spouse
- Your US citizen or permanent resident spouse is deceased
Generally speaking, adult applicants who are still married and qualifying children will have the easiest time removing the conditions on their green card. Applicants who fall into the other categories will need to provide additional evidence with their petition and will likely take longer to review their case.
How to Petition to Remove Conditions on a Green Card
The window to petition for removal of conditions on your green card begins 90 days before your conditional green card expires. As long as you are still married, you and your spouse will need to complete, sign, and submit Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. You’ll also need to attach the following documents to your petition:
- A copy of the front and back of your conditional green card
- Evidence that you have maintained your marital relationship (a copy of the marriage certificate, joint real estate title, joint real estate lease, joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, receipts from family vacations, family photographs, etc.)
- If your petition includes any children, include copies of the front and back of their green card(s)
- If you have been charged, arrested, or convicted of a crime, include information on the disposition (certified police records, court documents)
When you file Form I-751 with the supporting evidence, USCIS will issue a Notice of Receipt (Form I-797) with a case number and information on how to track your case. USCIS will also issue a one-year extension for your green card in order to provide enough time to process your petition.
In most cases, you will eventually be called in to a USCIS field office for an interview with an immigration officer. The officer will interview you and your spouse to ensure you have not committed marriage fraud, and that neither party is subject to a forced marriage (either case constitutes a violation of US immigration law). Assuming the interview goes well, you should receive your new ten-year green card soon after.
What happens if you are no longer married?
Conditional green card holders who are no longer married due to death, divorce, annulment, or spousal/child abuse, will need to request a waiver of the joint filing requirement with Form I-751. In addition to the standard evidence mentioned previously, you will also need to include the following to support your request for a waiver:
- An explanation of why you are filing separately from your primary conditional permanent resident spouse or parent
- Evidence of the circumstances surrounding the end of your relationship (e.g. evidence of abuse)
- Evidence that being removed (deported) from the United States would cause extreme hardship
- Your spouse’s death certificate (if applicable)
- Your final divorce decree or annulment notice (if applicable)
Note that in cases where a conditional permanent resident qualifies for a waiver of the joint filing requirement, you don’t need to wait until your green card expires in 90 days to file Form I-751. You may petition to have the conditions on your permanent residency removed at any time before your conditional green card expires. For example, if you receive your conditional green card in January 2018 and file for divorce in May 2018 due to spousal abuse, you could petition for removal of conditions as soon as you receive the divorce decree.
If a conditional permanent resident fails to properly petition for removal of conditions before their green card expires, USCIS will immediately take the following actions:
- The conditional permanent resident status will be terminated
- Immigration authorities will initiate removal (deportation) proceedings
- You will receive a notice of failure to remove conditions
- You will receive a Notice to Appear at a hearing in immigration court
When you attend the hearing, you will have the opportunity to review the evidence against you and rebut the agency’s claims (namely, that you failed to remove the conditions and should therefore be removed from the United States). While US courts generally operate under the assumption that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, in this case it is your responsibility to prove that you have complied with the terms of your conditional permanent residence. USCIS is under no obligation to necessarily prove that you did not comply.
You may be permitted to file Form I-751 after your conditional green card expires if you can prove in writing to the director of the appropriate USCIS Service Center that there was reasonable cause for your failure to file the petition on time. The final decision to approve your petition and restore your lawful permanent resident status rests with the director.