Conditional Permanent Residence: A primer on those crucial next steps

Q.  I received a green card valid for two years, based on my marriage to a US citizen.  I see that the card is due to expire in a few months.  What do I do now?

A.  Your two-year permanent residence (as opposed to green cards good for ten years in other circumstances) is “conditional” because you were married to your US citizen spouse for less than two years at the time when your legal permanent residence was granted.  Now you and your spouse must jointly file Form I-751 with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during the three-month window before your current card expires in order to “remove the condition” and obtain a green card with a ten-year validity period.  Neglecting to file this application on time can have serious adverse consequences, including the loss of permanent resident status.

USCIS wants to see that you are still married and living with your spouse and that you therefore still have a basis for permanent residence (and also that you do not have any possibly disqualifying issues such as criminal convictions).  The kinds of evidence that you use to demonstrate the marriage relationship are essentially the same as at your original green card interview, except that this time you mail the evidence to USCIS along with the Form I-751.  For example:  

• Birth certificates of any children born of the relationship, showing the applicant and spouse as the parents.

• Copies of federal and state tax returns with the “married filing jointly” filing status.

• Evidence of joint checking, savings, or other accounts or assets (certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts, pension plans, etc.), or joint obligations on any loans.

• Photo ID cards (such as driver’s licenses, school IDs, or amended passports) showing the couple’s joint address. 

• An apartment lease or a letter from the landlord indicating that both spouses live at the apartment, or copies of rent receipts showing both parties' names.

• House or condominium deeds or mortgage documents showing joint tenancy and obligation.

• Credit cards showing both spouses’ names on the accounts. 

• Documents from an employer showing a change in records to reflect the spouse's new marital status or showing designation of the spouse as the person to be notified in event of an accident, sickness, or other emergencies.

• Evidence of life insurance policies where one spouse is named as the beneficiary of the other.

• Evidence of one spouse’s medical or health insurance plan that has coverage for the other spouse.

• Copies of gas, electric, telephone, cable, and other utility bills showing both parties’ names (or at least the same mailing address).

• Evidence of joint ownership of an automobile (title, insurance, registration, financing). If one spouse owns the car, show at least that the other is covered as a driver on the insurance policy.

• Evidence of vacations and other trips taken together, including airline tickets and hotel bills.

• Evidence of major purchases made together, such as computers, audio equipment, television, refrigerator, washer, dryer, etc., including any financing documents.

•  Photographs that show both spouses together with family and friends.  

• Two sworn affidavits from people who know the spouses as a married couple and who can briefly describe their relationship with them.  These can be relatives, close friends, employers, or others, preferably US citizens.

No one has all the evidence listed above, but every couple has at least some of these items.  The point is to submit everything that fits your particular situation.  Another important reminder is that USCIS expects you to submit documentation that covers the entire two-year period of conditional residence.  The biggest mistake that people make is not submitting enough documentation.  If not enough proof is submitted, USCIS will issue a request for further evidence or even schedule the couple for an interview, which will delay the processing of the case.

Note that in some circumstances you can file this petition without your spouse if, for example, you are now divorced or if you are a victim of domestic violence.  In these circumstances, you are still required to document the “good faith” of your marriage, but there is a lot of additional evidence required.  If you are in this situation, you should definitely have an attorney represent you in filing.

Also, if you have been arrested for any reason since you were granted conditional permanent residence, it is essential that you consult with an immigration attorney before filing.  

Rian attorneys are available to provide advice on the I-751 process and any other immigration matter.  Our walk-in immigration clinics have been suspended due to COVID-19, but our attorneys are providing free immigration consultations over the phone and will be happy to speak with you.  Please call 617-542-7654 to schedule a phone consultation.

Disclaimer:  These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases.   US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State frequently amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures.  For legal advice seek the assistance of Rian immigration legal staff.