The Conditional Green Card: The 7 Things You Should Know

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1. What is a conditional green card?

A conditional green card is one that’s valid for two years. Some call it a “temporary green card.” Not everyone gets a conditional green card, however. It’s only issued when the immigration agency known as “The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service” (USCIS) approves your green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen and your marriage was less than two years old at the time of approval. For example, if you married a U.S. citizen in January 2019 and USCIS approves your case in February 2020 then you’ll be given a conditional green card valid for two years.

If you have a two-year green card then immigration may refer to you as a “conditional permanent resident.” Other ways to describe someone with a conditional green card are someone with a “temporary green card,” “conditional resident status,” or “conditional LPR status.” It can be confusing to know if your card is conditional because it looks very similar to a permanent green card. The main difference is the permanent green card is valid for 10 years and the conditional green card for two years. Otherwise, the two are almost identical.

It’s important to know why immigration issues temporary green cards. The law says that any marriage under two years is a presumed fake marriage. So the conditions on your green card require you to return to immigration in two years and re-prove your marriage or give a reason why you’re unable to do so.

2. What rights do I have with a conditional green card?

Are my rights limited with a conditional green card?

Surprisingly, a conditional or temporary green card grants you the same rights as a permanent green card. The only difference is the validity period.

That means you can live and work in the U.S. with a conditional green card as long as you are within the two-year period after immigration’s approval. Note: Although you can live and work in the U.S. on a conditional green card it’s illegal to vote.

Another benefit of having a temporary green card is that your time in conditional residency counts towards citizenship. Typically, you have to wait five years to apply for citizenship, and sometimes three. Any time spent on a conditional green card counts towards the three- or five-year period.

Can I travel with a conditional green card?

Yes, you can travel abroad with a conditional green card. But the better question is whether you have the right to come back to the U.S. with one. The answer is also “yes” — a conditional card allows you to reenter the U.S. after a trip aboard.

But note that a conditional green card doesn’t allow you to live abroad. As someone with a conditional green card, you have to reside in the U.S. If you demonstrate an intent to live abroad, immigration officials can decide that you gave up your residence and thus strip you of your green card.

3. When do I apply for an extension of my conditional green card?

You must file for an extension of your temporary green card before expiration. This means that you have to take action before the end of the two-year validity period.

What happens if your temporary green card expires

If you don’t send the right application in on time and your green card expires, then immigration can in theory try to deport you. (Don’t worry, though, they rarely do.) Immigration officials prefer that you still file the applicable form even with an expired card. If you do late-file, you have to attach an explanation for why. In other words, if you have an expired conditional green card, you should file the proper application as soon as possible and include the reasons why it’s late.

How to extend your temporary green card

You will use the same application to get both an extension and a permanent green card. (This is the form I-751 discussed in the next section). After you file the Form I-751, the government will send you a receipt notice that grants you an extension of your conditional green card. Thus, you can think of it as a conditional green card extension. If the government approves your application then you’ll receive a permanent green card in the mail.

4. How do I remove conditions on my conditional green card?

What form do I use?

You use the form I-751 to extend and remove conditions on your green card. You have to send not just the form I-751, but also supporting documents and applicable fees to USCIS. The I-751 form is also known as a “Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.” The name makes sense, because you have a temporary green card and want to remove the conditions on it.

Note that you aren’t asking for a renewal of your conditional green card. You’re filing the form I-751 to get a permanent green card by removing the conditions on your two-year card.

How long does it take to process the Form I-751?

The timeline for a decision on the form I-751 can be anywhere from 6 months to 4 years. The length of time largely depends on the basis of your form I-751. The basis of filing breaks down into two main groups. The conditional green card removal processing time largely depends on which of these two you use when filing the I-751.

What are the I-751 requirements?

The I-751 requirements vary, depending on whether you are still in a relationship with your spouse.

If you are still with your spouse, the immigration laws require you to file the I-751 jointly. Both you and your spouse must sign the form. The joint filing method is appropriate when you are still married and living together.

If you are no longer with your spouse, you should file for an I-751 waiver. Put differently, you need to apply for a waiver of the joint filing requirement. You can apply for this waiver by checking the boxes for one or more of the three waiver categories on the I-751.

What are the I-751 Waivers Categories?

Here are the three categories of I-751 waivers:

  • Divorce Waiver.  This applies where you are divorced from your spouse but the marriage was in good faith.  Good faith means that you had a real relationship with your ex-spouse, but unfortunately, things did not work out and the marriage ended legally.
  • Abuse Waiver.  This applies when, during the marriage, your spouse abused you or was extremely cruel to you.  Extreme cruelty includes emotional or verbal abuse, not just physical. In sum, you can get an abuse waiver of the I-751 joint filing requirement not just when your spouse hits you, but when he or she is extremely cruel to you.  Note: To qualify for this waiver, you must still show that you entered the marriage in good faith.
  • Extreme Hardship Waiver.  This waiver does not require you to show that you entered a marriage in good faith.  To qualify for this waiver you must show that if you are not given a permanent green card, you or your children will suffer extreme hardship.  Extreme hardship is hardship that rises beyond the ordinary.  Further, you must show that the extreme hardship you would suffer would arise from circumstances that occurred during the two-year in which you were a conditional resident.  Note: To qualify for this waiver, you do not need to show that you entered your marriage in good faith.

5. What is the effect of divorce on my conditional green card?

What is the immediate effect of my divorce?

Divorcing your spouse does not have any immediate effect on your conditional green card. For example, if the government approves a conditional green card in January 2020 and you divorce in August 2020 then you will still be in valid status for the full 2 years — until January 2022.

Will I have issues later on?

While there’s no immediate effect, the divorce will legally affect how you try to remove conditions on your green card, and thus, how you fill out the Form I-751.  If you’re divorced and have a conditional green card, then you can’t file jointly with your spouse. Instead, you must use one of the waiver options to remove the conditions of your green card. These options are outlined above.

You should also know that the government doesn’t like receiving I-751 waiver application from temporary green card holders.  In these cases, the government will look more closely at your application to remove conditions.  So, for example, if you get divorced very soon after you obtained your card, the government will take a hard look at your waiver application to be sure that you married in good faith.

Additionally, a form I-751 waiver could trigger an in-person interview. But this is not the only reason why they may schedule an interview.  Learn more below about conditional green card interviews.

6. Will I get an I-751 interview to remove conditions on my green card?

After you file an I-751, the government may schedule you for an interview to remove conditions on your temporary green card.

Why you may get an interview

This can happen for two reasons. First, immigration service centers may have too many I-751 applications pending from other conditional green card holders. When that happens, the service center ask the local offices to help take over some cases, which trigger an interview. Second, you can get an interview when you didn’t submit enough evidence or the immigration officials have other concerns about your form I-751.

What happens at the interview

The I-751 interview experience varies and will depend on your particular situation.  (It does have certain similarities to green card interviews in general, however.) If the immigration officer has serious doubts about your case then the I-751 interview questions could seem very harsh. In fact, the official could accuse you of fraud if an officer believes you lied to them about the marriage. If your conditional green card case is strong, however, then the interview should be a pleasant and easy experience.

It’s important to note that the government will not necessarily schedule an interview if you filed for an I-751 waiver.  Officials often approve the I-751 waiver without an interview. For example, if your marriage ended in divorce but you have children together then immigration is unlikely to schedule you for an I-751 interview.

7. What happens if I get an I-751 denial?

Sometimes the immigration officer will issue an I-751 denial.  Most often, the officer denies a form I-751, due to lack of evidence. If you get a form I-751 denial, then immigration can, and usually does, begin deportation proceedings against you. This means the government will try to remove you from the U.S.

But all is not lost. You have a right to have the immigration judge reconsider your I-751, and you should take full advantage of this opportunity.  When you ask the immigration judge to review the I-751, you will have a chance to submit more evidence.  This additional evidence can take the form of not just documents but witness testimony.

If you end up in deportation proceedings due to an I-751 denial, it’s very important that you consult with an immigration attorney.  You should also make sure that you never miss a court hearing date.  (Be sure to learn more on how to check your immigration court date.)

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