Obtaining a conditional green card or permanent residency is an essential step toward getting a permanent green card and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. Given the severe limitations of conditional green cards, it’s vital to fully understand their implications.
Failing to follow the correct procedure surrounding conditional green cards may ultimately lead to deportation. Removing conditions on a green card is perhaps the most important of these procedures. Once conditions are removed, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides individuals with a permanent green card that must only be renewed once every 10 years. If you don’t remove conditions, you may not be able to legally work or live in the U.S.
This article will help you better understand what a conditional green card is, the reasons to get one, how to remove conditions on a green card and what to do if your petition is denied.
What is a conditional green card?
A conditional green card is a visa that grants conditional permanent residence to foreign citizens. Conditional permanent residence gives individuals the right to reside and work in the U.S. for two years as opposed to the 10-year period of traditional green cards. After two years, the green card holder must petition to remove conditions on residence to remain in the U.S. longer.
What is the difference between a conditional green card holder and other green card holders?
Conditional green card holders may live and work in the U.S., but a conditional green card expires after two years. This is different from a permanent green card, which expires after 10 years. Since an immigrant must hold a green card for at least five years before applying for U.S. citizenship, it’s only possible to become a U.S. citizen with a permanent green card.
Aside from the short time before expiration, a conditional green card generally gives its holder the same rights and responsibilities that other green cards do.
What are the reasons for conditional green cards?
There are two primary reasons a foreign citizen might obtain a conditional green card in the U.S.:
- People married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for less than two years can only get a conditional green card.
- Under the U.S. investment visa program, EB-5 investors may obtain a conditional green card.
Unfortunately, some people try to game the U.S. immigration system by obtaining green cards through fraudulent marriages. USCIS must remain vigilant and ensure that green card holders seek permanent residence and citizenship lawfully. To guard against fraudulent marriages, the U.S. immigration system treats spouses who’ve been married for less than two years differently from other married couples. This situation results in married couples receiving conditional rather than permanent green cards.
The U.S. immigration system also promotes investments within the U.S. This goal is accomplished by allowing investors and their spouses and children to apply for a green card. To qualify, investors must make or exceed the minimum necessary investment in a U.S. commercial enterprise and create or preserve at least 10 permanent full-time jobs for U.S. workers. EB-5 investors initially apply for a conditional green card and may later gain permanent residence by removing conditions on their green card.
When can you file a petition to remove conditions on residence?
In most cases, conditional permanent residents may petition to remove conditions in the period starting 90 days before their conditional green card expires. It’s critical to file for conditional green card removal before the expiration date of your green card. Some petitioners can successfully file late; however, the process is more complicated and you must have a good reason for the late filing.
What are the consequences of not getting conditions removed?
Conditional permanent residents become “out of status” when their conditional green card expires. Though different from being unlawfully present in the U.S., the consequences of being out of status may include:
- Ineligibility to work in the U.S.
- Ineligibility for immigration benefits
- Denial of future visas
- Being barred from entering the U.S. for a period of time
These consequences can upend conditional permanent residents’ lives and severely affect their families.
How to file for removal of conditions
The government requires conditional permanent residents to go through several steps to remove conditions on their green card. As outlined below, some steps differ depending on whether the conditional green card is based upon eligibility through a marriage or an EB-5 investment.
File Form I-751 or Form I-829
For conditional residents with a marriage-based green card, Form I-751 is the form to remove conditions on their green card. Most married couples complete this form together and submit it as a joint application. Under certain circumstances—such as for petitioners whose spouse passed away or who have an annulment, divorce or separation due to abuse—Form I-751 is an individual application. Either way, the filing fee for form I-751 is currently $585.
Foreign citizens with a conditional green card based on EB-5 investment status must file Form I-829 to remove the conditions of their green card and pay the filing fee, which is currently $3,750. An EB-5 investor may include their spouse and children in the petition.
Receive Form I-797
Once a conditional permanent resident files a petition to remove conditions on residence, they should receive Form I-797 from USCIS within two to three weeks. This form serves as confirmation that USCIS received the petition. It also contains information that should help petitioners track their cases and extends their conditional green cards by four years.
Go to a biometric screening appointment
After receiving Form I-797, conditional permanent residents should expect a request from USCIS to schedule a biometric services appointment (Form I-797C). The request will provide information on how to prepare for the screening and what you should bring.
During the appointment, you’ll have your photographs taken, fingerprints scanned and signatures recorded. It can be beneficial to schedule a biometric services appointment as soon as possible to ensure the process proceeds quickly and smoothly.
Receive a request for evidence
Some petitioners will receive a request for evidence, or an RFE. Applicants often benefit from replying to RFEs as quickly and effectively as possible. When responding to an RFE, conditional permanent residents should provide the documents requested and additional evidence to bolster their case.
Holders of marriage-based conditional green cards should expect to provide evidence that they are in a lawful, good-faith marriage. EB-5-based conditional green card holders often must provide proof of their sustained investment and the jobs they created or maintained.
For these reasons, it’s generally considered a positive sign if petitioners don’t receive an RFE.
Sit through an interview
Applicants often must sit for an interview with a USCIS immigration officer. If an interview is necessary, USCIS will provide notice. The notice should instruct petitioners on how and when they can schedule an interview. It’ll also indicate if their spouse must be interviewed as well.
During the interview, the interviewer may ask about your marriage or your investments that form the basis of your application for a green card. Common questions include asking how an applicant spends time with their spouse or inquiring about what their spouse’s friends are like.
Receive a permanent green card
Once the process is complete and USCIS has approved a conditional permanent resident application, you should receive a permanent green card. It’s difficult to predict how long an individual application will take. However, most applicants can expect the process to be between six months and two years.
What are the reasons a petition might be denied?
Sometimes USCIS denies applications to remove conditions from a conditional green card. Common reasons for denial include:
- Failure to provide evidence indicating a good-faith marriage
- Suspected fraudulent marriage
- Late applications without extenuating circumstances
- Failure to provide proof of adequate EB-5 investments
- Failure to provide evidence of job creation
- Criminal convictions
- Immigration violations
- Fraud or willful misrepresentation
If an application is denied, applicants may request for an immigration judge to review their denial and ultimately appeal the judge’s decision.
An attorney can help applicants with their petitions
Many people benefit from the help of an experienced immigration attorney in applying for the removal of conditions from their green card. Services attorneys may provide include:
- Aiding clients while completing and filing all immigration paperwork
- Keeping track of dates and deadlines
- Advising clients on how to improve their chances of success
- Helping clients prepare for interviews
- Representing clients during immigration interviews
- Appealing USCIS decisions