Foreign nationals who obtain their green card through marriage to a US citizen or permanent resident, but who have been married for less than two years at the time of approval of their adjustment of status, get only a two-year conditional residency, with an expiration date. During the 90-day period prior to expiration of the conditional green card, both husband and wife have to file a joint petition to remove the conditions on residency, the Form I-751. The husband and wife, even though they file jointly, must still prove that the marriage is genuine and that they are continuing to share their lives together. The foreign national can then get his or her permanent residency, and is also eligible to file for naturalization within 90 days of the third-year anniversary of their green card.

What if the marriage does not work out? Perhaps it was an arranged marriage where the families had a very formal relationship prior to the wedding, and everyone was on their best behavior, with an expensive, grand three-day wedding that was absolutely beautiful. But then afterwards, no one is on their best behavior anymore. The new husband and wife discover that they do not share the same values or outlook and are totally incompatible. Or the wife discovers she has an unbearable mother-in-law. Or the husband turns out to be abusive (of course, there are abusive wives too!!), or has had a girlfriend on the side the whole time whom he has continued seeing. And, well, all hell breaks loose…

Of course, there are many reasons marriages can break down. If you are a conditional resident with your expiration date coming up and have separated from your spouse, he or she is not willing to cooperate in filing the I-751, what are you to do?

You still need to try to file the Form I-751 prior to the expiration date of your conditional residency. Only now you will no longer be filing jointly with your spouse, but instead must qualify for an exception.

One exception is where you entered the marriage in good faith (meaning you married to spend your lives together, not for immigration purposes), but that the marriage has ended in divorce or annulment. To qualify on this basis, the conditional resident must already have in hand a final divorce judgment or annulment. Many mistakenly believe that as long as they file for divorce, this is enough. It is not. The judge must have issued a final order in your divorce case. You must also prove that the marriage was genuine, not for immigration purposes.

A second exception is where you were battered or suffered extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. Documentation is very important, you will need to submit any police reports, medical reports of injuries, photos of injuries, orders of protection, proof of counseling for any emotional or psychological harm (or evaluation by a forensic psychologist), and affidavits from witnesses.

A third exception is where removal from the U.S. would cause you extreme hardship. Here, you may document conditions in your country of origin, such as sectarian violence, discrimination against minority religions or ethnic groups, war, conditions for women, access to health care and opportunities, etc. Also, if you have US citizen children or other close family members in the U.S., have lived here for many years, would have to sacrifice your career, and other factors are also important.

Another exception is where the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse dies. Again, it is always important to prove that the marriage was genuine. Perhaps you are the beneficiary of life insurance.

The conditional resident has the option of filing more than one I-751 waiver, each based on a different exception. So, for example, you could file one I-751 waiver based on the fact that your spouse abused you, and a separate I-751 based on extreme hardship if you had to return to your home country.

Hopefully, you will have an interview, and if your case is well-documented and you can articulate the history of your marriage and how you qualify for an exception, the USCIS will approve your I-751. But let us imagine the worst-case scenario, if USCIS denies your I-751 and terminates your conditional residency.

USCIS will refer you into removal proceedings in immigration court, but issuing an NTA (a Notice to Appear). The great part is that you have a second chance to prove your case in front of the immigration judge. Not only can you renew your I-751 exceptions before the Immigration Judge, but you can also apply for whatever relief from removal for which you may be eligible, such as asylum or cancellation of removal for battered spouses.

Envisioning all the possible scenarios becomes very complex, but as you see, there is no reason to be devastated about your chances of becoming a lawful permanent resident even if your marriage falls apart. You still have options.

Copyright 2019 © Heidi J Meyers, all rights reserved.