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Top Tips on Navigating a Conditional Green Card During Divorce

Did you obtain your green card through marriage? Are you considering divorce? If so, you need to understand how to secure your green card status. Rosanna Berardi, Managing Partner of Berardi Immigration Law, a New York boutique immigration firm, provides us with an overview on the divorce and green card rules.

What is a Marriage-Based Conditional Green Card?

If you are a foreign national and marry a U.S. citizen, he/she can sponsor you for lawful permanent residency or a “green card.” Green cards allow individuals to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis.

Marriage-based green cards are either conditional, with a two-year validity period, or permanent, with a ten-year validity period. Individuals married for less than two years at the time of green card issuance are issued what is called a conditional green card. The conditional green card is only valid for two years, and an application (known as Form I-751) must be submitted before the expiration of the green card in order to “remove” the conditions and ultimately receive a 10-year green card.

It is important to know what type of green card you have. Please review the front of your green card. If it expires in a two-year-period, you will need to file a request to “lift the conditions of the green card (marriage)” and convert it to a permanent green card.

How to Remove Conditions on Residence

To remove the conditions on residence and be granted a 10-year green card, you and your U.S. citizen spouse will need to jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence. You will need to submit evidence of your relationship to prove that you entered your marriage in good faith and did not use marriage to circumvent U.S. immigration laws. Such evidence may include copies of joint leases, joint bank account statements, and proof that you have children together.

Form I-751 must be filed with U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) via mail within the 90-days prior to the expiration of your conditional green card. This date is critical!

What if My Spouse Won’t File Form I-751?

Although applicants are typically required to jointly file Form I-751 with their U.S. citizen spouse, applicants may file Form I-751 with a waiver to the joint filing requirement in several circumstances, including divorce, spousal abuse, or if the termination of status would result in extreme hardship for the applicant.

Divorce Waivers

If you get divorced while on a conditional green card, you need to provide ample evidence that you got married in good faith and did not use marriage to circumvent U.S. immigration laws to be approved for a 10-year green card. Such evidence may include affidavits from friends and family, joint utility bills and joint bank statements for the duration of the marriage, and joint lease agreements or mortgage statements. The divorce must be finalized, and you must provide a copy of your divorce decree to file for this waiver.

Domestic Violence Waivers

If you have been the victim of “any act or threatened act of violence” by your U.S. citizen spouse, you may qualify for a waiver based on battery or extreme cruelty. To receive this waiver, you must provide evidence of both your good faith marriage and the abuse. Evidence of abuse may include police and medical reports, court records, photos of injuries, psychological evaluations, communication records such as text messages or emails, and evidence that you sought safety with family, friends, or in a shelter.

If you have questions about how your marital situation may affect your marriage-based green card, you should raise your concerns with your divorce attorney and consult with an immigration attorney to devise a strategic plan. In addition, before establishing joint accounts with your spouse during your marriage, you should consult with a divorce attorney to make sure you are not converting your separate property into marital property by adding your souse’s name to the account

Rosanna Berardi, Esq. of Berardi Immigration Law may be reached at 716.634.1010 or rberardi@usimmlawyer.com or www.berardiimmigrationlaw.com