How to Manage Your Conditional Resident Status

Both entrepreneurs and marriage-based green card applicants (unless their marriages were already over two years old when they became U.S. residents) must file paperwork with USCIS to show that they deserve to convert to permanent residents.

By , J.D.

If you received a green card with a two-year expiration date on it, you are what's called a conditional resident. Conditional resident status isn't renewable, and the expiration date applies not only to the card, but to your actual status in the United States. If you don't act within those two years to have the condition removed —that is, to convert to permanent residence—you will lose your right to remain in the United States. You could be placed into removal proceedings before and immigration judge and ultimately be deported.

The eligibility and process for removing conditional resident status in the U.S. depends on the basis upon which you received it, either as:

  • an alien entrepreneur, or
  • the spouse of a U.S. citizen, if your marriage was less than two years old at the time you received your residency or entered the U.S. on your immigrant visa.

Both situations are discussed below.

    Removing Conditional Resident Status for Entrepreneur Immigrants

    A conditional green card for entrepreneurs, also called investors, lasts for two years. Within 90 days before the green card expires, you must petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to remove the conditions.

    The object is to prove that you still deserve your status and it should be made permanent—specifically, that:

    • your investment in the commercial enterprise by which you obtained your status was not intended solely as a means of evading U.S. immigration laws
    • you did, in fact, invest the requisite capital
    • you are sustaining active participation with this enterprise, and
    • your enterprise generated (or is in the process of generating) employment for at least ten U.S. workers.

    Many people fail at this step in the process, because they don't take it seriously, and don't prove what they need to. Pay close attention to your two-year deadline. During the 90 days before it arrives, you must complete the Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on USCIS Form I-829.

    If you fail to submit the form and documents on time, or USCIS refuses to remove the conditions on your residence status, removal proceedings will in all likelihood be started against you, potentially forcing you to leave the country.

    See an immigration attorney for a full analysis. If your failure to file the Form I-829 was for good cause and due to extenuating circumstances, the lawyer might be able to convince USCIS to let you file late.

    Removing Conditional Resident Status Based on Marriage

    Two years of conditional resident status is given to immigrants whose marriage to their U.S. spouse was less than two years old at the time they were approved for U.S. residence (by USCIS) or entered the U.S. after receiving an immigrant visa from a U.S. consulate in another country.

    The purpose of this two-year condition is so that the couple prove to USCIS for a second time that their marriage is real. The U.S. government wants a second look at whether the couple married as a fraud, simply to gain immigration status for the immigrant rather than to establish a life together.

    You were no doubt asked to provide documents and other proof that your marriage was bona fide when you obtained your conditional resident status. Now you'll have to provide more, similar documentation, covering the subsequent two-year period.

    The procedure for removing the conditions on your residence is to file USCIS Form I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence along with documentary proof that you are still eligible.

    In order to be eligible for approval without having to make use of an exception, you must remain married to the same spouse for the two-year period. Also, the marriage must have been entered into in good faith, not to avoid immigration laws. If you can't meet these requirements, see the articles linked to above, which will acquaint you with the exceptional situations in which you can request a waiver allowing you to file without your spouse's help.

    At least 90 days before the conditional status expires, both spouses are expected to complete the Form I-751. Once the petition is approved, the condition is removed and you will receive permanent residence status. However, if you don't complete the application, you can be placed into removal proceedings (immigration court), lose your status, and have to leave the United States.

    See an attorney immediately if you are in this situation. If your failure to file was for good cause and extenuating circumstances, the lawyer might be able to convince USCIS to let you file Form I-751 late.

    What USCIS Does After You File for Removal of the Conditions on Your Residence

    After USCIS receives your petition to remove the conditions on residence and confirms that it is complete, it will send you a receipt notice. This is an important document confirming that you are still in valid immigration status while awaiting the USCIS decision. Make a copy and guard it carefully; you'll need to show it to employers or when you travel, because your actual resident card will have expired by this point.

    Later, you will be called in for biometrics (fingerprinting and the like), so that your record can be checked again. You might be called in for an interview. At last, USCIS will make its decision on whether to grant you U.S. permanent residence.


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