Filing paperwork with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is a tedious and often frustrating proposition. But there’s no getting around it once you’re ready to apply for lawful permanent resident status. If you’re recently married and either you or your spouse is filing Form I-751, you can expect to be closely scrutinized. And any filing mistakes on your part will only slow down the lengthy processing time. The good news is our Colorado Immigration Attorneys can help you mitigate potential problems and help you get a green card.
In This Article
- What Is a Green Card?
- Why You Must File For a Green Card
- Don’t Expect a Speedy Result
- When and How To File For a Green Card
- Mistakes To Avoid
- What To Expect After Form I-751 Has Been Submitted?
- What If the Petition Doesn’t Get Approved?
Our Colorado Immigration Attorneys Can Help You Get a Green Card
Having an experienced Colorado immigration attorney on your side can make the green card application process go a lot smoother. Our Immigration Team understands what’s at stake when you’re trying to get a green card. We will guide you every step of the way. To begin your free case assessment, call us at 303-688-0944. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.
What is a Green Card?
A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, is a powerful document that allows a person to live and work anywhere in the United States, even if they are not an American citizen. It is the same size as a driver’s license or credit card and is designed to be carried the same way.
There are two types of green cards:
- A conditional permanent resident card is issued to noncitizens who have gained lawful entry to the U.S. through marriage, a job, or entrepreneurial investment. In order to prevent noncitizens from taking advantage of their status, this green card is temporary and expires after two years.
- A lawful permanent resident card is issued to people who have successfully removed the conditional status by filing Form I-751 and proven they are law-abiding, responsible residents. This green card is valid for 10 years and allows its holder to apply for U.S. citizenship if they wish.
In most cases, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) grants newly married noncitizens with American spouses a conditional, two-year green card so they can begin living in this country with their new spouse. The official term for this status is conditional permanent resident, but it’s a lot more conditional than it is permanent. In fact, it’s quite temporary.
Why You Must Apply to Get a Green Card
The conditional green card expires after two years.
When the conditional green card expires, its holder is no longer a lawful resident of the United States. It’s important to know that if you obtained your temporary green card through marriage, and you’re still married, you and your spouse must file the I-751 jointly.
To extend conditional resident status.
Once a Form I-751 is filed, the CIS extends the petitioner’s conditional resident status for 18 to 24 months. This allows the non-citizen to remain lawfully in the U.S.—and even travel outside of the country—while the CIS processes the application.
“The alien spouse and the petitioning spouse (if not deceased) jointly must submit to the Secretary of Homeland Security, during the period described in subsection (d)(2), a petition which requests the removal of such conditional basis and which states, under penalty of perjury, the facts and information described in subsection (d)(1)” — 8 U.S. Code § 1186a
To get the conditional classification removed from the non-citizen’s residence status.
Once the I-751 process is successfully completed, the petitioner is granted Lawful Permanent Resident status and a 10-year green card.
The Process to Get a Green Card is Lengthy
The Burden is on the Filer
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service is perhaps the ultimate bureaucracy. Of course, there are sympathetic CIS workers, but the CIS will not hold your hand during the filing process. The burden to get the paperwork right is on you, not the CIS.
It’s your responsibility to follow up, check in on, and, when necessary, prod your petition along.
Expect Delays Due to a Case Backlog
The process to get a green card has never been expedient. But unforeseen and uncontrollable issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can exacerbate the process. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closure of its offices and created a sizable case backlog.
Depending on several factors, it can take at least a year, and sometimes up to three or four years, to complete the process which may or may not result in getting your green card.
Any of the following situations could delay the progress of your petition, or set it adrift in bureaucratic limbo:
- an influx of new cases
- case backlogs
- background information delays (in the U.S. or the petitioner’s country of origin)
- any issue or issues with your I-751 form
Green Card Filers Seek Relief from the Court
The process to get a green card can become so convoluted that some petitioners have taken the USCIS to court in an effort to move it along.
Courts generally don’t have the jurisdiction to decide who gets a green card. As a result, most petitioners’ cases are dismissed and remanded back to the local CIS field office. However, in extraordinary cases, like Anjum v Hansen, the court can step in and compel the CIS to do its job.
Anjum v. Hansen
Background on Anjum v. Hansen
Ghulam Anjum was a 48-year-old Pakistani citizen who had lawfully lived in the United States since October of 2000. He gained conditional permanent resident status by marrying an American in April 2001.
In July 2003, Anjum filed Form I-751 to get a green card that would be good for 10 years. While the green card process was pending, he went ahead and filed an N-400 form for U.S. naturalization in October of 2004.
More than two years later, neither Anjum’s I-751 nor N-400 applications had been adjudicated, leaving him in a state of uncertainty. By May 2006, Anjum was tired of waiting.
Anjum Files a Complaint in U.S. District Court
Anjum filed a complaint with the Ohio Southern U.S. District Court claiming an unreasonable delay.
By March of 2007, Anjum’s green card application had been stalled for 44 months. It had been 29 months since he filed for naturalization. The CIS actually canceled two of his naturalization interview appointments.
The Lincoln, Nebraska CIS District Director Mark Hansen, the defendant in the case, argued the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Anjum’s case.
The court ultimately sided with Anjum:
“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff. Mandamus relief ‘is a drastic [remedy], to be invoked only in extraordinary situations.'” George C. Smith, District Judge, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, 2007
Though the Writ of Mandamus was abolished in Colorado, the same kind of relief can be sought through a lawsuit as an action under the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106(a)(2).
Get a Green Card: When to Apply and How to Do It
Green Card Application Timeline
If you have gained a two-year conditional green card through marriage to an American, you must wait at least one year and nine months to begin the I-751 process.
Once it’s time for you to file, you must submit your paperwork within 90 days of the temporary green card expiring. Let’s look at an example:
Let’s say you married your American spouse on April 20, 2021. That means your conditional green card is valid until April 20, 2023.
The first opportunity you can submit your I-751 form will be January 20, 2023. And the last day to file it is April 20, 2023.
Supporting Documents You Need to Get a Green Card
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service requires evidence that you and your spouse entered into the marriage in good faith before it considers granting you a 10-year green card.
In addition to the I-751 form itself, the following supporting documents should be filed:
- birth certificates of any children born into the marriage
- lease, rent, or mortgage contracts proving joint ownership and residence
- financial records proving shared ownership of assets and joint responsibility for liabilities
- photographs of the married couple together
- any other documents or affidavits adding further proof to the legitimacy of the marriage
These documents offer proof of a good-faith marriage:
“The facts are that- (i) the qualifying marriage-(I) was entered into in accordance with the laws of the place where the marriage took place, (II) has not been judicially annulled or terminated, other than through the death of a spouse, and (III) was not entered into for the purpose of procuring an alien’s admission as an immigrant.” 8 USC 1186a (d)
Other helpful supporting documents can include:
- a cover letter, especially if filing under unusual circumstances that need an explanation, such as a divorce, separation, or death of U.S. spouse
- letters of support (family, friends, minister) attesting to the good faith of the marriage
When you and your spouse are ready to file I-751 paperwork and obtain the more permanent green card, do it with as much honesty, care, and accuracy as possible. This will help you avoid further delays and complications.
Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Get a Green Card
Leaving Forms or Important Spaces Blank
There are at least seven different forms to fill out as part of the I-751 paperwork. Don’t skip over anything. Don’t put in false or inaccurate information. The CIS worker handling your file is not going to call you for clarification if important information is missing. They will either reject your forms or set them aside indefinitely.
Not Providing Supporting Documents
Don’t just throw in a copy of your marriage certificate and call it done. The CIS requires proof that the marriage is legitimate, which means attaching photos, birth certificates of your children, proof of residence and shared ownership and liability of homes, cars, other valuable property, financial statements, and letters of support.
Misunderstanding Eligibility Requirements
You should be able to show you are an actual lawful resident. If the USCIS doesn’t know you are in the U.S., has no record of how you arrived here, or has a reason to suspect you do not belong in the U.S., filing green card paperwork is no way to sneak past it. If you have any question about whether you are eligible for a green card, you should speak with an immigration attorney before you file an I-751.
Not Providing an Affidavit of Support
The affidavit of support, known to the CIS as Form I-864, is evidence that you can financially support yourself in the United States and that you won’t rely on the government to support you. Leaving this out will almost certainly lead to denial of a green card.
Sending Your I-751 Packet to the Wrong Office
Make sure you know to which CIS field office you’re supposed to send your forms. Field offices are geographically categorized as well as by the types of paperwork they process. Before dropping your packet in the mail, be certain it’s going to your geographic field office and that it handles I-751 forms.
Not Being Reachable By U.S. Mail
It is crucial you establish a permanent residence where you can receive mail. The United States Postal Service is the Citizenship and Immigration Service’s preferred means of communication.
It’s equally important to ensure that the USCIS has your correct mailing address because any mail sent to a petitioner (evidence and documentation requests especially) that gets returned could be grounds for denial.
If you move while your green card petition is pending, directly notify the USCIS of your change of address as soon as possible.
Unnecessary Travel Outside the U.S.
Some immigration experts recommend that you don’t travel outside the U.S. at all. Others recommend you travel only if absolutely necessary, e.g. a death in the family.
If you must leave the U.S. while your I-751 is pending, make sure you obtain an approved travel permit from the CIS first.
Blowing Your Interview
When the CIS contacts you for a face-to-face interview, it can be the first gleam of light at the end of this long tunnel, or your chance to completely blow it. The stakes are high, so be sure to prepare for the interview.
Be ready to answer questions about the original I-751 forms you submitted and to explain any supporting documents you either submitted or failed to submit. Bring originals and copies of all documents or evidence the CIS has requested.
Not Telling the Entire Truth
One reason the CIS takes so long processing green card petitions is all the background investigating it does on its own via national and international law enforcement agencies and databases. In short, the Citizenship and Immigration Service will not just take you at your word.
If the CIS catches you being dishonest, your petition will be denied. If it learns you left out pertinent information, your petition will be denied. If the CIS finds out later that you lied, it will revoke your green card.
The takeaway: don’t lie.
Relying Only on What USCIS Officials Say
If you get in a jam, insisting that “Sally Jo at the USCIS office told me blah blah blah” will not help you. Even information given to you over the phone via a CIS helpline or by an artificial intelligence chatbot on their website could be inaccurate to your specific situation. We recommend taking your questions to an experienced immigration attorney who is versed in the law.
What to Expect After You Submit Form I-751
Once you have submitted your I-751 form to get a green card, along with all the supporting documents, you’ll have other steps to complete as the process moves along.
These steps below are listed in the order they should be completed provided everything is going as planned:
Receipt and Notice of Action (4 to 6 weeks after filing):
Once your I-751 paperwork is submitted and accepted, USCIS will initially respond by mailing you a receipt notice (form I-797c) confirming that your petition is being processed.
If you did not properly file your Form I-751, you may receive a Request for Evidence asking for additional items, or the USCIS may send a Notice of Action to reject your petition.
Extension of Conditional Residence:
The I-797C receipt will also extend your conditional residence for an additional 18 to 24 months while USCIS reviews your case. To prove your conditional resident status, you’ll need to carry your expired green card and the receipt letter. Together, you’ll be able to reenter the U.S. after traveling abroad, accepting employment, or doing anything else that you could do with a normal green card. Also, this letter will contain your 10-digit receipt number, which you can use to check on the status of your filing anytime.
Appointment Notice for Biometrics (6-8 weeks after filing):
The CIS requires that all petitioners be fingerprinted for the purpose of conducting a security clearance and criminal background check. You will receive a notice with your biometrics appointment date, time, and location.
Biometrics screening (7 to 10 weeks after filing):
At your biometrics screening, the USCIS will collect your fingerprints, photograph, and signature. Be sure to take some form of government-issued photo identification to enter the building. The USCIS accepts forms of ID such as a driver’s license, a passport or national ID card issued by a former country, a military ID, or a state-issued photo ID card.
Request for Evidence (2 to 10 months after filing):
Petitioners who have not provided satisfactory evidence will receive this request in the mail. It is important to respond to the letter with the evidence requested, and within the required time frame.
If you filed a complete I-751 petition with all supporting documents and adequate evidence of a good-faith marriage, you may not need to provide more information.
Interview Appointment (8-12 months after filing):
In most cases, this is a mandatory final hurdle a petitioner must clear before receiving a lawful permanent residence green card. If the original jointly filed I-751 paperwork and supporting documents are strong enough, the CIS could waive the interview.
That is even more reason to file a complete and well-prepared I-751 package. Still, if called for an interview, show up prepared and bring any evidence or documents the CIS has requested.
Receive 10-year Green Card:
After USCIS has fully reviewed all your documents and supporting evidence, your petition might finally be approved. If you are approved, your lawful permanent resident green card will be mailed to you.
What if My Petition to Get a Green Card is Denied?
If your petition is denied, USCIS will mail you a notice explaining its reasons for the denial. Denials are typically due to insufficient supporting documentation, but there can be other reasons.
You cannot appeal an I-751 denial. If this happens, you will have to go before an immigration court to begin removal proceedings. You will have an opportunity to address the issues the CIS has with your petition. For instance, the CIS may have overlooked a document you did in fact send. However, it’s important to know that not all problems that led to the green card denial can be corrected.
Let’s Talk About How We Can Help You Get a Green Card
If your petition for lawful permanent resident status and a 10-year green card has been denied, you face a hearing and possible removal from the United States. Don’t face it alone. At Robinson and Henry, we have experienced attorneys who will work with you and the immigration court to keep you in the United States and put your petition back on the path toward acceptance. To begin your free case assessment, call 303-688-0944. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.