After applying for a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), a person is given a “conditional residence” status if their marriage was less than two years old on the day that they were lawfully admitted to the United States or were granted their green card. This conditional residence status grants the individual a green card that is valid for two years instead of the typical ten given to permanent residents. This means that their green card is conditional on their marriage to their US-connection (spouse) and they must come back and prove to USCIS that their marriage was/is legitimate.
After two years, applicants are able to file to have the conditions removed from their green card and request that they be granted permanent resident status without conditions so that they can be granted a 10-year green card. This is often referred to as the Removal of Conditions application and is done by filing Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence.
One of the primary purposes of this application is to provide USCIS with extensive proof that the marriage has continued and is legitimate. If a marriage has ended before applying for a Removal of Conditions, extensive proof of the relationship being legitimate will be needed and the application will be subject to a higher degree of scrutiny from USCIS. This article outlines different strategies that can be implemented in order to help a Removal of Conditions application have the highest chance of success possible.
Below, we have detailed the following for you:
- Form I–751 Overview
- Warning Signs USCIS looks for when Adjudicating Form I-751 applications
- Evidence Recommendations to Strengthen an Application
- Tips for uploading relationship evidence to your SimpleCitizen Account
Form I-751 Overview
Here is a brief overview of some of the key points to remember when filing Form I-751 and applying to remove the conditions from a conditional green card:
- A person must pass a period of conditional residence if their status is based on a marriage that is less than 2 years old.
- The period of conditional residence is 2 years.
- A person must file the I-751 within the 90 days before their conditional green card expires. Failing to do so could result in the loss of permanent status and their removal from the United States. If you want help calculating the date you are eligible to file for your Removal of conditions, click here.
- The form must be filed jointly by the two spouses in most situations. However, there are some exceptions in instances of divorce or the death of the spouse. For more information on filing Form I-751 with a divorce waiver, please view the following article: here
- The filing fee for an I-751 is $595 plus $85 for a required biometric service fee.
- If a dependent child is added an extra biometrics fee is also added for each dependent child on the form.
If you’re looking for a complete guide on how to complete and submit the Form I-751, click here.
What is the difference between Removing the Conditions of my Green Card and only Renewing my Green Card?
People who have been granted an initial 2 year green card go through the process of applying for Removal of Conditions and use Form I-751. People with an already 10 year green card about to expire need to Renew their Green Card and must file Form I-90. When applying to remove the conditions, a 2-year green card holder needs to submit with their application various evidence and information to show USCIS the ongoing relationship to the sponsor that petitioned for their green card in the first place. You can find more information about the two forms and their differences here.
Showing Evidence & Proving your Legitimate Marriage
The “burden of proof” is the responsibility of a person to present evidence that their marriage has been entered in good faith , and therefore removal of conditions of their green card should be granted. Essentially, USCIS requires that new evidence be submitted to show The “burden of proof” is placed on the person applying for removal of conditions.
In this portion of the article we will provide important information about some situations that can present red-flags for USCIS adjudicators and we will give applicants examples of important evidence people can add to their application to satisfy the “burden of proof” required by USCIS.
USCIS adjudicators assign different fraud warning levels to applications based on their relationship evidence and the circumstances of their case.
Here is a list of example scenarios that could potentially raise red-flags for fraud from USCIS on a person’s application:
- Large disparity of age
- Inability of petitioner and beneficiary to speak each other’s language.
- Vast difference in cultural and ethnic background
- Family or friends unaware of the marriage
- Marriage arranged by a third party
- Marriage contracted immediately following the beneficiary’s apprehension or receipt of notification to depart the United States
- Discrepancies in statements on questions for which a husband and wife should have common knowledge
- No cohabitation since marriage, even if there are valid reasons
- Beneficiary is a friend of the family
- The petitioner has filed previous petitions on behalf of aliens, especially alien spouses
- Limited relationship evidence
In cases where the fraud level increases, the likelihood of an interview also increases. For applicants experiencing any of the situations listed above, it can be extremely helpful to include extensive relationship evidence that supports the validity of the relationship.
Proving Your Legitimate Marriage
Although a marriage certificate is required and proves a marriage is legally established, it does not prove the marriage was entered in good faith. To prove the legitimacy of the relationship, it is best practice to provide as many documents as possible to show the nature of the marriage and equally as important is that this evidence extends throughout the full duration of the relationship.
We have seen customers find the most success when their evidence is extensive and varied. If a benchmark would be helpful for you, it could be useful to aim for approximately 100-200 pieces of evidence with approximately 10-15 different evidence types. The evidence should span the full duration of the relationship.
Examples of evidence we have seen be preferred by USCIS for customers in the past includes the following:
- Evidence of spending time together
- Evidence of joint financial responsibilities
- Evidence of living together
- Evidence of raising children together
We have included lists for each of these evidence categories below with extensive examples of acceptable evidence.
IMPORTANT TIPS BEFORE STARTING:
- When adding evidence it is important to make sure the documents added clearly show that the evidence belongs to the couple, either by having BOTH people in the pictures or clearly showing BOTH names under the documents the couple is adding.
- It is important they show varied evidence not only from the current year but from all the years that the couple has been married. When adding pictures, joint leases, joint bank accounts, joint utility bills, joint insurances, tax returns, joint utility bills, etc.
- If possible, add 3-4 copies of these documents for EVERY YEAR the couple has been together.
1. Evidence of spending time together
Most married couples do things together. Showing evidence of the relationship, and of the couple doing things together is a key way of showing a good faith marriage. Here are some examples of documents that can help prove a couple’s time spent together and therefore a marriage entered in good faith:
- Photos from joint vacations or trips, especially trips abroad to visit relatives at different times during the full duration of the marriage. Listing names and dates of the photographs is usually helpful.
- Photographs from the couple’s wedding, honeymoon, get-aways, family meals, holidays, etc. List the date and names of the people in the photographs.
- Travel itineraries and lodging bookings from joint vacations or get-aways showing both names.
- Cards from loved ones complimenting you on your wedding, anniversary, or other joint life events.
- Evidence that the spouses have met or communicated with each other’s parents and relatives, including photographs, letters, cards, emails, messages, etc.
- Telephone and instant message records that show both names demonstrate that the spouses communicate regularly.
- Tickets to events both spouses attend or plan to attend.
- Receipts for gifts spouses bought for each other.
- Records of social media posts and interactions, including screenshots of Facebook pages, Twitter posts, Instagram posts, etc. that include timestamps.
- Documents showing membership in the same clubs, churches, teams, etc.
- Documents showing that one spouse took the other’s last name.
2. Evidence of joint financial responsibilities
Many married couples combine finances in a shared effort. Even if a couple would otherwise prefer to keep finances separate, it might not be a bad idea to commingle finances to help show evidence of a good faith marriage. A person can use these documents to show evidence of joint financial responsibilities. –
- Bank statements for joint accounts with both names from throughout the whole time the account has been shared. Usually 1 bank statement for every 3-4 months can be good evidence.
- Statements for loans where one spouse is a co-signer for the other spouse.
- Voided and canceled checks for joint accounts.
- Joint insurance agreements, statements, and cards, including health, life, property, and auto insurance, etc.
- Utility bills showing both names, including, cell phone, trash, cable, internet, electricity, water, gas bills, etc throughout the whole time the bills have been shared. Usually one statement for every 3-4 months per bill type can be good evidence.
- Joint memberships and subscriptions such as Amazon, Costco, Netflix, gym memberships, etc. You can add screenshots or cards that show both people under the same membership.
- Life insurance policies, wills, and trusts, showing a spouse as a beneficiary.
- Documents showing joint ownership of cars, real property, or investments.
- All Tax returns filed jointly as a married couple showing both names (with the couple’s W-2s).
- Funeral plans or intended burial locations that involve or are close to a spouse.
- Copies of bank statements from separate accounts and payment receipts showing that the spouses both contribute to financial responsibilities and payments. For example, bank statements from separate accounts could show that each spouse pays half of rent each month.
- Copies of driver’s licenses showing the same address for each spouse;
- Copies of vehicle titles showing joint ownership.
- Money transfers.
Commingling finances isn’t required, however, it provides good evidence of a good faith marriage and failing to include it can make a case more vulnerable to scrutiny.
3. Evidence of living together
Because most married couples live together USCIS sees this as another strong form of relationship evidence. Showing evidence of cohabitation, or living together is a good place to start. Remember, USCIS wants to see evidence for the full duration of the relationship so evidence should be provided for the full length of time the couple has lived together. Use these documents to show evidence of cohabitation:
- Mortgage or loan papers with both names extending back the full duration of the relationship.
- Lease agreement showing both names extending back the full duration of the relationship.
- Deed to property indicating both names.
- Bank statements giving the same address for both spouses.
- Driver’s licenses or identification documents showing the same address.
- Voided or canceled checks showing the same address.
- Property insurance agreements, statements, or cards showing the same address.
- Health and life insurance statements showing the same address.
- Correspondence from friends, family, or businesses showing the same address.
- Utility bills showing the same address, including, cell phone, trash, cable, internet, electricity, water, gas bills, etc.Usually one statement for every 3-4 months per bill type can be good evidence.
- Affidavits from family, friends, neighbors, and landlords testifying of cohabitation (more on this later).
Cohabitation isn’t required for a marriage to be legitimate, however if a couple has not lived together for their duration of their marriage or for long periods of time this can make a case more vulnerable to scrutiny. Some circumstances require spouses to live separately, such as jobs in different locations and military service. While this circumstance could cause higher scrutiny by USCIS individuals in this situation can add letters explaining the reasoning for living apart and any future plans of moving in together.
4. Evidence of raising children together
Showing proof of raising children together will provide evidence of a legitimate marriage. Use these documents to show evidence of raising children together:
- Adoption certificates showing the two spouses as the parents.
- Birth certificates showing both spouses as parents.
- Documents that show a relationship with children or step-children, including vacation itineraries, photos, school records, affidavits from friends, family, and teachers.
- Documents showing the step-parent as the emergency contact for a step-child, including, doctor’s records, school records, etc.
- Medical records showing an ongoing pregnancy.
Again, it isn’t required to have or raise children together. It is just helpful evidence to show a good faith marriage. Evidence of raising step- or adopted children together can also be good evidence to add into an application.
Affidavits were listed above as documents that could provide evidence of intimacy, cohabitation, and raising children together. “Affidavit” is just a formal word for a written statement for legal use that is confirmed by oath. Affidavits can be very convincing. Spouses can get their family, friends, neighbors, and employers to write down their personal observations witnessing the legitimacy of the marriage.
You can find more information about the affidavits of support from families and friends here.
Tips for uploading relationship evidence to the SimpleCitizen platform:
Uploading organized relationship evidence is important so that the USCIS officer can easily look through your application. The easiest way to upload relationship evidence is to organize it by evidence type, merge the documents into PDFs, and then upload them under the different categories.
For example, for bank statements, putting them in chronological order, putting them all into a single PDF, and then uploading a single Bank Statements document is often the simplest way.
For photos, people often put them into a word document or powerpoint presentation and then save the file as a single PDF and then upload that.
You can use a program like the following website to merge your documents. Please be sure to find one that you trust. Adobe Acrobat, if you have it, tends to be a secure and user-friendly option.