Ah, wedding bells—congratulations! In addition to the toaster, bath towels, and such you receive as congratulatory gifts, as a newlywed, you can apply for a Permanent Resident Card (most commonly referred to as a Green Card).
You’ve taken your vows, made it through the spousal immigration process, and you’re on your way to citizenship, right? Not so fast.
Marriage + Green Card does not automatically = citizenship. If you’re seeking citizenship for your spouse, there are some important steps and caveats you need to know. Let’s take a look.
It’s a common misconception that citizenship is automatically granted to a foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen, but the truth is that it’s only a stepping stone on that pathway. A pathway with many other steps and requirements. I’m sure you’re aware of the various ways to adjust your status, but we’re looking closely at the route to citizenship through marriage.
So, what comes after getting a Green Card?
First, you must know that the initial Green Card you receive is a Conditional Green Card for two years. There are strings attached, that is why it’s called conditional. At the end of the two years, you’re due for a check-up. Now, this is not to be confused with a Visa renewal. We’re talking about the form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. This is essentially an evaluation of your marriage after two years.
You may have taken vows of a lifetime commitment to your spouse, but Immigration needs a bit more than your word to verify the validity of your marriage and ensure you are abiding by the terms of your residency.
Let’s first take a look at the timeline for this verification process.
As I mentioned, this verification comes at the end of the two years. It’s incredibly important you do not miss that deadline, as failure to meet the deadline has serious consequences for your likelihood of earning permanent residency and much less citizenship. You can begin the filing process as early as 90 days before the end of those two years.
So, better late than never really is not an acceptable sentiment in this process. It’s more of an “early bird gets the worm” type of deal, and you’re so much better off if you start this process as soon as possible.
I-751: More Than Filing a Form
As we mentioned, Immigration will not just accept your original vows or your word on your marriage status. They want evidence. This process is much like re-applying, as you have to provide significant materials to prove the validity of your marriage.
Honestly, it’s quite a lot, and an experienced immigration attorney can help you collect and prepare the necessary evidence to satiate Immigration’s inquires and check all of their boxes.
The good news is while Immigration is processing this form, you’re able to keep accumulating time here. And if you don’t know, after three years of permanent residency and having met all of the immigration requirements to validate your marriage, you can file for naturalization.
So, while it might seem like an arduous process (and, it is), it has the potential to lead to citizenship.
I Do, then I Don’t—Now What?
Everything we’ve discussed here so far pertains to marriages that remain happily intact, but we all know that not every story has a fairytale ending. So, what if you’re no longer happily married? What if you’re separated or have started divorce proceedings? You still have options, albeit much more complicated ones. If you’ve not met the marital conditions of your permanent residency, you may still potentially keep your residency, but you need to talk to a lawyer.
As always, our experienced immigration attorneys would love to speak with you about your options and help secure your path to citizenship, so reach out to us if any of this applies to you or someone you know. Continue to follow along with us on social media, where we will continue to dissect the aspects of immigration that are important to you.