Foreign spouses who recently married U.S. citizens generally enter the United States as conditional residents. The conditional status automatically terminates after two years. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses the conditional status like a probation period. Before the end of the conditional period, the couple must file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence and prove a bona fide marriage. Getting an I-751 approved is essential for the conditional resident to remain in the United States. Getting an I-751 denied can result in the foreign spouse being removed from the U.S.
If your Form I-751 is denied, USCIS will send you a letter explaining the reason for the decision. That letter will also include a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court for removal proceedings.
The best way to get your I-751 approved is to approach the process proactively. That is, understand what the I-751 petition is and prepare it so that you meet the requirements. Getting an I-751 denied will only lead to jeopardizing your permanent residence in the U.S. and/or expensive legal fees in an attempt to fix the situation.
Why There’s a Conditional Period
Green card fraud through marriage has historically been a problem in the U.S. immigration system. Obtaining a green card through marriage is one of the fast ways to get permanent residence. Some have abused the U.S. immigration system to acquire these benefits. U.S. lawmakers established the conditional period to help weed out the few that are using marriage to circumvent immigration laws. Once USCIS approves the I-751 petition, those conditions on residence are removed and the conditional resident becomes a lawful permanent resident with a 10-year green card.
Common Reasons for I-751 Denial
A conditional resident must get I-751 approved in order for him or her to remain in the United States permanently. If USCIS is unsatisfied with your I-751 petition, they may deny it. The most common reasons for getting an I-751 denied include:
Insufficient Evidence of a Bona Fide Marriage
The purpose of the I-751 petition is for you (and your spouse) to prove that you have a legitimate marriage. There is a burden of proof on you to provide evidence that you entered the marriage in good faith.
It isn’t sufficient to show that you have a marriage certificate or even live together. A typical married couple will have evidence that they are combing their lives together. Areas that you’ll need to provide strong evidence include:
- Birth certificate(s) of any children born into the marriage (if applicable)
- Evidence of combined finances
- Evidence of cohabitation
As you can imagine, it’s unlikely that someone who had faked a marriage would be able to provide the evidence listed above. For a detailed list of examples, read 33 Great Documents for Proving a Bona Fide Marriage on an I-751 Petition.
You don’t need to have every item listed above. However, the more evidence you have, the better. It will all contribute to an I-751 approval. It’s also important that your evidence is from the two-year period since you were approved for conditional residence.
Some couples may have extraordinary circumstances that make obtaining this evidence very difficult. If you are unable to gather much evidence because of special circumstances, speak to an immigration attorney that can provide some guidance and strategy.
Late or No Filing
USCIS provides very specific guidelines on the timing for filing your Form I-751. When filing jointly with your spouse, you must mail the petition to USCIS within the 90 period prior to the expiration date on the conditional green card.
If you file the I-751 too early, USCIS will reject it and mail it back to you. If you file too late, USCIS may deny your I-751 petition and refer your case to immigration court for removal proceedings. That’s because you become undocumented and deportable once your status expires. USCIS will mail you a letter that explains why you received an I-751 denial.
Of course, if you don’t file your petition at all, you become deportable even if you haven’t received a letter.
If you happen to be filing Form I-751 with a waiver to the joint filing requirement, you may file early or late. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may still move forward enforcing your removal. That’s why it’s essential to work with an immigration attorney if you need to file an I-751 petition after the deadline.
USCIS will review your case to double check your eligibility for permanent residence in the United States. During this process, some I-751 petitions get denied.
The most obvious reason that USCIS may deny an I-751 is marriage fraud. If USCIS believes that you have a sham marriage for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws, USCIS will deny the petition and refer your case to an immigration judge.
But during the review, USCIS will consider all aspects of your eligibility. They will re-review your criminal background history. If you are discovered to have a criminal record, you may be found inadmissible to the United States, and your I-751 denied.
These are serious consequences that generally require the support of an experienced legal professional. If you find yourself in immigration court, consult with an immigration attorney that can help you.
CitizenPath provides simple, affordable, step-by-step guidance through USCIS immigration applications. Individuals, attorneys and non-profits use the service on desktop or mobile device to prepare immigration forms accurately, avoiding costly delays. CitizenPath allows users to try the service for free and provides a 100% money-back guarantee that USCIS will accept the application or petition. We provide support for the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Form I-751), Green Card Renewal/Replacement (Form I-90), Citizenship Application (Form N-400), and several other commonly used USCIS forms.