First, congratulations on obtaining your conditional permanent resident status, which is not an easy thing to do in its own right. You and your spouse should celebrate this moment because it is a milestone worth celebrating. But let’s be clear, your path to permanent residence is not over.
The U.S. government has approved you for conditional permanent residence, the operative word being “conditional.” A simple way of looking at conditional permanent residence is to think of it as a two-year trial period. The United States Congress wrote conditional permanent residence into law to provide a check on marriages at the end of the two-year conditional permanent resident approval period. The conditional permanent resident must file a petition to remove conditions on residence in the 90 days just before their green card expires. In certain cases, it may be filed before 90 days and even after the green card expires entirely, but we will get to that a bit later. For now, let’s get into our top 5 tips for conditional permanent residents based on marriage.
Stay on Top of Your Immigration Case
You might be surprised to know that I sometimes hear from conditional permanent residents who had no idea they need to file a petition to remove conditions on their residence. Most people know, but there’s an unsettling number of people who don’t. They may have used another lawyer to represent them in the initial filing and it wasn’t properly explained to them — or they never hired a lawyer in the first place. They call me wondering why their green card is only valid for two years and how they can renew it. I then have to break the news that they can’t simply renew their green card but instead must go through another vetting process for their marriage: The removal of conditions on permanent residence process.
There are also far too many conditional permanent residents who know that they must file a petition to remove conditions on their green card before it expires but simply forget to do it or put it off till the last minute. I make a point of it in my law practice to remind my clients before and after they obtain their conditional green card that they will need to file another petition with the government within the last 90 days before the green card expires. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, whether you are my client or someone else’s, this is your life, this is serious stuff, and you must stay on top of your immigration case. Even if you are represented by an immigration attorney you trust and someone you expect will reach out to you before your green card expires, make a note in your calendar about 150 to 120 days before your green card expires to contact your immigration attorney regarding your removal of conditions petition.
Don’t Throw Things Away
When I’m hired on a marriage-based immigration case, I tell my clients to get an empty box, it doesn’t need to be fancy. Any medium sized cardboard box will do. Then, start filling it and don’t stop til the foreign spouse obtains U.S. citizenship. What are you supposed to be filling the box with, I hear you ask? Well, a lot of things: Don’t throw out that utility bill or bank statement. Put it in your box. That goes for any statements, bills, government correspondence and junk mail. If it came in your mail, addressed to either yourself or your spouse, put it in your box. Don’t worry about organizing any of it, just throw it in.
If you have signed up for online billing and online banking, that’s great for the environment so kudos, but I still want you to print off the statements every month, and, you guessed it, put it in your box. If you do it every month, you’ll have less to do later. Trust me, you’ll thank me on this. Are you taking a vacation with your significant other, great, have fun! Now print off the bookings and put it in your box. Keep your boarding passes too. Are you having a baby? Keep the doctor/hospital discharge sheets and sonograms to document the birth of your child. Random credit card companies keep sending you junk mail? Don’t toss them out like you usually do. This time, they’re helping you out, so put them in your box.
Even if you don’t think something belongs in the box, put it in the box. When it comes time to prepare your removal of conditions petition, give that box to your immigration attorney and tell them “Have Fun!” Seriously, if I’m your lawyer, I want you to hand over that box filled to the brim. It’s my job to go through it and decide what is useful and what isn’t. That’s part of my job. You just need to fill that box.
Combine Your Finances
The way I explain it to my clients is this: When a U.S. citizen marries another U.S. citizen, no one cares if they have a joint bank account or not. They can live their life and run their household any way they choose. But you aren’t a U.S citizen, you either married one or you married another lawful permanent resident. Whether you’ll be filing a petition to remove conditions on your green card or filing an application for naturalization after three years of marriage or maybe even both, the U.S. government will want to see evidence that your marriage was entered into in good faith and that your marriage continues to be viable. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reserves the right to interview you after filing a petition to remove conditions on your green card but most people will be judged purely by the evidence submitted with the petition.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself this: How would a stranger who has never met you before and doesn’t know anything about you and your spouse determine whether or not your marriage is genuine and not just for immigration purposes?” And ask it to yourself knowing that the person tasked with making a decision on your case has a limited time to look through your petition and decide whether or not to approve it, ask you for more evidence, refer your case for an interview, or even deny your case and issue you with a Notice to Appear (NTA) starting your removal/deportation proceedings after an interview.
An immigration officer will be judging your relationship based on how the average American married couple lives. And, like it or not, the average American married couple usually combines their finances. They may have one or more joint bank accounts. When they buy a home, it’s probably on both of their names barring credit issues. Other major purchases are usually made together. Incomes are combined and everyday life expenses are paid out of accounts and credit cards belonging to both members of the relationship. You must understand that even though there are many U.S. citizen couples, married or not, who may have separate bank accounts and effectively run their household without ever having the need for a joint bank account, their situation is vastly different from yours. For them, no one is putting their relationship under a microscope. Yours is. Knowing that fact, be conscious of it. Think about how you will prove that your marriage is genuine to a complete stranger and think about it early. Having evidence that the average American couple would have will help prove the legitimacy of your relationship to a complete stranger.
And to be clear, I am not telling you to create a joint bank account and just fund it with a few dollars a month. I’m asking you to have a joint bank account and wholeheartedly use it. Having your and your spouse’s paychecks go into that account is a good start. Also try to use that account to pay your household expenses and for day-to-day things like groceries, gas and takeout. Bank accounts that are opened just to show immigration you have one but isn’t being used properly are unhelpful and also look highly suspect casting doubt on the relationship where doubt need not exist. Accounts opened just for show reflect negatively on the veracity of your relationship. So, don’t do things for show. Live your life but be acutely aware of what your actions may look like to a stranger looking into your relationship, which is exactly what an immigration officer will be doing.
Don’t Sit in Silence
Instances of domestic violence in the United States are extremely high and many cases go unreported. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that on average, 20 people are physically abused by their intimate partner every minute. In a 2015 NISVS report, the survey found that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 3 men in the U.S. experienced some form of violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner. This is disturbing to hear.
Unfortunately, when domestic violence occurs in a relationship between a U.S. citizen (USC) or lawful permanent resident (LPR) and a foreign spouse, where the USC or LPR is the abuser, they often hold the victim’s immigration status over the head of that foreign national spouse. The immigration status of the victim can be, and frequently is, held hostage by the abuser to continue to perpetrate their crime and keep the victim from leaving and/or calling the authorities. What you should know is this: If you ever find yourself in a situation where your spouse is abusing you whether it’s physical, emotional or a combination of the two, you do not, and should not, sit in silence. First, your safety and wellbeing should be the initial consideration. Second, know that a USC or LPR abuser cannot hold your immigration status hostage. The law accounts for victims of domestic violence and provides an avenue under the law to help them remove conditions on their green card or even obtain lawful permanent residence as a victim of domestic violence.
Live Your Life
This last tip speaks for itself. Live your life. Enjoy your marriage and pursue happiness. But, be aware of your rights and remember your obligations. Don’t forget that there’s still work to be done in your immigration case. And should the unfortunate circumstance happen where marital problems become irreconcilable, or you become a victim of domestic abuse, know that you have options. Hire an experienced immigration attorney early. Seek out their counsel and keep your lawyer apprised of any changes in your relationship. Be well!
Sunil C. Patel is an experienced immigration attorney and himself a first-generation immigrant. Formerly a managing attorney with a multinational immigration and corporate law firm, he now focuses his practice exclusively in immigration law at his own law firm, Sunil C. Patel Immigration Law, LLC. To schedule a consultation, please call (770) 756-6056 or visit www.sunpatlaw.com. You may also schedule an appointment by selecting an available time on his online calendar.