Yay! You got your USA Green Card, finally you can sit back and relax…WRONG. If you’ve been married for less than 2 years at the time you first applied for a Green Card, you actually are only granted a conditional residency. This lasts 2 years from the day you first enter the USA. 90 days before the card expires, you have to start the 1-751 process. A process that currently has a wait time of 18 MONTHS.
Disclosure: I am not an immigration lawyer. This post is based purely on experience and what worked for me and my situation. Please always read the official instructions carefully!
Applying For Removal of Conditional Residence
Ideally I would have liked to be writing this once I know it’s all been accepted and correct…but that would mean writing this in almost 2 years time, so if I hear anything along the way, I’ll update!
The US government WILL NOT WARN YOU as to when your Green Card is expiring, it’s on your shoulders to make a note and keep track of the dates! Working in a school my job was well on top of everything and kept checking in and making sure I knew that my documents were expiring. I can’t say if other jobs would be this aware of situations.
How to remove conditions on a Green Card
Applying for removal of conditional residence, despite being long, is actually quite simple. The i-751 is downloaded straight off the USCIS website and is 11 pages long. Half of the pages I actually left blank. Well where I could, I typed NA just to show that I had read the question and understood it. There were spaces for details of up to FIVE children (we have none) and then all the preparer and translator information and details, again I speak English and I filled in the forms myself so this wasn’t needed in my case.
The first pages are about the person with the conditional residence, in this case, me. All questions you should know about yourself, your name, address, marital status, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour.
The next set of pages are about the spouse that originally sponsored the marriage visa. In theory, you should still be together so it’s just a case of ticking some boxes, name, address etc.
You and the petitioner do then need to sign the form a couple of times each. If you filled it in online, it automatically put our names in a couple of the places we had to sign which avoids any confusion.
The whole thing took me all of 15 minutes, maybe less, to fill in. No tricky questions and certainly not like the DS260 which took something ridiculous like 2 hours to complete! It did ask for a USCIS online account number which I’m pretty sure I must have been given one but I could not find it ANYWHERE. I looked at my old paperwork, emails, I even tried logging back into the USCIS account but it just said that my petition was long gone so there was no information. It did say (IF ANY), so hopefully it’s not the end of the world.
I 751 Supporting Documents
The part that takes the longest is gathering together the I 751 supporting documents. If you have to send the pack off 3 months before the Green Card expires, I’d suggest looking into the whole process 3 months before that. (So therefore either 6 months before the expiration date or 1 and half years after entering the USA).
You’ll need to download the PDF file with the I 751 instructions, this tells you the type of supporting documents that you should include. This was another frustrating part of the process for me. My husband already had a house before we were married and before I came to the USA, therefore my name isn’t on the mortgage and it was something that we never bothered adding me on. However the visa asks for things like joint evidence of mortgage or rent payments, so for all I know I may end up being rejected because of that. Time will tell.
It’s also a pain, because a lot of companies and places are going ‘paperless’ which yes is great for the environment and all of that but absolutely useless when it comes the USA government that are trying to single handedly destroy the Amazon Rainforest one visa application at a time. So rather than just keeping hold of statements that come in the post, you physically have to search accounts for them and print them off yourself.
So just like the I 130 application, I created a cover letter stating what I was including as my I 751 supporting documents, it was more like a table of contents, in which I tried to include something for each ‘point’ that they stated in the I 751 instructions.
- Form I-751
- Check for $680 (total sum of the $595 filing fee and 1 x biometrics at $85)
- Copy of the front AND back of two-year conditional Green Card
I’m a little bit annoyed because it says that you MAY be called in for a biometrics appointment…which costs $85…MAY be called in…which suggests that if I’m not called in I’ve just paid $85 for an appointment that I might not need, yet you HAVE to pay the biometrics fee. Part of me hopes that I won’t be called for an appointment because my nearest one is a 3 HOUR drive away. Yep, you can’t just simply go to the nearest police station, you have to go to where they say, in which case my nearest would be in the Iowa state capital.
I also wondered if I needed to send 2 separate cheques or combine them both into one. I ended up sticking both fees on the same cheque because at the end of the day the payment was being made to the same place. I believe if you have children, you only have to pay the filing fee once, but you’ll have to pay $85 for biometrics for EACH person.
I 751 Evidence of Relationship
(Copied pretty much straight from the cover letter with slight edits to the company names etc)
- Documents showing joint debts: Bank loan account statement, City utility bill
- Documents showing joint ownership of property or assets: Car insurance certificate, Health insurance ‘family plan’ ID card, Checking account bank statement, 2017 tax return, 2017 tax transcript
- Affidavits of support: Two by British citizens (Kylie’s Mother and Sister) and two by USA citizens (Jesse’s two best friends)
- Photo evidence of our relationship for the past two years and upcoming travel plans
- Correspondence addressed to both of us: hot tub flyer and thank you card from the hot tub rep who we dealt with, envelope addressed to the both of us that contained wedding gift thank you card
- Article about our relationship in the local Telegraph Herald newspaper.
Apart from the mortgage/rent aspect (I did write a footnote saying that he’s owned the house for X amount of years, which was before we even met), the points underlined are ‘categories’ of evidence they specifically ask for. So I scraped together what I could. It was my choice to chuck in another tax transcript, they are free and can be ordered online (it was needed for the I 130 so I didn’t think it would hurt sending it again).
They state that they require TWO affidavits of support. I used the same template as the I 130 affidavits. I read somewhere that the affidavits for this section should also be American citizens/residents rather than family from back home. I included a further 2 from home because I wanted to tie all the evidence together. For example, with the photo evidence, I had included the flight itinerary for an upcoming joint trip to Australia to show we were doing ‘big’ things together. My sister also went on the trip so in her affidavit she stated that she’d be travelling with us so therefore weren’t in a fake marriage.
Another problem I came up against, was finding correspondence addressed to both of us. In America it seems that people don’t really do personalised Christmas cards/wedding invites/thank you cards etc. A lot of the time it’s just Happy Christmas from X family/these are the wedding details from X/thank you from X. So sorry, not sorry, I just sent ripped open envelopes.
Again, trying to tie evidence together, we were fortunate enough to have our story/my travels featured in the local newspaper. We then happened to buy a hot tub that we purchased under both of our names, so received a promotion flyer addressed to both of us…we also received a thank you card from the lady we dealt with at the hot tub company, who had wrote that she had seen our newspaper article and even sent us the clipping from the paper. It was my way of trying to show that random people acknowledge us as a couple too!
Where To File I 751
Depending on the state where you live, depends on where you file the I 751 application. The majority of the ‘east coast’ states send the application to a dropbox location in Vermont. The Midwest states and the rest of the USA file with the dropbox in California. The addresses are on the USCIS website. I sent my application tracked with the regular USPS mail.
I 751 Timeline
Green Card expiry date: 10th August 2018
Earliest date to submit I 751 application: 13th May 2018
I 751 application sent: 14th May 2018 (the 13th was a Sunday…post offices closed)
Application received in California: 16th May 2018
I 797 Notice of Action issued: 11th June 2018
I can’t be sure exactly when I received the Notice of Action in the mail, as I had my mail ‘on hold’ while I was in Australia. It was in my mailbox on the 18th June, which was our first day of regular delivery again.
Biometrics appointment issued: 22nd February 2019
Biometrics appointment received: 1st March 2019
Biometrics appointment in Des Moines Iowa: 15th March 2019
I 797 Notice of Action
The I 797 Notice of Action piece of paper then acts like a bigger, uglier version of the Green Card. It states that the date on the form I 551 (basically the passport stamp for the day you first entered the USA) and the Green Card has been extended for 18 MONTHS. Apparently it only used to be extended for 12 months but obviously they realise they are being slow pokes so have made it a little longer, how kind. This then gives you the right to continue working in the US (my work happily accepted a photocopy of the letter) and travelling outside of the US, which leads me on to…
What Happens at the Visa Biometrics Appointment?
By the time I received the form with my biometrics appointment on, I only had a 2 week warning. Thankfully I was given a 9am appointment on a Friday and luckily I have Fridays off work so it worked out perfectly. I just had to make the 6 hour round trip to Des Moines.
You can reschedule the appointments, but you have to do it by mail. I’ve also heard that if you HAVE an appointment you could turn up BEFORE the appointment and if they have a spare space, they’ll slot you in.
The letter said that no phones were allowed in the building but we took ours in with no problem. There was a bag and body scanner as soon as you enter the building. We had to show the appointment letter to be let though.
The office in Des Moines is right on the lower floor, I went up to the counter, the man stamped my appointment letter and gave me a form to fill in and a number like a meat counter ticket. The form asked simple things like my name, previous names, my hair colour (blue and pink were options in case you’re wondering), eye colour, height and weight.
A lady called my behind the counter, checked my forms, my Green Card and passport, took my photo, asked me to sign a pad and then fingerprinted each of my fingers…rolling them side to side to get every last millimetre of my fingerprint.
I arrived at 8.40am and by 8.50am…10 minutes before my official appointment slot, I was out and free to go.
Travelling during I 751 process
If you’re a frequent traveller, you may be aware that a lot of the USA airports have gone digital. Everyone, whether you are a resident, citizen, on an ESTA, uses a machine at the border. These machines will reject Green Cards when they reach the point of having 90 DAYS LEFT on them. The machine simply said:
“Your travel document has expired, thank you and goodbye”
Thank you and goodbye?!?! Helpful. It worked when I travelled with 4 months left but not when it reached 2 months. I was then sent to another line where the security guy said absolutely nothing. So on my last trip when there was then only 1 month left I went up to someone and just said “my card doesn’t work in the machines anymore, what line should I join” and I was sent down a line that took over an hour and I was the last person left in the immigration hall despite being one of the first off the plane. It was killing me inside and I nearly missed my connection. The guard said that my card is running out, so I flashed him the letter and he asked how much of an extension I had been given. I guess my advice is:
Be prepared and having all the documents ready and make it sound like you know exactly what’s going on and you have everything under control.
It works the same way once the card has completely expired, the only difference being is hand the letter over straight away rather than wait to be asked. It does feel a little like being punished for the governments slow processing times, but a guess the positive is at least we can still actually leave!!
The last time I flew back to America, I did have trouble at London Gatwick. I think it was down to experience because they were just like ‘well it’s expired, it means you can’t fly’…despite the letter saying you CAN still travel.
You can find more of my Green Card visa resources here, or feel free to message me and I’ll try and point you in the right direction! Again I’m not an immigration lawyer, these are just what has worked for my situation and experience!
Are you applying for removal of conditional residence?
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