Form I-751, Removal of Conditions on Permanent Residency, is a very important immigration application for two reasons: First of all, any conditional resident who hopes to remain in the US with legal status is required to file this application and they must do so within a fairly short time frame (which the government does not always make clear), and, secondly, these applications are currently subject to extremely delayed processing times, which opens the door to new issues, more requests, and greater scrutiny from USCIS as more time passes.
That being said, we’re here to offer some guidance on how to file a great I-751 petition in order to reduce your chances of running into delays and increase your chances of an approval!
The purpose of Form I-751 is to prove to the government that you remain in a genuine relationship with your US citizen spouse who originally petitioned for you to become a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States.
This petition is not meant to be extremely challenging and in the past it was essentially just a “check-in” with the government to show that your marriage was not entered into for the purposes of obtaining an immigration benefit and you still reside with your US citizen partner.
Over the past two years, the I-751 process has become a bit more complicated. The primary reason for this additional complication is the fact that processing times have increased threefold from about 5-6 months up to 18-24 months. This means that it could take two years after the original conditional green card has expired for I-751 applicants to receive their new green card.
With this significant increase in case processing times, we have begun to see a spike in issuance of RFEs (Requests for Evidence), new biometrics (fingerprinting) requirements, and in-person interview appointments. It seems that the longer these applications remain in USCIS’s hands, the more likely it is that additional requirements beyond the initial filing will be required.
As such, the best thing you can do is make sure to submit a strong and thorough I-751 packet, monitor your case carefully (or enlist an immigration firm to do this for you!), and plan to continue compiling evidence of your relationship even after your case is filed.
Here are some tips and guidelines for submitting a strong packet, monitoring it closely, and preparing for future requests or roadblocks with your case:
File on Time
You should file your I-751 as close to 90 days before your green card expires as possible. You are not allowed to file earlier than this, and filing too late will increase the risk of being without status for some amount of time. The receipt notice you receive once your case is filed with USCIS will be the only document that gives you legal status while your case is pending, so you want to make sure you have this notice in hand before your green card expires.
Provide More Than Enough Evidence
As a general rule, it is always better to provide too much, rather than too little, evidence with your application. With an I-751, the most important thing is to show the government that your marriage is bona fide and you share a life with your spouse.
USCIS looks specifically for two things in this filing: evidence that your and your spouse’s finances and livelihood are intertwined, and evidence that you genuinely care for each other and are a big part of each others’ lives.
Some examples of the first type of “hard” evidence include:
- Joint lease/rental agreement or mortgage statement as evidence of shared residence;
- Birth certificate(s) of any children;
- Joint utility bills or account statements;
- Joint bank account or loan statements;
- Joint insurance benefits or life insurance policies listing spouse as beneficiary;
- Other evidence of joint assets, accounts, and finances.
In terms of “soft” evidence, USCIS likes to see things such as:
- Photos of you and your spouse together, both alone and with friends and family;
- Evidence of frequent correspondence between you and your spouse, such as text messages, emails, call logs, cards, or letters;
- Receipts and itineraries from trips and vacations taken together;
- Letters of support from friends, family, and/or coworkers who know you and your spouse.
It is important that you provide samples of various types of evidence from the entire period of time since becoming a Conditional Permanent Resident. A large amount of RFEs are issued because applicants only provide evidence from the 2-3 months preceding their I-751 filing. USCIS wants to see that your relationship and shared life have been constant for the entire two year period since you became a Conditional Resident.
Track and Monitor Your Case
Once you are ready to submit your case, there are several steps you should take to ensure your application is filed correctly and everything remains on track.
You should always use trackable priority or first class mail when sending items to USCIS. It is also a good idea to include a G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, with your application so you receive an automatic update when your case is received by USCIS and to monitor your bank account to see when your filing fee is processed. If you don’t receive confirmation that your case was received and/or if you do not receive a receipt notice from USCIS within 30 days of filing your case, you should call USCIS to check in.
Keep Working on your Case Even After it’s Filed
There has been a significant increase in the issuance of RFEs and in-person interview appointment notices for I-751 applications. This is most likely because so much time passes between when the application is filed and when it is actually reviewed and adjudicated. Some applicants end up needing to compile as much evidence as they did with their initial filing in order to satisfy an RFE or to bring to their interview as supporting evidence.
In order to prepare for this and be ready to respond to an RFE with a hard deadline, we recommend applicants continue to save and compile evidence of their relationship after they file their petition. That way, when an RFE is issued, you can immediately begin compiling your documents without adding several weeks of delays to your case while you dig up old documents. If you’re called in for an interview, you should bring this supplemental evidence with you to present to the interviewing officer.
If it’s time to file your I-751 and you and your spouse are divorced and separated, click here for more information on how to proceed.