One of the most common questions asked by those who get a green card by a marriage that is less than two years old is, “how and when do I remove the conditions on my green card?” Sometimes the U.S. spouse may be unwilling to file a joint petition and there may be issues of domestic abuse. In a few cases however the U.S. spouse may have died after the beneficiary spouse obtained conditional permanent residence but before the two year anniversary of obtaining conditional permanent residence
For those who receive a green card through a marriage that is less than two years old on the date the green card is received, Section 216 (d) (2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that a conditional permanent resident must file a joint petition to remove conditions on residence I-751 within 90-day period before the second anniversary of receipt of conditional resident status – count back 90 days from the second anniversary of the Permanent Resident Card. Waiting until the last few days to send the I-751 petition with supporting evidence is a bad idea. It should get to the USCIS before the conditional green card expires. It is always a good idea to have proof of delivery.
A son or daughter of the foreign spouse who achieves conditional residence within 90 days of the principal beneficiary (the foreign spouse) may be included on the same I-751 form even though such a combined petition attracts a separate biometric fee for each son or daughter regardless of age. Otherwise the son or daughter must file a separate petition.
The permanent resident status of a conditional permanent resident who fails to file the I-751 on time, will end, unless the person can show good cause that excuses a late filing. Such a person will also begin to accumulate unlawful presence which can lead to 3 or 10 year bars from the United States, if they leave.
Section 216 (c)(1) further has two requirements for removal of the condition – a jointly filed petition and an in person I-751 interview. The service can waive an I-751 interview if it is satisfied of the bona fides of the marriage based on the petition and supporting evidence. But the USCIS sometimes conducts random interviews of joint petitioners or waiver requesters.The service is more likely to waive a joint interview if the case is well-documented but may still need an interview if verification of the information through its fraud unit turns up derogatory information.
For a person who cannot file jointly because of reasons other than death of the petitioning spouse (e.g. I-751 divorce), Section 216 (c) (4) of the immigration and Nationality Act provide for hardship waivers of the joint filing and interview requirements under certain conditions. For such hardship waivers the CPR must submit a letter with the I-751 petition.
But when the petitioning spouse dies during the 2-year conditional period the law does not require a joint petition and interview and no separate I-751 waiver is required other than that requested on form I-751. Therefore the conditional resident petitioner should select (c) in Part 2 of the I-751 form and provide documentary evidence of the death as supporting evidence. The death of the petitioning spouse does not, however relieve the I-751 petitioner from the burden to prove that the marriage which ended in death was in good faith and was not entered into solely for evading the immigration laws.
A conditional permanent resident under section 216(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, who is seeking to remove the conditional basis of that status and who has timely filed the petition and appeared for the interview required under section 216(c)(1), does not need a separate section 216(c)(4) hardship waiver if the petitioning spouse died during the 2-year conditional period.
If satisfied that the marriage was not for the purpose of evading the immigration laws, USCIS may approve the petition without an interview. If the USCIS approves the petition it will remove the condition on permanent residence as of the second anniversary of receipt of conditional permanent resident status and issue a new Permanent Resident card through the mail.
RFEs, or requests for more evidence
Where the initial filing is deficient the USCIS may issue a request for more information or evidence or RFE. Failure to respond would lead to a denial due to abandonment.
If the RFE is not properly responded to the USCIS may schedule an interview. If the conditional resident alien fails to appear for an interview about the petition the alien’s permanent residence status will be automatically terminated as of the second anniversary of the date on which the alien obtained permanent residence.
If USCIS intends to deny the petition it will provide a Notice of Intent to Deny stating any reasons for so intending. The petitioner may then send rebuttal evidence which USCIS must consider. If the petition is ultimately denied the alien’s permanent resident status will end as of the date of the written denial.
Review of denial
A person whose i-751 petition was denied can
1. request the USCIS to certify the case to the Administrative Appeals Unit
2. file a motion to reopen the case based on new facts, or a motion to reconsider the case citing valid reasons, or
3. seek review of the decision in removal proceedings. In such proceedings ICE must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the petition was properly terminated . But the petitioner bears the burden of proving eligibility for the petition or waiver of the joint filing requirement. He or she must be prepared to submit evidence of a good faith marriage and the death of the U.S. spouse.
 This situation is different from a case where a foreign national obtained permanent residence based on being the widow(er) of a US citizen. In such a case, the widow(er) spouse should not file I-751.
 8 C.F.R. 216.4
 8 C.F.R. 103.4 (a) 4,5
 8 C.F.R. 103.5
 8 C.F.R. 216.3, 1216.3