If you applied for a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will receive a “conditional” green card that is valid for only two years. Unless you take action to “remove the conditions” on your residence before the end of those years, not only the green card itself, but also your status and right to remain in the U.S. will end at that time.
To deal with this, you and your U.S. spouse are normally expected to jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), within the 90 days before the two years is up. After that application is approved, you will be issued the standard permanent resident card (which has a ten-year expiration date but is easily renewed, even if you and your spouse are no longer together). For instructions about filling out Form I-751, see “Filling Out USCIS Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Line by Line).”
Over the course of the two years, however, various circumstances may arise making it impossible to file the petition jointly. Couples may separate or divorce; the U.S. spouse may die; or the U.S. spouse may simply refuse to cooperate. If your U.S. citizen spouse will not or cannot file this petition with you, there are a few circumstances in which you can apply for a waiver of the joint filing requirement, described in “What if Your U.S. Spouse Won’t Sign the Joint Petition (I-751)?” Here, we will discuss in detail how to apply for a waiver based on extreme hardship.
You May Be Eligible for a Hardship Waiver
One of the waivers that would allow you to lift the conditions on your permanent residence is if removal from the U.S. would cause you or your dependent child “extreme hardship.” Although you do not have to simultaneously prove that your marriage was entered into in “good faith,” as you do with the other waivers, this relief is discretionary, and the hardship threshold is difficult to satisfy. If you were not at fault in the breakdown of your marriage, you might want to consider filing for divorce in order to obtain a divorce waiver instead, as discussed at “How Divorce Affects Your Conditional Residence Status.”
If you intend to request the extreme hardship waiver, it is highly advisable that you seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney before you file.
What USCIS Considers “Hardship” for Purposes of This Waiver
USCIS will look at the evidence you provide to determine whether or not you would experience “extreme hardship” if returned to your former country. In determining your eligibility, USCIS will consider any credible evidence that it considers relevant, so you should submit as much evidence as possible to back up your claims.
However, USCIS will take into account only the circumstances that occurred while you lived in the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident, so make sure you can build a convincing case using evidence from the past two years (See I.N.A. § 214(c)(4)(a); 8 U.S.C. § 1186a(c)(4)(a)).
While the following is not an exhaustive list, conditional residents have been successful at obtaining hardship waivers in the following types of circumstances. You may qualify if:
- You have lived in the U.S. for an extended period of time. If you have spent a great deal of your life in the U.S. and you do not have any family or ties in your home country, or if all of your family resides in the U.S., you should provide affidavits and other evidence to this effect.
- You do not speak a language that is spoken in your home country. If you came to the U.S. at a young age and were not taught the language of your native country, this would be considered a hardship to you, as you would have difficulty making a living in a country where you do not speak the language.
- You have custody of your U.S. citizen children and they would need to accompany you to your home country. If you are the primary caregiver or custodial guardian of a U.S. citizen child and he or she would need to accompany you if you were deported, you should provide documents (birth certificate, absence of other relatives who could care for the child) that prove this. If your U.S. citizen child would have difficulty assimilating into the culture of your home country, would not receive adequate medical care or education, or does not speak the native language, make sure you gather documents that demonstrate this.
- If you were removed from the U.S., your U.S. relatives would suffer without the income from your job. If you are working to provide income for your parents, dependents, or other family members who live legally in the U.S., this could be considered an adequate hardship for the purposes of a waiver.
- You would not be able to find work outside the U.S. If it would be difficult to obtain employment in your home country due to poor economic conditions, discrimination, or a lack of jobs for people with your set of skills, provide evidence to this effect.
- You have a medical issue that cannot be treated adequately abroad. If the quality of medical care in your country of origin is so poor that you would suffer health issues if you were deported, you should obtain a note from your treating physician and supply information about your medical condition or diagnosis.
- The conditions in your country are such that you would experience persecution or discrimination. If you would experience extreme hardship in your home country due to your race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a social group, you should provide evidence that substantiates your status (a letter from your pastor, for example) and information that backs up your claim that people like you are persecuted or discriminated against.
- Your U.S. citizen spouse was at fault in the breakdown of your relationship or you cannot find your spouse in order to file jointly. If you are unable to locate your U.S. citizen spouse, or your spouse abandoned you, committed adultery or otherwise contributed to the end of your relationship and refuses to file Form I-751 with you, you should state that in your petition.
- You are unable to get a divorce or annulment due to religious or cultural beliefs. If this applies toyou and you cannot file for a divorce waiver, you could provide this evidence to USCIS.
What You Must File With USCIS
For instructions on how to complete Form I-751, see “Filling Out USCIS Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Line by Line).” Make sure to put an “X” in Box "g" to indicate that you are applying for a hardship waiver, and fill out the rest of the application as instructed.
Submit your completed and signed I-751 petition along with the following:
- Filing fee or, if you can't afford the fee, Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. (For a list of current USCIS fees, see Form G-1055, Fee Schedule.)
- A copy of your permanent resident card (front and back sides).
- Evidence of the extreme hardship you would face if removed from the United States (see examples above).
- Evidence that your marriage was genuine. You do not need to provide this evidence, but it may help your case if you can show that your relationship was not a sham. For a list of documents that conditional residents have used to prove that their marriage was entered into in good faith, see “Submitting Evidence of Good Faith Marriage With Form I-751.”
- Evidence regarding the circumstances surrounding the end of your marriage (if you were not at fault).
What Happens After You File
After you file your I-751, you will be issued a receipt notice on Form I-797, which will serve as your green card during the time that USCIS is reviewing your case. You may continue to live and work in the United States and travel abroad for the period specified on this notice.
Make sure to respond to all requests for evidence and appointment notices from USCIS. Most petitions to lift conditions that are filed with a waiver of the joint filing requirement will be referred to a local USCIS office for an interview. In preparation for the interview, gather copies of all evidence that you submitted. Be ready to answer questions about why you qualify for a hardship waiver.