If you were married for less than two years at the time of your approval for residency, or if you entered the United States as a K-1 fiancé, you will be given conditional residence. This means that your status will expire in two years -- in fact, you will see a two-year expiration date right there on your green card.
The purpose of this two years of conditional residence is to allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to take a second look at whether your marriage is indeed real (bona fide) before it allows you to stay in the U.S. permanently.
During your two years of conditional residency, you will have all the day-to-day rights of a permanent resident. That means being able to work, travel in and out of the United States, and even count your time toward the three or five years of residence you will need to accumulate before applying for U.S. citizenship (naturalization).
But if, during this conditional residence period, USCIS discovers that your marriage was not real in the first place, it can place you in removal proceedings and take away your green card and your immigration status. And near the end of the period, you will need to ask for your residence to be made permanent. If you do not follow the correct procedures to do so (described below), you risk losing your conditional and permanent resident status and could face deportation (removal) from the United States.
Not Sure Whether You're a Conditional Resident?
If you have only recently been approved for U.S. residency and are not sure whether you are a conditional resident or when your residency will expire, take another look at the stamp in your passport, if you were given one upon entry or approval. The notation "CR-1" indicates that you received only conditional residence. The date below the CR-1 should show when your two years of conditional residency will end.
If the stamp doesn't make it clear, wait until your green card arrives. A two-year expiration date means you're a conditional resident. A ten-year expiration date means you're a permanent resident, but simply need to get your card replaced every ten years.
When and How to Apply to Become a Permanent Resident
To convert your conditional status to permanent status, you will need to submit a Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence (Form I-751), complete with documents and fees, to a USCIS Service Center up to 90 days before the date your conditional residence status expires. When you're ready to fill this out, see "Line-by-Line Instructions for USCIS Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence."
Below, you’ll find a checklist for this petition. If you send this petition too soon, that is, earlier than 90 days before your conditional residence expires, you will get it right back from USCIS. But if you fail to file the petition by the expiration date, your card and your conditional residence status will both expire and you could be deported. So you see, you have a three-month window in which to complete and file your application.
Keep track of the deadline. USCIS may not tell you when the petition is due.
What If You Are Late in Filing the I-751?
If you miss the deadline by a short time, don’t just give up. If you are late by only a few weeks, mail the application with a cover letter, explaining the delay. The regulations allow you to file late for “good cause” (see 8 C.F.R. § 216.4(a)(6)). Good cause might mean a family or medical crisis, a move, or changes at your job—whatever the issue, back up your explanations with documentary proof.
If it’s been longer, see a lawyer right away. You’ve probably got about three to six months before USCIS puts you into removal proceedings, at which point continuing with your application becomes much harder.
Documents You Need to Prepare to Accompany Form I-751
The most important information you need to submit is evidence of your marital relationship. Remember the types of documents you had to provide for your adjustment of status or consular interview? These might include copies of rent receipts, joint bank or credit card statements, and your children’s birth certificates. Include only documents covering the last two years (USCIS does not want to see items that you have already submitted in the past).