If you are applying for U.S. residence as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, and all went well at the visa interview at the U.S. consulate, you will have been given an immigrant visa. But you are not actually a U.S. resident yet. First, you need to pass through the U.S. border control point.
There is a deadline for doing so: You will have six months after its issuance to use the visa to enter the United States.
At the border, airport, or other port of entry, a U.S. border officer will open the sealed envelope containing your visa documents and do a last check to make sure you have not used fraud. The border officer has expedited removal powers, which means he or she can turn you right around and send you home if he or she sees anything wrong in your packet or with your answers to his or her questions.
When the officer is satisfied that everything is in order, he or she will stamp your passport to show that you are now a U.S. resident (see reproduction of this stamp below—the CR-1 means that this person entered as a conditional resident).
If your marriage is less than two years old on that day, the border officer will make you a conditional resident; if your marriage is older than two years, you’ll be made a permanent resident. Your actual green card will arrive several months later. If you receive conditional residence, then in about 21 months, you will have to file an application with USCIS asking to convert this into permanent residency.
If you’re about to reach your two-year wedding anniversary, don’t rush to enter the United States. An immigrating spouse whose marriage is less than two years old when he or she becomes a U.S. resident receives conditional, not permanent residency. USCIS will reexamine the marriage after another two years. So if your marriage is nearly two years old when you get your visa to enter the United States, make the most of that six-month entry window and wait to enter until your two-year wedding anniversary has passed. That way, you’ll enter as a permanent resident. Point out your anniversary date to the border official, to be sure that he or she stamps your passport for permanent, not conditional, residence.
Sample Conditional Residence Stamp