If you just became a permanent resident, congratulations. If you just got your green card through marriage, you have achieved an amazing accomplishment and a milestone. It’s awesome and my hat goes off to you. Kudos!
If you got your green card through marriage, your green card is probably good for two years. This is called a conditional green card and that means that at the end of the two-year period, you’re going to have to go through another application process, the petition to remove the conditions on residency by filing form I-751 with USCIS.
Today, I’m going to go through what you need to know to make sure that you have a well-documented and approvable I-751 petition to remove the conditions on residency.
If you don’t know me, my name is Josh Goldstein. I’m an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles. My firm focuses exclusively on immigration law and I take on cases across the country and around the world. We help people and families get work visas, green cards, and citizenship.
What is the I-751?
So let’s talk about the I-751. What is it all about? You got the green card already, so why do you have to apply to remove the conditions? Well, this is the way the law is set up, and the basic concept behind the petition to remove conditions on residency is that USCIS wants to check in and see what’s going on with your marriage relationship.
It’s all about your relationship. In order to get your green card initially, you had to submit things like photos and proof that you’ve spent time together with your spouse.
Your relationship over the prior two years
With the I-751, it’s the same concept, but it’s looking over the prior two years. So two years from now, you’re going to have to show for the prior two years that you and your spouse have continued to be together as a married couple.
How do you do that? There are a number of ways, but a lot of times people are kind of confused about the concept. How do you prove that your marriage relationship is genuine? It’s something that’s difficult for some people to conceptually grasp.
You’re living together
So I’ll explain that the best way to think of it is to prove that the two of you are living together at the same address. That’s something pretty simple. You and your spouse live together, so this advice that I’m giving in this video is based on an assumption that you and your spouse are living together and have been living together and will continue to live together exclusively at the same address.
If you’re not exclusively and continuously living together, that’s a topic for a different post, or, God forbid, if your marriage relationship falls apart or you’re having marital problems, then again that’s another post. But again this post is based on the assumption that you and your spouse are together at the same address, living together as a married couple does.
Filing a joint tax return
So how do you prove that your marriage relationship is genuine if you’re living together as a married couple? They’re basically looking for financial documents. That’s the key. So a joint married tax return is crucial. You should always, if possible, file a joint married tax return.
Sometimes people say, can I file married filing separately? No, if you file married filing separately this will not help you persuade USCIS that you marriage relationship is genuine. File a joint married tax return.
And when you go to file your i-751, get the IRS tax transcripts from the IRS. Don’t file a copy of the return. Get them directly from the IRS. That way, they will be given more weight by USCIS because you can show that you actually filed the tax return by doing that.
Your drivers licenses
Another thing you can do is make sure that you and your spouse both have a state driver’s license that shows and reflects the same address. If you don’t have a driver’s license, then you should probably get one because it’s America and you need to drive around. But if you don’t have a driver’s license, at least get a state issued ID showing the same address. And if you move, contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and notify them of the change of address.
If you have children together, that’s massive. You’re very likely to get approved if you have children together because if you have a child then it’s very difficult for them to say that your marriage relationship isn’t genuine.
After that, we’re looking at other sorts of financial documents. For example, utility bills. Having both names on your utility bills shows that you’re at the same address with joint utility bills, including things like heat, electricity, and internet service.
Also get joint bank accounts and joint credit cards in both names and keep monthly printouts of all the statements. I advise clients sometimes to just get a cardboard box or banker’s box and just chuck the documents into the box each month so that you can collect them over the course of these two years.
Or if you’re more organized, you could scan them and create a folder and drop box, whatever works best for you. But you want to compile a lot of evidence. You don’t just want proof that you have one bank account together. You want monthly statements with all the transactions showing that you and your spouse really do combine and share your finances.
Sometimes people say to me, well, we don’t really do it that way. Well, you might consider changing the way that you share money and making it more interactive and more joint in order to convince USCIS so it gets approved.
Insurance and more
Another thing you can do is insurance: life insurance, renter’s insurance, homeowners insurance, car insurance, all these things should be held jointly. Or you should look for opportunities to show that the two of you have done things together jointly in terms of these financial arrangements.
When you have a job or a doctor or any kind of medical records, look for opportunities to add your spouse as the emergency contact with schools and doctors. Listing each other as emergency contacts is a good one.
If you have a cellphone, look for a way to combine your cellphones so that your plans are held jointly and you can show the bills with each cell phone combined as a family plan. You could submit monthly billing statements for the course of the two years, showing that you have called each other and texted each other and maintained these sorts of relationships by your cell phones.
Vacations and photos
Another thing you can do: vacations. Proof that you went on vacation, receipts from flights, hotels, and so on. And of course, throughout this, you can look for photos. I like to submit photos with both parties in the photo, and I want to have my clients label each photo with the date the photo was taken, the location the photo was taken, and who is in each photo.
I don’t think you need hundreds of photos, but you might need a dozen or 15 or 20 photos, something like that. The photos should be taken over a period of time. I particularly like photos with old people. If you get photos with old people, that’s a plus. What do I mean by old people? Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, these sorts of photos with elderly or older family members show something important about the relationship in my view.
There are other things to gather: holiday greeting cards that you’ve received, keep copies of those. Receipts and invoices from large purchases, let’s say that you bought a car. Look for a way to buy the car jointly. If you buy a house and it’s possible, put both you and your spouse on the mortgage and deed and things like that to show that you own the home together. That’ll be very helpful.
Avoid letters from friends
One thing I do not like and I do not encourage you to submit is a letter from a friend. I hate letters from friends. I think that’s just a really lousy way to prove something. If you’re trying to prove something and you have to get a letter from a friend that is weak sauce. That is not something you should include unless you’re desperate and your evidence is really thin.
But if you follow my advice you’re not going to have to rely on letters from friends. Letters from friends are not the way to go. Don’t include those. I know they’re on the USCIS list but I’m not a fan of letters from friends. They’re self-serving. I don’t think they’re given lot of weight. We only include those if we’re desperate and everything else is thin.
Submit as much evidence as you can
That’s my advice on how to get your I-751 approved. And one more thing… when I submit an I-751, we include hundreds of pages of documents, sometimes three or four hundred pages of documents. Clients are always blown away by how much evidence we submit and they think it’s crazy. They think submitting all that documentation is overkill.
But you cannot submit too much documentation. You can only submit not enough. More is better than less; more is more. So don’t be afraid to really pour it on and submit a lot of evidence when you’re documenting these cases.
This is not like a driver’s license where you just fill out the form and send it in and renew it. People who try and do this on their own always get difficult and challenging requests for more evidence. When I do it, we rarely if ever get requests for evidence because we’ve thoroughly documented these relationships. That’s my advice.
If you have any questions at all, let me know. If there’s anything I can do to help you with your petition to remove conditions on residency or any other immigration issue, just give me a call.