Some couples renew their marriage vows every few years, but for those of us with foreign spouses, we get to petition to keep our husbands every few years.
After being in the US for 2 years minus 90 days, my husband was eligible to petition to remove the conditions on residence, or in other words, extend his green card for ten years. Basically, we had to prove once again that we are happily married and that my husband wants to stay in the US to be with me and not for any other ulterior motive. The whole process took us about 10 months from start to finish, and I am happy to declare that I can retain access to my husband for at least 10 more years.
A little on the process:
From talking to some coworkers with spouses from all over, the time frames for the initial green card can vary based on how your spouse entered the country. In our case, he came here on a CR-1 visa meaning that I had Chinese residency and was married to a Chinese spouse at the time of the immigration request. As we had been married for less than 2 year at the time of the CR-1 application, my husband was given a 2 year green card with conditional status. The conditions being that he still had to prove to be a legitimate husband. Right around the 2 year mark, he could apply to have the conditional status removed or return to China.
Of course I informed my husband of how troublesome and expensive he is. The running joke is that I only paid 9 RMB for my husband (a marriage license in China is 9 RMB as 9 is a homophone of the word for “long lasting”), but the renewal fee of $590 is quite pricy for a Chinese import. The paperwork was not terrible; I would not imagine you would need an immigration lawyer. We filled out form I-751 with a cover sheet, copy of the existing green card, evidence of our marriage, and a check to our area visa service center. We did not actually use any of the same evidence for the initial immigration application, the instructions seemed to want things post-arrival. Mostly we provided copies of financial documents showing joint ownership and beneficiaries, but I also included a few photographs to prove how cute we are together.
All responses are via US mail.
The first letter we received informed us that our application had been received and gave us a receipt number with the notice that “Your alien card is extended one year – employment and travel authorized.” This paper was used in place of the soon expired physical card for work and travel purposes. He was given a biometrics appointment about a month after the application date. This was where he went to get fingerprinted at an unmarked building. After that nothing happened for a very long time.
There is a telephone number on the letters that you can call to status the application request. Keep in mind that each letter has a new receipt number and the new number makes the old number irrelevant. When you call in, you’ll need the number on the most recent letter and the customer service representative will inform you of what the letter in your hand states. There is not much they can status beyond that. Around month 7 or 8 of no new letters, my fear was that he had been approved or denied but the new letter was lost in the mail and without that new receipt number on the letter we never received, we would have no way of ever knowing… That did not happen though.
Some people get called in for interviews. There is a disclaimer somewhere saying that a call for an interview is not an indication that the government doubts the validity of the marriage more so than those not called for an interview. I would not know; we were not called for an interview. It must have been because of those cute pictures we sent. Two of my friends, another Chinese-American couple, were called in for interview and they said it seemed more like a formality where they did not have to prove anything. If you are a happily married couple, I would not worry at all about being denied. During immigration you have to prove you have a bona fide marriage, but at this point it is more that the government has to disprove the validity of the marriage.
The waiting is stressful. We are planning to go back to China for a few weeks and we were very concerned that his new green card would not be approved in time and his year extension would expire. If the petition to remove conditional status is still not approved or denied by the time that first letter expires, you should receive a second letter stating that you are still in limbo, but can continue to work and travel for another year.
As for my concern of his green card being lost in the mail, about a week before he received his green card, another letter arrived informing us that “Congratulations!” my husband is lawful and will receive his green card within 60 days. So the government gives you fair warning.
This was just my personal experience and I am by no means a professional or an expert on the visa process. Hopefully, my experiences are helpful or entertaining.
A link to the official filing information: