Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are in the United States on marriage-based green cards or conditional green cards. Those marriages are scrutinized for authenticity, but what if they don’t work out? Legitimate marriages fail every day and marriages between U.S. citizens and citizens of foreign nations are no exception.
What does the end of a marriage mean for the green-card-holding spouse?
Marriage-Based Green Cards
The spouse of a U.S. citizen can obtain a green card more quickly than many other classes of immigrants since there is no cap on family-based immigration. It is important to note, however, that the visa application and approval process is still stringent. The couple will be investigated to ensure that the marriage is “bona fide,” and the non-citizen spouse must be deemed otherwise admissible.
A marriage-based green card not only creates a path to citizenship for the immigrant spouse but accelerates the process: the normal waiting period for the spouse of a U.S. citizen is three years, rather than the usual five.
If the couple has been married for less than two years, the green card granted will be “conditional.” A non-citizen spouse holding a conditional green card enjoys the same privileges as any other legal resident, but the green card will expire if the visa holder doesn’t successfully petition to have conditions removed.
The Impact of Divorce on a Marriage-Based Visa
Many people holding marriage-based green cards are understandably uneasy about the impact divorce might have on their immigration status. They may be hesitant to end a marriage because of the impact it could have on immigration status.
However, those concerns are largely misplaced.
In most cases, it is possible to divorce and maintain permanent legal residency. This is true even for conditional green card holders.
Of course, it is critical that marriage-based visa holders considering divorce or who are divorced have a clear understanding of how divorce may impact their processes, and that they fulfill any special requirements triggered by the divorce.
For example, a conditional green card holder will typically petition to have conditions removed jointly with his or her spouse. When the couple has divorced, the immigrant spouse may be able to independently petition to have conditions removed, but this will typically require applying for a waiver.
In addition, the divorced or divorcing couple must be prepared for the fact that divorce may trigger re-analysis of the legitimacy of the marriage. This is especially true if the marriage was short-lived and the couple divorced or separated shortly after the non-citizen spouse was issued a green card.
Impact on the Citizen Spouse
While most of the risk and obligation associated with immigration and divorce falls on the non-citizen spouse, there is one important consideration for the U.S. citizen:
When a U.S. citizen sponsors a spouse or other relative, the citizen agrees to take financial responsibility for the support of the sponsored person.
Divorce does not terminate that obligation, so a U.S. citizen may find himself or herself legally responsible for the support of a non-citizen ex-spouse for a period of up to 10 years.
Avoid Immigration and Divorce Pitfalls with Knowledgeable Guidance
The immigration process is technical and often confusing, and even small mistakes can be fatal to an application or petition. The best course of action for a marriage-based visa holder considering divorce is to speak with an experienced family-based immigration attorney before taking any action.
If you have already divorced or are in the process of divorce and seeking to have conditions removed from your green card, the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer can make the difference between success and failure.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help smooth the process and improve your chances of a successful outcome.