You finally did it. You met love of your life. You successfully completed the arduous K-1 fiancé visa process. You moved to the U.S. to get married and start your life together. You received your green card, and you’ve started working at a new job you love. Life is finally returning to normal. It’s smooth sailing from here on out, right?
Not so fast. That green card you received—which is valid for two years—lists you as a “conditional permanent resident.” You might be thinking that once the two years is up, you’ll just apply for a new one. Unfortunately, this card is non-renewable.
In order to continue to stay legally in the country after your conditional green card expires, you must apply to have the condition of temporary residence removed. It’s important to note that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will not send you a reminder to remove this condition as your green card expiration date approaches. But you must file this application within the 90 days before expiration, or else you start to accrue unlawful presence.
If you continue to stay in the U.S. after your green card expires, you may not even know you’re in trouble right away. But if, for example, you return to your home country to attend your sister’s wedding, you may fly back to the U.S. only to discover you’ve been barred from re-entering. Here are the penalties for unlawful presence in the U.S.:
- Staying in the U.S. 6–12 months past your green card expiration: prohibited from re-entering the U.S. for three years
- Staying in the U.S. more than one year past your green card expiration: prohibited from re-entering the U.S. for 10 years
Missing the deadline to request removal of your temporary resident status could lead to years of separation from your spouse and a total upheaval of the life the two of you have created together. It is critical that you understand and follow all of the conditions of your green card when you first receive it.