Sometimes a green card holder receives conditional resident status in the U.S. before becoming a legal permanent resident. This most often occurs when a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen or enters the U.S. on an investor visa. Conditional resident status lasts for two years, after which it transitions into legal permanent resident status. A foreign national who is a conditional resident may wonder how this two-year period affects the waiting time before they can become a U.S. citizen. Generally, a legal permanent resident must wait five years before applying for naturalization, although some exceptions are available for certain types of foreign nationals. The most notable exception allows foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens to get their citizenship after three years.
Conditional resident status is very similar to legal permanent resident status. A foreign national who is a conditional resident gets a green card and can work in the U.S. without getting a work permit. If you have this status, you must convert from conditional residence to permanent residence near the end of the two-year period. Otherwise, you will not have legal status in the U.S. and may be required to leave the country. USCIS will examine your immigration file when you apply to convert your status to make sure that you are eligible for permanent residence.
Counting Conditional Status Toward Residency Requirement
As long as you become a permanent resident at the end of your conditional residence period, your two years as a conditional resident will count toward the waiting period for citizenship. Converting to permanent resident status means submitting a Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (Form I-751) or Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status (Form I-829) to USCIS. You would use Form I-751 if you gained legal status in the U.S. through your marriage, while you would use Form I-829 if you gained legal status in the U.S. through an investor visa.
Once you receive your green card as a legal permanent resident, you should check the date on the green card that provides the start of your permanent residence. It will take into account your years as a conditional resident, so you can use the date on the green card to calculate when you can apply for naturalization.
Applying for Permanent Resident Status and Citizenship Simultaneously
The process of converting from conditional resident status to permanent resident status may involve long delays because USCIS faces a significant backlog in processing applications. Sometimes USCIS will not even approve the I-751 application until the foreign national already has met the residency requirement to apply for naturalization. If you are eligible for citizenship and are still living with your U.S. citizen spouse, you may be able to file Form N-400 for naturalization in these cases before you have received approval on Form I-751. You will need to include a cover letter with Form N-400 that requests naturalization under INA Section 319(a), and you should attach your I-751 receipt. In the letter, you should ask USCIS to make a decision on both applications at your naturalization interview. You must show that you have lived with your U.S. citizen spouse for three years, which may involve submitting evidence related to a shared residence and shared bank accounts, as well as family photos.
USCIS will make a decision on Form N-400 if it approves Form I-751. Your spouse should go to the naturalization interview with you because they are technically filing Form I-751 with you. Their presence also may help persuade the USCIS official that you are living together.
However, problems and obstacles can arise during this process. For example, USCIS may fail to transfer your I-751 application to the office that is reviewing your N-400 application. You cannot get citizenship until USCIS removes the conditions on your residence in the U.S., so the I-751 must be transferred before you can complete the naturalization interview.
Interviews for Conditional Residents
Generally, USCIS will interview a foreign national in person before making a decision on whether to approve an I-751 petition to remove conditions on their residence. The goal is to verify information submitted by the foreign national and make sure that their marriage is valid and entered in good faith. In some cases, however, USCIS will waive the in-person interview requirement. This can happen if the record is sufficiently substantive to show that the marriage was entered in good faith, rather than for immigration fraud, and USCIS previously interviewed the foreign national related to a different petition, such as their I-485 or I-130 petition. There must be no complex facts or issues that require further investigation, and there must be no evidence of fraud or misrepresentation.