Dear Sophie: Possible to still get through I-751 and citizenship after divorce?
Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
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I work at a tech company, married a U.S. citizen two years ago and got a two-year green card. The relationship went south and I needed to leave to protect my daughter and me. I want to get divorced, but can we keep our green cards?
Will we be able to apply for U.S. citizenship?
— Hopeful in Hayward
Thank you for reaching out and sharing the story of your courage to do the right thing for yourself and your child. Good news — U.S. immigration laws have been designed to protect individuals who have been subject to abuse or extreme cruelty, which is not limited to physical harm but can also include emotional abuse. So, yes, you and your daughter can apply for a permanent green card even if you divorce your U.S.-citizen spouse. And yes, you can also apply for U.S. citizenship when you are eligible. My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, and I discuss the naturalization and citizenship process in more detail in this podcast.
You will need to file a petition (Form I-751) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to seek to have the conditions on your and your daughter’s two-year conditional green card removed. Usually, individuals with a conditional green card must file a petition within 90 days of when the conditional card is set to expire. However, an abused spouse or the parent of an abused child can file this petition at any time. I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer before filing this petition. You will be allowed to have your attorney go with you to the USCIS interview that will be required as part of this process.
Conditional green cards cannot be renewed. Individuals who fail to file a petition to remove the conditions run the risk of being deported. Once the conditions are removed, a green card will be valid for 10 years. This process can involve extensive documentation and the possibility of attending an in-person interview. One of the reasons that it’s important to speak to an immigration attorney about this process, especially in California, is because divorce can take at least six months and the timing of the legal processes can affect the outcome of your green card.
Down the road, when the time comes for citizenship, here are the requirements to apply for the naturalization process. You must have: