Can I Get a Green Card with a Removal Order?
A marriage-based green card (permanent resident status) is one of the quickest ways to live and work anywhere in the U.S. While a green card isn’t the same as U.S. citizenship, it’s a great stepping stone if you wish to apply for citizenship later on, as green card holders become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after 3 years.
While applying for a marriage-based green card is doable, it’s important to prepare yourself for the long road ahead. Like other federal programs and processes, obtaining a green card can pose various challenges for those seeking permanent residence in the United States.
You may also be surprised to learn that it’s possible to obtain a marriage-based green card during removal proceedings. Removal proceedings require an immigrant to attend hearings before an immigration judge to determine whether or not they can remain in the country. This process is initiated when the government alleges that an immigrant is undocumented or has done something to jeopardize their valid immigration status.
Being involved in removal proceedings doesn’t mean you can’t obtain a marriage-based green card to remain in the U.S. However, it’s important to understand that the circumstances can make the path to permanent residency all the more burdensome.
Obtaining a Marriage Green Card During Removal Proceedings
Regardless of your situation, the green card application process can be daunting. For many, the application process is more than an inconvenience; it’s a time-consuming event with life-altering consequences.
The possibility of being denied a green card can create high stakes for many people, making it all the more important to secure the support of an experienced immigration attorney. Dependable legal guidance can mean the difference between staying in the U.S. and being removed.
Rest assured that with perseverance and the right lawyer, it’s possible to earn your permanent residence status—regardless of removal proceedings. However, it’s important to understand who is eligible and who isn’t. To understand immigration status while applying for a marriage-based green card, we must first understand the difference between a deportation order and removal proceedings:
You cannot apply for a marriage-based green card if you were previously ordered deported.
The key thing to remember is that you’re only eligible to apply for a green card during removal proceedings, not after. If the decision has already been made or you’ve already been deported in the past, you aren’t eligible to apply for permanent residence status.
This may occur if the applicant failed to appear after the Immigration Court summons or if the immigration judge denied your application. An outstanding order of deportation for a non-citizen makes them ineligible to apply for a green card.
If this is the case for you, know that hope is not lost. A non-citizen can reopen the case by applying to remove the deportation order. From there, you can begin the process again.
You can apply for a marriage-based green card while in removal proceedings.
If a formal deportation order hasn’t been issued and an immigrant is still in the removal process, they may be eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card.
However, the application process is not without challenges. A major factor that the judge may consider is when the removal process started. If the process was initiated during your relationship with the partner you wish to marry, the court is less likely to suspect fraudulent activity (such as seeking a sham marriage to avoid deportation after the removal process was initiated).
This doesn’t mean that immigrants who faced deportation prior to their relationship are dishonest or ineligible; it simply means that there may be more hoops to jump through if this is the case. Every situation is different, which means that difficulties tend to vary for each applicant depending on their circumstances.
Eligibility Requirements for Status Adjustment
Non-citizens who wish to apply for a marriage-based green card during removal proceedings must qualify for “adjustment of status.” If an applicant is ineligible for this process, they can’t apply for permanent residence status in the U.S. Instead, they must do so from their country of origin.
Put simply, a non-citizen who entered the U.S. legally and married a U.S. citizen is eligible for adjustment of status. Those who entered the country unlawfully are not permitted to apply for adjustment of status in the United States.
Challenges of Applying for a Marriage-Based Green Card
Like all legal processes, it’s imperative to follow the proper steps to achieve the results you desire. Because green card marriages are closely scrutinized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), it’s important to follow the application process as meticulously as possible.
While it’s normal to feel anxious at the thought of having your green card application denied, especially if your spouse has a permanent residence status in the U.S., keep in mind that the U.S. government shares your desire for the same outcome: to ensure that eligible couples in legitimate marriages can live together in the United States.
Obeying the law and adhering to proper legal procedures can help minimize challenges during the green card application process. Consider these common mistakes to avoid when applying for a marriage-based green card:
- Failure to provide translations in your application. All non-English documents (including birth certificates and marriage certificates) must be translated into English to be considered valid. Make sure to have a translator certify your translation in writing beforehand.
- Missing information in the application. It's critical to fill out all forms completely. If you come across a question that doesn't apply to your personal circumstances, simply write "Not Applicable" or "N/A." Additionally, it's wise to conduct a final run-through after completing the forms to ensure you didn't miss any signatures.
- Insufficient fees. There are filing fees required to apply for a marriage-based green card. While the price fluctuates based on individual circumstances, it’s safe to assume that the fee will fall somewhere in the $1,200 to $1,760 range.
- Invalid photos. The photograph required for a green card application has similar requirements to a passport photo. It’s important to follow governmental guidelines to ensure your picture is valid. To learn more about photograph requirements for a green card application, click here.
How to Prove a Bona Fide Marriage
A foundational hurdle that couples encounter when applying for a marriage-based green card is establishing an authentic marriage (also known as a bona fide marriage).
Though it may seem extreme, the U.S. government requires green card applicants to establish a valid marriage to verify that they aren’t using marriage as a legal transaction or as a fraudulent means to obtain citizenship. Generally, there are two conditions required to meet basic eligibility for a marriage-based green card:
- The existence of a legal marriage in any country.
- Neither spouse is currently married to someone else.
While this checklist may seem relatively simple, this is only the tip of the iceberg for most applicants. Because the USCIS is extremely careful and effective when screening for fraudulent marriages, it’s necessary to submit sufficient evidence that proves you and your spouse share a legitimate bona fide marriage.
In addition to your marriage certificate, it’s important to provide as much evidence as possible, including (but not limited to):
- Death or divorce certificates involving former spouses to prove that a previous marriage has ended.
- Proof of jointly owned property or lease of property. A deed, lease, landlord correspondence, purchase contract, closing papers, property tax bills, utility bills, mortgage agreement, or bank statements can suffice as acceptable documentation assuming both spouses’ names are listed on it.
- Auto registrations that prove joint ownership or a shared address.
- Drivers’ licenses that prove a shared address.
- Mail addressed to both spouses at the same address. It’s important to provide a postmarked envelope to ensure the mail is acceptable documentation.
- Joint bank statements. This can include checking or savings accounts.
- Birth certificates of shared children. Both parents must be named on the certificate.
- Medical records from a physician to prove a spouse was pregnant.
- A child's school records listing one or both spouses as emergency contacts.
- Evidence from trips taken together. This may include hotel bills, rental car receipts, plane tickets, and more.
- Documentation that proves one spouse has made the other their beneficiary. This is commonly seen in retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, pensions, and life or health insurance.
- Receipts from gifts exchanged between spouses.
- Joint income tax returns. These can include returns filed with federal, state, or local government.
- Photographs of the couple together. Ideally, a portion of the photographs will feature family and friends, and span the length of the relationship. Try to choose snapshots that encapsulate various stages, such as dating, engagement, wedding, honeymoon, pregnancy, or a combination of these.
- Loans or lines of credit for joint purchases. Acceptable documentation must include both spouses’ names.
- Wills or trusts that name both spouses.
While applying for permanent resident status during removal proceedings can be nerve-racking, hope is not lost. Non-citizens can adjust their status, even when they face potential removal from the country. It's no small feat, but with the help of an experienced immigration lawyer, you can pave the path forward to permanent residence and even citizenship to remain in the U.S. with friends, family, and loved ones.
Here to Support Your Immigration Journey
When it comes to immigration law, we understand how important it is to have the right team in your corner. Our skilled immigration attorney is more than a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom—as a former immigrant, she understands the confusion and stress that many experience while navigating the complex legal road to U.S. citizenship.
The path to the freedom you rightfully deserve can feel long and full of hoops to jump through, but we’re here to guide your steps in the ever-evolving world of immigration law. Maghzi Law Firm, LLC is committed to equipping every client for success by providing them with the legal knowledge, counsel, and preparation they need to make their American dream a reality.
Are you undergoing the green card process? Our firm can help guide your steps to obtain the results you desire. Call (843) 800-2750 today to request a consultation.