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The Long and Tortured Road of I-751s

Lately, I’ve received a lot of questions about the I-751. Actually, it’s been the same question over and over again. Why does it take so long to get a decision? Good question.

When someone needs to remove the conditions on their residency, they must file an I-751. Once it’s filed, the applicant receives an automatic one-year extension of their status through a receipt from USCIS. They can travel in and out of the United States, work, and generally live their lives as before, even though the actual green card has expired.

One would hope that the year-long extension would be plenty of time for USCIS to make a decision on the application. That hope doesn’t hold true for many of my clients, sadly.

If the I-751 was a Joint Petition, meaning that the couple is still together, the odds are good that the application will be decided by the Vermont Service Center (VSC) without the need for an interview. However, right now, in early April 2016, we are still waiting for a decision on a strong and clean case that was filed on May 1, 2015.

For cases that are Good Faith Waivers because of divorce, the situation is much worse. Typically, these cases do require an interview at the local USCIS field office. They still have to be reviewed by the VSC, which will take a year. Then, most likely they’ll be issued a Request for Evidence (RFE) to see if there’s anything more that can be added to the record. The RFE can easily add an additional six months to the processing time. In nine out of ten times, the case will still be sent to the field office for an interview.

Every field office has its own backlog of I-751s that they try to schedule for interviews. Some offices can only interview a few times a year. Other offices try to interview a few times a month. In Atlanta, it was taking a year from the time the case was transferred from the VSC to the time of an interview. So that means it could have been over two years since the case was originally filed. Thankfully, it’s not quite so bad in Atlanta now. But, as an example, we are still waiting for an interview on a case that was filed in August 2014.

These interviews are difficult. The underlying marriage that the case was based on has been over for several years. Officers ask for information such as the ex-spouse’s cell phone number or date of birth or for additional documents. After a divorce, especially if it was bitter, recalling this information or having any new items to show that the couple lived together is nearly impossible.

Why does it take so long for these cases to be worked through the system? Priorities, pure and simple. USCIS has determined that since I-751 applicants have proof of their legal status through the receipt notice extending their status or through subsequent stamps in their passport, they are not terribly inconvenienced by the adjudication delays. As I mentioned earlier, legally, they are allowed to travel and work just as they were when their conditional card was valid.

However, as more states look to the green card when issuing driver’s licenses, more employers look to the green card when determining employment eligibility, and knowing that not everyone has the ability to travel to a field office to obtain a stamp in their passport on a regular basis, I do have to wonder about USCIS’s rationale.

While something has to be at the bottom of the list of priorities, does the I-751 have to be pushed down so low that it takes over two years in some cases for a decision? That’s longer than the conditional residency was good to begin with!

-Tracie

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