Marriage to a U.S. citizen enables the alien spouse to obtain lawful permanent resident status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. And knowing the “two-year rule” in marital petitions can work to one’s advantage.
While you start with the purest of intentions, not all marriages have happy endings. The green card issued to a newly wedded alien spouse is conditional — meaning it expires in two years unless prior to its expiration, and the married couple proves the bona fides of their marriage before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If the documents submitted to USCIS prove that the marriage was entered into for reasons other than to obtain an immigration benefit, a 10-year green card would be issued. This rule applies whether the alien is present in the U.S. and adjusts status or is admitted into the U.S. after the processing of the visa abroad.
Thirty years ago, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 (IMFA) was enacted. IMFA provided for the two-year conditional period (or “2-year rule”) to deter or discourage aliens from entering into sham or fraudulent marriages to obtain a green card.
Before the IMFA amendments, marital petitions automatically resulted in permanent green cards for 10 years without conditions. Before that, unscrupulous aliens preyed on the fragile emotions of U.S. citizens who are made to believe that marriage is love and vice versa, only to be abandoned as soon as the coveted green card is obtained.
Have you ever wondered why the conditional period is two years and not one, three or five? It is indeed perplexing. Studies have shown that the average number of years couples in the United States stay married before divorcing is eight. Worldwide, the average is higher (“When the Embers Grow Cold”, 02/14/2014 by F.C., L.P. and K.N.C., The Economist — economist.com).
Despite the abuses, there is leniency in the law. Instead of imposing a longer time for the conditional status, only a period of 2 years is required. Perhaps, Congress thought that the two-year period is sufficient time to determine marriage fraud. Two years could either be too long to (a) maintain “the appearance of a happy marriage” if untrue; or (b) maintain a loveless but ‘costly marriage’ if a fee is being paid surreptitiously to the U.S. citizen-spouse. Such situations could end in divorce or separation, more likely before the two-year period expires.
Perhaps, the two-year period might have been calculated as ample time given to the couple to adjust to each other as husband and wife. If the union is fraudulent, the period spent together would be excruciating, to say the least.
If the alien is present in the U.S. and has been married to the U.S. citizen for more than two years when the green card application is filed, the two-year rule no longer applies. As for an alien-spouse who processes the visa abroad, the reckoning point whether the 2-year rule would apply is the date of entry to the United States.
If the entry to the U.S is after the second anniversary of the marriage, the two-year rule would not apply, and permanent resident status would automatically be for 10 years.
Consider the case of Juanita who entered the U.S. because of the petition filed by her U.S. citizen spouse. They were married on June 10, 2013. Three months after she arrived in the U.S. on June 11, 2015, she was diagnosed with cancer, and this precipitated a downward spiral of their marriage. She was abandoned by her husband.
Luckily for Juanita, her green card was “permanent for 10 years” because she entered the U.S. after the second anniversary of their marriage. She does not have to lift conditions on her status and prove why their marriage ended.
While there is a reason behind the law, being subjected to the two-year conditional status could make one feel intrusive. And for those who value their privacy and have nothing to hide, the scrutiny of a marital relationship and its intimate details could be unsettling.