Foreign nationals immigrating to the US due to marriage may soon find themselves in divorce proceedings. What will happen to their immigration status in cases of divorce? For those unaccustomed to the English language, the divorce process is bound to be long and tedious, filled with unfamiliar terminology and bureaucratic processes.
For immigrants who are facing language barriers in divorce proceedings, a good translator or interpreter is necessary. In the best-case scenario, you could become a permanent resident or citizen regardless of your ex-spouse; at worst, you might have to go back to your home country or whatever the law deems necessary.
What to do in these situations? What do you need to know? And what can make the transition from marriage to divorce for legal immigrants easier?
There are 40 million immigrants in the US, one-fifth of the world’s migrant population. Out of all of them, 10.5 million are unlawful immigrants, and 2.2 million are temporary lawful residents. Many of these also come to the U.S. because of marriage, because their spouse is a U.S. citizen. What happens in the case of divorce to these immigrants?
Divorces between U.S. citizens and immigrants happen more often than you think. In many cases, the spouse may have even sponsored the whole immigrant application process, to the extent that their immigrant status is affected by the divorce status.
Divorce differs widely from state-to-state. Some states have a mandatory divorce “cooling off” period, such as California, which has the longest cooling off period of 6 months. That means it will take six months and one day for a divorce to be finalized in California. Meanwhile, other states have regulations such as no divorces can be filed on Sunday, for Tennessee, Maine, Floria, Massachusetts, and New York. A state like Maryland has two terms for divorce: “absolute divorce” and “limited divorce.” Divorce proceedings will vary from state-to-state, so make sure your divorce procedures go accordingly to the divorce rules of the state.
However, in all states, divorce directly affects immigrants with conditional status. Having a conditional residency status means:
A “conditional residency” means there are conditions to your residency status, and you could either apply as a permanent resident or, in worst cases, your status can expire and you will have to go back to your home country.
The difference between permanent residency and conditional residency depends on the two-year length of the marriage. If you are an immigrant with an immigrant visa and get approved for a green card based on your spouse’s citizenship, and the marriage is two years or older, then you will receive permanent residency, not conditional status, automatically.
In these cases, to turn conditional residency into permanent residency, in order for your application to be approved, you must provide proof of your “real” marriage. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is given a chance to review the validity of the marriage. The US government is very strict and will observe whether the marriage is real or is just a sham to get a green card.
In order to turn your conditional residency status to permanent resident status or citizenship based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, USCIS requires:
So, it is not surprising to know that, in cases of immigration, conditional residents are the ones most affected by divorce. As soon as an immigrant obtains permanent residence without condition, divorce can no longer affect their immigration status.
Thus, you will need proof of your marital validity in the form of documents, even after divorce. If you’re an immigrant speaking in a different language other than English, you will find the process long, tedious, and very confusing.
What’s most crucial in the case of turning your conditional status into a permanent status is the filing of documents. You have to show the real marriage occurred, which means showing the joint leases, joint bank accounts, and any joint income tax forms. Birth certificates of any children born during the marriage are particularly important in proving that you had a real marriage. You will also have to do well in the interviews, proving a “good faith” marriage. In cases of divorce, you have to prove that you had a valid cause for filing a divorce so that it will not affect your conditional status or your application for permanent status.
For foreign nationals, it is specifically essential for them to take legal document translation services into account because the proper filing of immigrant documents is required for USCIS. It’s the first step, and actually the most crucial step, to being approved. Legal document translation covers everything from divorce documents at court to immigration documents at USCIS to lawyer-client document translation.
There is so much proof need by USCIS that documentation is not only necessary but required. If you speak Spanish, those documents may not admissible unless they’re in English, for example. The same goes for Polish or Chinese or any other language. English translation would benefit in this scenario highly and may serve as the building block between your conditional residency status now and your future permanent resident status.
For cases of lawful divorce, you may be able to file a joint petition with your spouse to remove the conditions on your immigrant status. Or, if you are not on good terms with your spouse, you can file a waiver to waive your spouse’s requirement; thus, instead of a joint petition where your spouse must sign to remove your conditions, you can submit this waiver alone.
In either case, you must provide proof that your past marriage was real based on love rather than a fixed marriage for a green card or other immigration reasons. In addition, you must submit legal documents for the basis of your lawful divorce, such as why you are claiming a waiver for the solo petition.
Before, after, or during the processing of your documents, you will be interviewed by USCIS on the validity of your past marriage, or ongoing marriage if your divorce is still pending. You must provide proof not only in legal documentation but also in legally-binding statements in person. The services that you’re utilizing for legal documents might also provide interpreters for this interview, if necessary.
No matter what, the divorce process requires piles upon piles of documentation, that might need to be translated depending on the language of the foreign national.
If you are in the primary process of filing for divorce, you may have to rethink your options. Separation is ultimately better for immigrants with conditional residency since separation allows a couple to remain legally married even if living apart. Meanwhile, divorce is a lawful ending of the marriage, by the court. The two have differing effects on immigration status. The process of proving a “good faith” marriage is ultimately easier for a separated immigrant, but it’s not impossible for the divorced immigrant.
No matter what, if the foreign national on conditional residency status cannot prove the marriage was in “good faith,” they may have to wait for years before being eligible to apply for permanent residence or citizenship. This shouldn’t worry you, however, since the marriage approval rate at USCIS is high. You won’t be deported either, not on conditional status, since you are a lawful immigrant, rather than an undocumented immigrant. However, once your conditional status expires, you do have to go back to your home country if you are denied permanent residency.
Thus, in order to protect yourself, you must know your immigration status and conditions, and you must prove that your marriage was in good faith. To do this, many foreign nationals may choose to employ good translators and interpreters and good lawyers in order to fully comprehend the legal proceedings. Otherwise, divorce may have an adverse effect on immigration status, and we wouldn’t want that.