[Also available on Reddit.]
Foreign nationals who become conditional residents by marrying a US citizen or LPR are able to travel abroad. However, unlike permanent residents who have a 10-year green card, conditional residents are given a two-year green card, at the end of which they must file a form I-751 to remove the conditions on residence. A successful I-751 petition removes the conditions and provides the foreign national with permanent resident status. But this is a lengthy process, sometimes taking years.
So, can a foreign national travel abroad while the Form I-751 petition is pending?
The answer is generally yes, but there are some risks to consider. First, foreign nationals should be certain that the I-751 was submitted correctly and on time. Once submitted, USCIS will usually mail the applicant a form I-797C, Notice of Action. This is a receipt proving that the I-751 was submitted. It will also provide an extension (typically for 24 months) to the conditional residence. However, it may take USCIS several weeks for this letter to be issued. In addition to the I-797C, foreign nationals should not depart the US without some other key documents necessary to reenter the US. And even with the correct documents in hand, foreign nationals should also be mindful of any past issues that may put them at risk in seeking reentry into the US.
After a conditional green card has expired, but before a new 10-year green card arrives, it’s important for any foreign national to carry the following items when traveling abroad:
Valid, unexpired passport
Expired conditional green card
Valid, unexpired I-797C, Notice of Action
These documents are used to prove that the foreign national is lawfully permitted to be in (or reenter) the US. Remember, the inadmissibility rules continue to apply, just as they would for any green card holder seeking to reenter the US. Accordingly, foreign nationals should NOT depart the US if they have any outstanding issues that could make them inadmissible. These can include such things as criminal offenses or past immigration violations. Also, if the I-751 petition is denied while the foreign national is abroad, reentry into the US may not be possible. The foreign national may even be referred to an immigration judge for removal upon arrival. If you have doubt on any of these issues, consult with a competent attorney before traveling. If you require extended travel abroad after filing a form I-751, consider obtaining a reentry permit before you do. This can help avoid a decision by a CBP officer to deny reentry on the grounds that the conditional residence was abandoned.
You should seriously consider the risks and necessity of taking lengthy trips abroad while the I-751 is pending. Proper planning and knowledge are key to minimizing the risks. If your 751 is pending, consulting with an attorney prior to travel is a smart step.