If you’ve gone to the effort of filling out your green card forms, you’re probably hoping you won’t have to fill out another US visa application for a long time.  Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for a 2 or 10-year green card.  Here’s how to tell the difference.

2-year Green Cards for Conditional Permanent Residents

A 2-year green card is also called “Conditional Permanent Residence.”  There are two types of applicants that receive a 2-year green card:

  1. If you’re applying for a marriage-based green card and you’ve been married for less than 2 years, you’ll only be eligible for a 2-year green card.  This is because USCIS wants to make sure that you have a real (bona fide) marriage.  
  2. If you’re applying for an investment-based (entrepreneur) green card, and you’re already living inside the United States, you’re stuck with a 2-year green card.  If you were to apply for the same visa while living outside the US, you would be eligible for a 10-year green card.

10-year Green Cards for Permanent Residents

If you don’t meet either of the two conditions listed above for 2-year green cards, then you may be eligible for a 10-year green card.  This includes anyone applying for a refugee or asylum-based green card, as well as those applying for family or job-based green cards that don’t meet the two conditions above.  Keep in mind that even with a 10-year green card, you’ll still have to renew your green card before expiration, unless you’ve already become a US citizen.

How to Convert your 2-year Green Card to a 10-year Green Card

Converting your 2-year green card to a 10-year green card is as easy as filling out a single form.  If your first green card was marriage-based, you should fill out Form I-751.  If your first green card was investment-based, you should fill out Form I-829.  Importantly, you must file for the extension during the 90 days before your conditional residence expires.

What if I get Divorced or Widowed while on a Conditional Permanent Residence?

USCIS understands that even the most well-intentioned marriages can fizzle.  If you get divorced, or your American spouse dies, while you’re still on a conditional permanent residence (2-year green card), you may still be able to stay in the US.  To do this, you must request a waiver of the requirement that you and your spouse apply and interview together.  You can request this waiver based on three principles: (1) you were abused by your American spouse, (2) you will endure extreme hardship if you are deported to your home country, or (3) you had a real, bona fide marriage that just didn’t work.  Importantly, your request for a waiver may be denied if your marriage dissolved because you abandoned your American spouse or committed adultery.