The Biden administration’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its Policy Manual Thursday to allow immigration officers to waive removal of conditions interviews for some family-based immigrants with conditional green cards.
The updated policy explicitly gives USCIS officers discretion to waive interviews of the family members of U.S. citizens and green card holders who have conditional permanent resident status and submitted Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residency.
Couples who have been married for less than two years before the approval of a green card application based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident are granted conditional permanent resident (CPR) status, as opposed to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. A conditional green card granted to a CPR is good for two years, while a green card granted to an LPR is good for ten years. At the end of two years, a CPR must petition with their spouse to remove the conditions on their residency and gain LPR status.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires conditional residents to attend an interview when USCIS is adjudicating (or deciding) the couple’s removal of conditions petition. However, the INA also gives USCIS the authority to waive I-751 interviews. This authority was greatly reduced in November 2018, when the Trump administration released guidance prohibiting USCIS officers from using their independent judgment to waive a removal of conditions interview.
The updated policy rolls back the 2018 guidance, restoring interview waiver discretion to USCIS officers adjudicating removal of conditions petitions, as well as ending the mandatory requirement that all CPRs who received their green cards through consular processing from outside the U.S. must interview. Under the new guidance, CPRs who consular processed rather than adjusting status from inside the United States may have their interviews waived by USCIS.
The increase in mandatory I-751 interviews caused the USCIS backlog to nearly triple between the end of fiscal year (FY) 2018 in October 2018 and the end of September 2021, when the I-751 backlog peaked at 323,803. The most recent data available, through December 31, 2021, shows the I-751 backlog currently standing at 252,775 pending cases.