An Overview of "Green Card" Petitions for Immediate Relatives, in Guam and Saipan

Richard William Hamlin, Esq.


Under federal immigration law, U.S. citizens residing in Guam or the C.N.M.I. may petition their alien spouse, or other immediate relative, to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.  Once the relative becomes a lawful permanent resident (also known as a "green card" holder), he or she may travel and work freely anywhere within Guam, the C.N.M.I., or mainland United States.  Eventually, the resident may also apply for naturalization, hold a U.S. passport, and enjoy the full privileges and legal protections of U.S. citizenship.


If a U.S. citizen wishes to petition a fiancé or spouse who lives in a foreign country, the fastest way to bring him or her to the U.S. or Guam is often through a temporary non-immigrant visa application, such as the "K-1 fiancé" or "K-3 spouse" visa category.  These visa applications are first processed in the mainland U.S. and are then referred for further processing and an interview at the local U.S. consulate in the alien's home country.  Under a "K-1 fiancé" visa, the alien must marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days of entering the U.S., whereas, under a "K-3 spouse" application, the couple must prove that they are already lawfully married.  Both options offer a simple and relatively fast route to unite a family in the U.S. while the longer "green card" application is pending.  Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that consulate procedures and interview wait times vary by country, and applications may be complicated by the existence of previous immigration petitions, certain criminal histories, or the use of paid dating services.


Once on Guam, the C.N.M.I., or U.S. mainland, an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen may file an adjustment of status application to become a lawful permanent resident.  The U.S.C.I.S. application forms are specifically drafted to determine whether the parties meet the legal requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act to be eligible for immigration benefits.  The primary portions of the application are as follows:

1.         The U.S. citizen (Petitioner) must formally petition the alien relative (Beneficiary) for immigration benefits.

2.         The alien relative must formally request permanent resident status.

3.         The parties must provide complete biographic information, for a background check and assessment of the veracity of their claims.

4.         At least one qualified Sponsor must provide personal financial information, and enter a legal contract with the government to support the alien in times of financial hardship.

5.         The alien relative must successfully complete a medical examination by a U.S.C.I.S. certified Civil Surgeon.


After the complete application is submitted, the Petitioner and Beneficiary must appear for an interview regarding the application.  For aliens adjusting status on Guam, interviews are conducted at the full U.S.C.I.S. Agana Field Office.  Saipan applicants may conduct their interviews at the new Application Support Center in Garapan, which is principally limited to interviews and biometrics services.  All others outside the U.S. will be interviewed at the nearest official location in their home country.


In all applications and interviews for immigration benefits based upon a marriage, the couple must be able to demonstrate that they have a bona-fide marital relationship.  Accordingly, it is important to gather evidence of the relationship's progression over time, in the form of financial records, photographs, and correspondence.  Where evidence appears suspicious or weak, the parties should be ready for heightened scrutiny at the interview.  Proper preparation of supporting evidence, with an aim to satisfy the particular legal elements, is often critical an application's success.


While an adjustment of status application is pending, the intending immigrant is not likely to be removed (or "deported") for status violations, such as overstaying after an entry under the Guam Visa Waiver Program.  However, until the application is completely approved, it is important that the intending immigrant does not depart the U.S., Guam, or the C.N.M.I., without first obtaining Advance Parole.  Any unauthorized departure is construed as an abandonment of the application, and would leave the intending immigrant without status, and unable to return.  Likewise, should the applicant wish to work before the "green card" arrives, a separate request for employment authorization must also be submitted.


Even once the application is approved, recently-wed couples will find that the "green-card" is only a temporary one.  This conditional residency serves as an automatic filter for U.S.C.I.S. to spot sham marriages, and invalidate fraudulently obtained "green cards".  If the conditional permanent resident does not petition to remove the conditions within 90 days of their second year anniversary as a resident, then he or she may be subject to immediate removal from the country.  Generally, the U.S. citizen spouse must join in petitioning to remove the conditions, though exceptions exist in the event of death, domestic abuse, or divorce.  Nevertheless, it is important to prove, through documents, that the marriage was originally entered into in good faith, despite what may have later occurred.


With proper strategy and meticulous preparation, the intending immigrant may eventually obtain a renewable Permanent Resident Card that is valid for ten years.  The actual application process is considerably more complex than this general overview may show, and is fraught with many legal pitfalls and exceptions along the way, most of which would not be apparent from observing the published U.S.C.I.S. forms alone.  Applicants who may have overstayed a visa, worked without authorization or who have ever been arrested are particularly at risk of facing strict immigration penalties.  Enforcement of these penalties may be triggered by a departure from the United States, a wrongly submitted form, or contact with a government agency, such as U.S.C.I.S.  More frequently, inadequately prepared applications result in official requests for additional information, prolonging the application for years, or resulting in its denial altogether. 


A qualified immigration attorney will be able ask the right questions, evaluate the available documents, and identify any weaknesses or problems in a proposed application.  With the client's assistance, the attorney may then assemble an application that addresses the identified weaknesses or resolves any barriers to application.  The attorney may also accompany the parties at interview, and specifically prepare the applicant for the questioning.  Once notice is given of the attorney's entry in the case, all official notices, motions, and correspondence will also be sent to the attorney of record.  While it is not guaranteed that U.S.C.I.S. will treat a case more favorably simply because an attorney is officially named in record, a qualified immigration attorney will be able to apply specific knowledge of the underlying law and procedure to ensure that the application is examined in the most favorable light, and with the fewest delays.