With the month of June comes warmth, sunshine, the first days of summer, and in 2014… marriage equality in the state of Illinois. That’s right, as of June 1, 2014, same sex couples can legally marry in Illinois.
This may not be news to the nearly 1800 same sex couples married since this past February, when a federal judge ruled it unfair for couples to wait until June. However, what may be news is that the new law also permits couples that previously entered into a civil union in the state to convert their civil union to a marriage.
According to the Cook County Clerk’s office, 120 couples converted their civil unions to marriages on the first full day of marriage equality alone. Couples with civil unions can do this by applying for a marriage license by May 31, 2015 and requesting to use the date of the civil union as the date of the marriage. No new fee or legal ceremony is required to convert a prior civil union into a marriage.
There are many legal advantages to converting a civil union into a marriage and back-dating the marriage certificate to the date that the couple entered into a civil union, including immigration benefits. First and foremost, federal immigration law only permits adjustment of status (application to obtain a green card) in cases involving legal marriages. Until now, those with long-term foreign national partners, civil union or not, have been unable to sponsor their partners for permanent residence.
Another benefit of converting a civil union into a marriage is that federal immigration law treats newly married couples differently than couples that have been married for a longer period of time. A foreign national married to a U.S. citizen for less than two years can only qualify for two-year “conditional” lawful permanent resident status (i.e. a two-year conditional green card). This stands in contrast to typical green cards, which are valid for ten years.
Those with conditional green cards must file an additional application to remove the conditions on their status (with Form I-751) within the 90 days prior to the expiration of the two-year validity of the status. The I-751 application generally requires extensive evidence of the continued bona fide nature of the marriage, with some exceptions for marriages that terminated in divorce, the death of the spouse, abuse, or extreme hardship.
On the other hand, a foreign national married to a U.S. citizen for two years or longer qualifies for “permanent” lawful permanent resident status (i.e. a 10-year green card). By converting a civil union into a marriage, the time the same sex couple spent in a civil union can be considered time married. In many cases, this will mean the couple was married for more than two years at the time the foreign national applies for or receives his or her green card. The foreign national could then receive a 10-year green card upon approval and skip the hassle of filing the Form I-751.
Therefore, multinational couples in Illinois who previously entered into a civil union and intend to file for adjustment of status (i.e. green card) are encouraged to take advantage of the new law and convert their civil union to a marriage by May 31, 2015.
Please contact an immigration attorney at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. if you or your loved one need advice on eligibility for an immigration benefit based on marriage.