USCIS Expansion of the I-601A Provisional Waiver Program In-Depth

USCIS Expansion of the I-601A Provisional Waiver Program In-Depth

Selected discussions on the recent expansion of the I-601A Provisional Waiver process by the USCIS follow below:

The provisional unlawful presence waiver (“provisional waiver”) process allows certain individuals who are present in the United States to request from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a provisional waiver of these grounds of inadmissibility before departing the United States for consular processing of their immigrant visas – rather than applying for a waiver abroad after their immigrant visa interviews using the Form I-601, Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility (“Form I-601 waiver process”).

The provisional waiver process is designed to encourage unlawfully present individuals to leave the United States, attend their immigrant visa interviews, and return to the United States legally to reunite with their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) family members.

Having an approved provisional waiver helps facilitate immigrant visa issuance at DOS, streamlines both the waiver and the immigrant visa processes, and reduces the time that applicants are separated from their U.S. citizen or LPR family members, thus promoting family unity.

Generally, individuals who are in the United States and seeking lawful permanent resident (LPR) status must either obtain an immigrant visa abroad through what is known as “consular processing” with the Department of State (DOS) or apply to adjust their immigration status to that of an LPR in the United States, if eligible. Individuals present in the United States without having been inspected and admitted or paroled are typically ineligible to adjust their status in the United States.

To obtain LPR status, such individuals must leave the United States for immigrant visa processing at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad. But because these individuals are present in the United States without having been inspected and admitted or paroled, their departures may trigger a ground of inadmissibility based on the accrual of unlawful presence in the United States under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(i).

Under subclause (I) of this provision, an individual who has been unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days but less than one year, and who then departs voluntarily from the United States before the commencement of removal proceedings, is inadmissible for 3 years from the date of departure. See INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(i)(I).

Under subclause (II), an individual who has been unlawfully present in the United States for one year or more and then departs the United States (before, during, or after removal proceedings), is inadmissible for 10 years from the date of the departure. See INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(i)(II).

These “3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars” do not take effect unless and until the individual departs from the United States. See, e.g., Matter of Rodarte-Roman, 23 I. & N. Dec. 905 (BIA 2006).

The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) may waive this ground of inadmissibility for an individual who can demonstrate that the refusal of his or her admission to the United States would result in extreme hardship to his or her U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or parent. See INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v).

Prior to the creation of the provisional waiver process in 2013, any individual who was seeking an immigrant visa and became inadmissible under the 3- or 10-year unlawful presence bar upon departure from the United States, could apply for a waiver of such inadmissibility from DHS by filing an Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, Form I-601, with USCIS, but only after having attended the consular immigrant visa interview abroad. Those who applied for waivers under this “Form I-601 waiver process” were effectively required to remain abroad for at least several months while USCIS adjudicated their waiver applications.

For some individuals, the Form I-601 waiver process led to lengthy separations of immigrant visa applicants from their family members, causing some U.S. citizens and LPRs to experience the significant emotional and financial hardships that Congress aimed to avoid when it authorized the waiver. See INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v) (providing for an inadmissibility waiver, “if it is established to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that the refusal of admission to such immigrant alien would result in extreme hardship to the citizen or lawfully resident spouse or parent of such alien”).

For this reason, many relatives of U.S. citizens and LPRs who are eligible to obtain LPR status may be reluctant to travel abroad to seek immigrant visas and obtain such status. The Form I-601 waiver process also created processing inefficiencies for both USCIS and DOS through repeated interagency communication and through multiple consular appointments or interviews.

On July 22, 2015, DHS proposed to expand the class of individuals who may be eligible for provisional waivers beyond certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to all statutorily eligible individuals regardless of their immigrant visa classification. DHS also proposed to expand the class of individuals who could obtain provisional waivers, consistent with the statutory waiver authority, by permitting consideration of extreme hardship not only to U.S. citizen spouses or parents, but also to LPR spouses or parents.

In this final rule, DHS adopts the changes discussed in the proposed rule with several modifications in response to comments submitted on the proposed rule. The new modifications include:

1) Clarifying that all individuals seeking provisional waivers, including those in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), must file applications for provisional waivers with USCIS.

2) Allowing individuals to apply for provisional waivers even if USCIS has a reason to believe that they may be subject to other grounds of inadmissibility.

3) Eliminating the proposed temporal limitations that would have restricted eligibility for provisional waivers based on DOS visa interview scheduling.

4) Allowing individuals with final orders of removal, exclusion, or deportation to be eligible for provisional waivers provided that they have already applied for, and USCIS has approved, an Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal, Form I-212.

5) Clarifying that DHS must have actually reinstated a removal, deportation, or exclusion order in order for an individual who has returned to the United States unlawfully after removal to be ineligible for a provisional waiver on that basis.

In addition, DHS made several technical and non-substantive changes.

Newly eligible provisional waiver applicants and their U.S. citizen or LPR family members will benefit from this rule. Those applying for provisional waivers will receive advance notice of USCIS’ decision to provisionally waive their 3- or 10-year unlawful presence bar before they leave the United States for their immigrant visa interview abroad. This offers applicants and their family members the certainty of knowing that the applicants have been provisionally approved for waivers of the 3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars before departing from the United States.

Individuals with approved provisional waivers may experience shortened periods of separation from their family members living in the United States while they pursue issuance of immigrant visas abroad, thus reducing any related financial and emotional strains on the families.

Eligibility for the Provisional Waiver

1. Categories of Eligible Individuals

The Secretary is authorized to waive the 3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars for individuals seeking admission to the United States as immigrants if they can show that the refusal of admission would result in extreme hardship to a qualifying U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or parent, and provided that the applicant warrants a favorable exercise of discretion. See INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v).

With this final rule, DHS is allowing all individuals who are statutorily eligible for an immigrant visa and who meet the legal requirements for a waiver under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v), to seek a provisional waiver in accordance with new 8 CFR 212.7(e). Consistent with the current provisional waiver process, provisional waivers are available only to those who are present in the United States, who must apply for immigrant visas at U.S. embassies or consulates abroad, and who at the time of the immigrant visa interview may be inadmissible based on the accrual of unlawful presence under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(i).

DHS can only expand the pool of individuals eligible for this process to those who fall within one of the current statutory immigrant visa classifications and who meet the requirements for the unlawful presence waiver described in INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v). DHS cannot expand eligibility to those who are not statutorily eligible for such waivers under current law.

Similarly, DHS cannot change who is statutorily eligible to adjust status in the United States. Intending immigrants who are present in the United States but ineligible to adjust status must depart the United States and obtain their immigrant visas through consular processing abroad; approval of a provisional waiver does not change this requirement. See INA sections 104, 202(a)(1)(B), 211, 221, 222 and 245; 8 U.S.C. 1104, 1152(a)(1)(B), 1181, 1201, 1202, and 1255. See generally 8 CFR part 245; 22 CFR part 42.

To clarify, in the proposed rule, DHS sought to include all beneficiaries of approved immigrant visa petitions who are statutorily eligible for a waiver of the 3- and 10-year unlawful presence bars, regardless of age, marital status, or immigration status. Individuals with approved immigrant visa petitions, including sons and daughters (married or unmarried) of U.S. citizens, as well as those who have been selected to participate in the Diversity Visa program, may participate in the provisional waiver process provided they meet the requirements stated in 8 CFR 212.7(e). Consistent with its statutory authority under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(B)(v), DHS will no longer limit the provisional waiver process to certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

2. Reason-to-Believe Standard

DHS has decided to eliminate the reason-to-believe standard as a basis for denying provisional waiver applications. Accordingly, when adjudicating such applications, USCIS will only consider whether extreme hardship has been established and whether the applicant warrants a favorable exercise of discretion.

However, although this final rule eliminates the reason-to believe standard, the final rule retains the provision that provides for the automatic revocation of an approved provisional waiver application if the DOS consular officer ultimately determines that the applicant is ineligible for the immigrant visa based on other grounds of inadmissibility. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(14)(i).

DHS thus cautions and reminds individuals that even if USCIS approves a provisional waiver application, DOS may still find the applicant inadmissible on other grounds at the time of the immigrant visa interview. If DOS finds the applicant ineligible for the immigrant visa or inadmissible on grounds other than unlawful presence, the approval of the provisional waiver application is automatically revoked. In such cases, the individual may again apply for a waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility, in combination with any other waivable grounds of inadmissibility, by using the Form I-601 waiver process.

As in all discretionary matters, DHS also has the authority to deny provisional waiver applications as a matter of discretion even if the applicant satisfies the eligibility criteria. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(2)(i). Additionally, USCIS may reopen and reconsider its decision to approve or deny a provisional waiver before or after the waiver becomes effective if it is determined that the decision was made in error. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(13) and 8 CFR 212.7(a)(4)(v).

As has always been the case, DHS will continue to uphold the integrity and security of the provisional waiver process by conducting full background and security checks to assess whether an individual may be a threat to national security or public safety. If the background check or the individual’s immigration file reveals derogatory information, including a criminal record, USCIS will analyze the significance of the information and may deny the provisional waiver application as a matter of discretion.

Finally, the extreme hardship and discretionary eligibility assessments made during a provisional waiver adjudication could be impacted by additional grounds of inadmissibility and other information that was not known and therefore not considered during the adjudication.

Accordingly, USCIS is not bound by these determinations when adjudicating subsequent applications filed by the same applicant, such as an application filed to waive grounds of inadmissibility, including a waiver of the unlawful presence grounds of inadmissibility. In other words, because separate inadmissibility grounds and material information not before USCIS at the time of adjudication may alter the totality of the circumstances present in an individual’s case, a prior determination that an applicant’s U.S. citizen or LPR spouse would suffer extreme hardship if the applicant were refused admission (and that the applicant merits a provisional waiver as a matter of discretion) does not dictate that USCIS must make the same determination in the future, although the factors and circumstances underlying the prior decision may be taken into account when reviewing the cases under the totality of the circumstances.

3. DHS is eliminating the restrictions based on the date that DOS acted to schedule the immigrant visa interview.

USCIS will adjust its processing of petitions and applications so that neither DOS nor USCIS will be adversely affected by the elimination of this restriction. Please note, however, that elimination of these date restrictions does not alter other laws and regulations relating to the availability of immigrant visas. Applicants will still be unable to obtain immigrant visas until an immigrant visa number is available based on the applicant’s priority date. Applicants will need to act promptly, once DOS notifies them that they can file their immigrant visa application. If applicants do not apply within one year of this notice, DOS has authority to terminate their registration for an immigrant visa. See INA section 203(g), 8 U.S.C. 1153(g); see also 22 CFR 42.8(a). That action will also result in automatic revocation of the approval of the related immigrant visa petition. 8 CFR 205.1(a)(1).

In such a situation, applicants will have two options for continuing to pursue a provisional waiver. One option is for an applicant to ask DOS to reinstate the registration pursuant to 22 C.F.R. 42.83(d). If DOS reinstates the registration, approval of the immigrant visa petition is also reinstated. Once such an applicant has paid the immigrant visa processing fee for the related immigrant visa application, the applicant can apply for a provisional waiver. A second option is for the relevant immigrant visa petitioner to file a new immigrant visa petition with USCIS. If USCIS approves the new immigrant visa petition, the beneficiary could then apply for the provisional waiver after paying the immigrant visa processing fee based on the new petition if otherwise eligible.

4. Individuals in Removal Proceedings

On November 20, 2014, the Secretary directed the Department’s immigration components—USCIS, ICE, and CBP—to exercise prosecutorial discretion, when appropriate, as early as possible in proceedings to ensure that DHS’s limited resources are devoted to the greatest degree possible to the pursuit of enforcement priorities.  Prosecutorial discretion applies not only to the decision to issue, serve, file, or cancel an NTA, but also to other broad
ranges of discretionary measures.  To promote docket efficiency and to ensure that finite enforcement resources are used effectively, ICE carefully reviews cases pending before the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to ensure that all cases align with the agency’s enforcement and removal policies. As such, once an NTA is issued, ICE attorneys are directed to review the case, at the earliest opportunity, for the potential exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) likewise instructs its immigration judges to use available docketing tools to ensure fair and timely resolution of cases, and to ask ICE attorneys at master calendar hearings whether ICE is seeking dismissal or administrative closure of a case.  In general, those who are low priorities for removal and are otherwise eligible for LPR status may be able to apply for provisional waivers.  Among other things, ICE may agree to administratively close immigration proceedings for individuals who are eligible to pursue a provisional waiver and are not currently considered a DHS enforcement priority.  ICE also works to facilitate, as appropriate, the timely termination or dismissal of administratively closed removal proceedings once USCIS approves a provisional waiver.

DHS believes the aforementioned steps being undertaken by ICE and EOIR to determine whether cases should be administratively closed effectively balances the commenters’ provisional waiver eligibility concerns and agency resources in considering the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Consequently, this rule has not changed the provisional waiver process and will not permit individuals in active removal proceedings to apply for or receive provisional waivers, unless their cases are administratively closed. The Department believes that current processes provide ample opportunity for eligible applicants to seek a provisional waiver, while improving the allocation of government resources and ensuring national security, public safety, and border security.

5. Individuals Subject to Final Orders of Removal, Deportation, or Exclusion

As a preliminary matter, DHS notes that requiring the filing of separate Forms I-601A and I-212 simply reflects the fact that they are intended to address two separate grounds of inadmissibility, each with different waiver eligibility requirements. In response to the comments, however, DHS has amended the rule to allow individuals with final orders of removal, deportation, or exclusion to apply for provisional waivers if they have filed a Form I- 212 application seeking consent to reapply for admission and such an application has been conditionally approved.

Anyone who departs the United States while a final order is outstanding is considered to have executed that order. See INA section 101(g), 8 U.S.C. 1101(g); 8 CFR 241.7. The execution of such an order renders the individual inadmissible to the United States for a period of 5-20 years under INA section 212(a)(9)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(A). Certain individuals, however, may seek consent to reapply for admission to the United States before the period of inadmissibility has expired. See INA section 212(a)(9)(A)(iii), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(A)(iii).

DHS regulations provide a process for those in the United States to apply for such consent by filing a Form I-212 application before departing the United States. See 8 CFR 212.2(j). As with the provisional waiver process, the pre-departure approval of a Form I-212 application is conditioned on the applicant subsequently departing the United States.

Thus, if an individual who is inadmissible under INA section 212(a)(9)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(9)(A), obtains a conditional approval of his or her Form I-212 application while in the United States and thereafter departs to attend the immigrant visa interview abroad, he or she generally is no longer inadmissible under that section at the time of the immigrant visa interview and can be issued an immigrant visa.

Given that an applicant still has to demonstrate visa eligibility, including admissibility, at the time of the immigrant visa interview and that DHS has decided to eliminate the reason-to-believe standard, the Department believes the goals of the provisional waiver process are supported by making it available to those with final orders only if they already have conditionally approved a Form I-212 application. The final rule thus extends eligibility for provisional waivers to such individuals. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(4)(iv).

Such an individual, however, must have the conditionally approved Form I-212 application at the time of filing the provisional waiver application. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(4)(iv). USCIS will deny a provisional waiver application if the applicant’s Form I-212 application has not yet been conditionally approved at the time the individual files his or her provisional waiver application. Additionally, if during the immigrant visa interview the consular officer finds that the applicant is inadmissible on other grounds that have not been waived, the approved provisional waiver will be automatically revoked. See 8 CFR 212.7(e)(14)(i).

Finally, DHS notes that approval of Forms I-601A and I-212 does not waive inadmissibility under INA section 212(a)(9)(C), 8 U.S.C 1182(a)(9)(C), for having returned to the United States without inspection and admission or parole after a prior removal or prior unlawful presence. See INA section 212(a)(9)(C)(ii), 8 U.S.C 1182(a)(9)(C)(ii); Matter of Briones, 24 I&N Dec. 355 (BIA 2007); Matter of Torres-Garcia, 23 I&N Dec. 866 (BIA 2006).

6. Individuals Granted Voluntary Departure

DHS has determined that individuals granted voluntary departure will not be eligible for provisional waivers. First, if an individual obtains voluntary departure while in removal proceedings, the immigration judge is required by law to enter an alternate order of removal. See 8 CFR 1240.26(d). DHS cannot execute the alternate order of removal during the voluntary departure period because such an order is not yet in effect. But if the individual does not depart as required under the order of voluntary departure, the alternate order of removal automatically becomes fully effective without any additional proceeding. See 8 CFR 1240.26(d). Thus, an individual who fails to leave as required under a grant of voluntary departure will have an administratively final order of removal, and will thus be ineligible for a provisional waiver. See INA section 240B(d)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1229c(d)(1); 8 CFR 212.7(e)(4)(iv).

Under current law, removal proceedings for such individuals are considered to have ended when the grant of voluntary departure, with an alternate removal order, becomes administratively final. See INA sections 101(a)(47), 240(c)(1)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(47), 1229(a)(c)(1)(A); 8 CFR 241.1, 1003.39, 1241.1; Matter of Shih, 20 I&N Dec. 697 (BIA 1993).

Second, a fundamental premise for a grant of voluntary departure is that the individual who is granted voluntary departure intends to leave the United States as required. See INA section 240B(b)(1)(D), 8 U.S.C. 1229c(b)(1)(D); Dada v. Mukasey, 554 U.S. 1, 18 (2008).  Allowing an individual whose voluntary departure period has not expired to apply for a provisional waiver would suggest that the individual is excused from complying with the order of voluntary departure. This result would contradict the purpose of voluntary departure— allowing the subject to leave promptly without incurring the future inadmissibility that results from removal. For these reasons, DHS did not modify the rule to allow those with grants of voluntary departure to apply for provisional waivers.

Adjustment of Status Approved After Prosecutorial Discretion Obtained to Terminate Removal Proceedings

Adjustment of Status Approved After Prosecutorial Discretion Obtained to Terminate Removal Proceedings

Our office recently obtained approval of an application for adjustment of status to permanent residence for the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen.

This was a particularly difficult case since the foreign spouse was still subject to an open removal hearing that occurred when she was a child, and wherein, she and her family were granted withholding of removal.

I personally contacted the prosecutor-in-charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of ICE Counsel and requested joinder in a Motion to Terminate Removal Proceedings so that our client can pursue adjustment of status.

After presenting the compelling factors of the case both verbally and in writing, together with a collection of exhibits that established every relevant factor discussed in our request, the Office of ICE Counsel agreed to join in a Motion to Terminate Removal Proceedings.

This motion was subsequently submitted to the presiding immigration judge of the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review, who found good cause to be shown and granted the Motion to Terminate Removal Hearings.

The Department of Homeland Security enjoys the power of prosecutorial discretion.   Federal courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals have found that the Department of Homeland Security possesses discretion in deciding how best to exercise its immigration enforcement powers. See Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm., 525 U.S. 471, 489-92 (1999) ( INS retains inherent prosecutorial discretion as to whether to bring removal proceedings); See Matter of Yauri, 25 I&N Dec. 103, 110 (BIA 2009) (DHS has prosecutorial discretion to grant deferred action status to a respondent).

The Department of Homeland Security has also expressed as policy the necessity of exercising its power of prosecutorial discretion. See Doris Meissner, Commissioner: Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion (Nov. 17, 2000); William Howard, Principal Legal Advisor: Prosecutorial Discretion (October 24, 2005).

On June 17, 2011, ICE issued its two most recent policy memoranda on prosecutorial discretion: John Morton, Director: Prosecutorial Discretion: Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens (June 17, 2011); John Morton, Director: Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims, Witnesses, and Plaintiffs (June 17, 2011).

As John Morton’s Prosecutorial Discretion Memorandum of June 17, 2011 states,

“One of ICE‟s central responsibilities is to enforce the nation‟s civil immigration laws in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). ICE, however, has limited resources to remove those illegally in the United States. ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets to ensure that the aliens it removes represent, as much as reasonably possible, the agency‟s enforcement priorities, namely the promotion of national security, border security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system.”

John Mortan’s Prosecutorial Discretion Memorandum of June 17, 2011, also puts forth factors to be considered by the agency’s officers, agents, and attorneys.  The following list is not considered exhaustive and no one factor is determinative.  The list of factors cited include:

  1. the agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities;
  2. the person’s length of presence in the United States, with particular consideration given to presence while in lawful status;
  3. the circumstances of the person’s arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child;
  4. the person’s pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States;
  5. whether the person, or the person’s immediate relative, has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat;
  6. the person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants;
  7. the person’s immigration history, including any prior removal, outstanding order of removal, prior denial of status, or evidence of fraud;
  8. whether the person poses a national security or public safety concern;
  9. the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships;
  10. the person’s ties to the home country and conditions in the country;
  11. the person’s age, with particular consideration given to minors and .the elderly;
  12. whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent;
  13. whether the person is the primary caretaker of a person with a mental or physical disability, minor, or seriously ill relative;
  14. whether the person or the person’s spouse is pregnant or nursing;
  15. whether the person or the person’s spouse suffers from severe mental or physical illness;
  16. whether the person’s nationality renders removal unlikely;
  17. whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as a relative of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
  18. whether the person is likely to be granted temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal, including as an asylum seeker, or a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking, or other crime; and
  19. whether the person is currently cooperating or has cooperated with federal, state or local law enforcement authorities, such as ICE, the U.S Attorneys or Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, or National Labor Relations Board, among others.

Using these memoranda together with our extensive experience presenting persuasive I-601, I-601A, I-212, and 212(d)(3) waiver cases as guidelines, we presented a compelling and persuasive case that allowed termination of removal proceedings.

Our client’s adjustment of status application was subsequently approved after the couple’s “marriage interview,” and the foreign spouse is now a U.S. lawful permanent resident for the first time in her life.

BIA Holds that Adjustment of Status Constitutes an Admission for Purposes of Applying for a Fraud Waiver Under INA Section 237(a)(1)(H)

BIA holds that adjustment of status constitutes an admission for purposes of determining an immigrant’s eligibility to apply for a waiver under INA Section 237(a)(1)(H)

I-601 Waiver Legal News

Matter of Agour, 26 I&N Dec. 566 (BIA 2015)

At issue in this case was whether a section 237(a)(1)(H) waiver for certain fraud or misrepresentation at the time of admission is available to aliens who commit fraud in the process of adjusting their status within the United States.

INA section 237(a)(1)(H) states:

(H) Waiver authorized for certain misrepresentations.

The provisions of this paragraph relating to the removal of aliens within the United States on the ground that they were inadmissible at the time of admission as aliens described in section 212(a)(6)(C)(i), whether willful or innocent, may, in the discretion of the Attorney General, be waived for any alien (other than an alien described in paragraph (4)(D)) who–

(i) (I) is the spouse, parent, son or daughter of a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence; and

(II) was in possession of an immigrant visa or equivalent document and was otherwise admissible to the United States at the time of such admission except for those grounds of inadmissibility specified under paragraphs (5)(A) and (7)(A) of section 212(a) which were a direct result of that fraud or misrepresentation.

(ii) is a VAWA self-petitioner. A waiver of removal for fraud or misrepresentation granted under this subparagraph shall also operate to waive removal based on the grounds of inadmissibility directly resulting from such fraud or misrepresentation.

INA § 237(a)(1)(H) thus provides a discretionary waiver in removal proceedings for certain misrepresentations and fraud at admission that would otherwise render deportable a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or a self-petitioner under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The applicant is a native and citizen of Morocco who was admitted to the United States on a nonimmigrant visitor visa in 1999.  In July 2001, she married a United States citizen who then filed a visa petition on her behalf.  In 2002, the applicant was granted conditional permanent resident status pursuant to section 216(a) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1186a(a) (2000). The conditional basis of respondent’s permanent residence was removed in 2005 by the approval of a jointly filed Form I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence).

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) filed a notice to appear with the Immigration Court on September 5, 2008, charging the respondent with being removable under section 237(a)(1)(A) of the Act, as an alien who is inadmissible based on fraud or misrepresentation under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(C)(i) (2006).

This charge was based on allegations that the respondent procured her adjustment of status by fraud or by willfully misrepresenting a material fact when she married for the sole purpose of obtaining permanent residence in the United States.

The applicant sought to waive fraud that occurred after her initial entry into the United States as a nonimmigrant. The question was whether an adjustment of status can be an admission for purposes of the section 237(a)(1)(H) waiver.

Prior BIA decisions discussing the section 237(a)(1)(H) waiver involved aliens admitted to the United States with immigrant visas who were then charged with being removable for fraud or misrepresentation in that initial entry. See, e.g., Matter of Federiso, 24 I&N Dec. 661 (BIA 2008), overruled on other grounds, Federiso v. Holder, 605 F.3d 695 (9th Cir. 2010); Matter of Fu, 23 I&N Dec. 985 (BIA 2006).

The BIA in this case concluded that an alien’s adjustment of status within the United States constitutes an admission for purposes of the waiver at section 237(a)(1)(H) of the Act.

The Section 237(a)(1)(H) waiver is thus not limited only to those aliens who engage in fraud or misrepresentation at the time of entry into the United States with an immigrant visa.  An alien who commits fraud in the course of adjusting status in the United States may waive removal under section 237(a)(1)(A) of the Act as an alien who was inadmissible at the time of adjustment of status based on fraud or misrepresentation.

Client Approval: I-601 Waiver and I-212 Waiver Approved for 10 Year Unlawful Presence Bar and 10 Year Deportation Bar

Client Approval: I-601 Waiver and I-212 Waiver Approved for Brazilian Applicant

Our office received approval of both the I-601 Waiver (Application for Waiver of Excludability) and I-212 Waiver (Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission) for the Brazilian spouse of a U.S. citizen wife.  The couple have one daughter together who is two years old.  They also raise a 6 year old son together who is from a prior relationship of the U.S. citizen wife.

The Brazilian husband entered the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa and overstayed for over approximately 1.5 years in the country.  He was then detained and removed from the United States.  He subsequently re-located from his home country of Brazil to the United Kingdom for greater economic opportunities that would allow him to support his family back in the United States.

The U.S. citizen wife contacted me after her husband attended his immigrant visa interview at the U.S. embassy and was denied for the immigrant visa after being deemed inadmissible to the United States.  He was subject to the 10 year “unlawful presence bar” pursuant to INA INA Section 212(a)(9)(B) as well as the 10 year “deportation bar” pursuant to INA Section 212(a)(9)(A)(i) and (ii).

Section 212(a)(9)(B) of the Act provides, in pertinent part:

(i) In General – Any alien (other than an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence) who –

(II) has been unlawfully present in the United States for one year or more, and who again seeks admission within 10 years of the date of alien’s departure or removal from the United States, is inadmissible.

(v) Waiver. – The Attorney General [now the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary)] has sole discretion to waive clause (i) in the case of an immigrant who is the spouse or son or daughter of a United States citizen or of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, if it is established to the satisfaction of the Attorney General [Secretary] that the refusal of admission to such immigrant alien would result in extreme hardship to the citizen or lawfully resident spouse or parent of such alien.

Section 212(a)(9)(A)(i) and (ii) of the Immigration and National Act, as added by IIRAIRA Section 301, provides that foreign nationals who have been ordered removed may not be readmitted to the United States until they have stayed outside the U.S. for a specified period of time:

  • 5 years for individuals removed through summary exclusion or through removal proceedings initiated upon the person’s arrival in the U.S.;
  • 10 years for those otherwise ordered removed after a deportation hearing or whodeparted the United States while an order of removal was outstanding; and
  • 20 years for a second or subsequent removal.

The I-212 waiver allows foreign nationals who wish to return to the U.S. prior to meeting the required amount of time outside the U.S. to file an application for permission to reapply pursuant to INA Section 212(a)(A)((iii).

The USCIS exercises broad discretion when adjudicating I-212 waiver requests for permission to reapply.  The following may be considered positive factors in granting permission for early re-entry:

  •  Basis for the deportation
  • Recency of deportation
  • Foreign national’s length of residence in the U.S., and status held during that presence
  • Family responsibilities and ties to the U.S.
  • Foreign natonal’s evidence of good moral character
  • Foreign national’s respect for law and order
  • Evidence of reformation and rehabilitation
  • Hardship involving the applicant and others
  • Need for the applicant’s services in the U.S.
  • Whether the applicant has an approved immigrant or non-immigrant visa petition
  • Eligibility for a waiver of other inadmissibility grounds
  • Absence of significant undesirable or negative factors

Negative factors may include:

  • Evidence of moral depravity, including criminal tendencies reflected by an ongoing unlawful activity or continuing police record
  • Repeated violations of  immigration laws, willful disregard of other laws
  • Likelihood of becoming a public charge
  • Poor physical or mental condition (however, a need for treatment in the United States for such a condition would be a favorable factor)
  • Absence of close family ties or hardships
  • Spurious marriage to a U.S. citizen for purpose of gaining an immigration benefit
  • Unauthorized employment in the United States
  • Lack of skill for which labor certification could  be issued
  • Serious violation of immigration laws, which evidence a callous attitude without hint of reformation of character
  • Existence of other grounds of inadmissibility into the U.S.

”Extreme hardship,” for purposes of the I-601 Waiver, has a special meaning under U.S. immigration law.  The factors considered relevant in determining extreme hardship include:

  • Health of the qualifying relative: ongoing or specialized treatment requirements for a physical or mental condition; availability and quality of such treatment in the foreign national’s country, anticipated duration of the treatment; whether a condition is chronic or acute, or long or short-term.
  • Financial considerations: future employability; loss due to sale of home or business or termination of a professional practice; decline in standard of living; ability to recoup short-term losses; cost of extraordinary needs, such as special education or training for children; cost of caring for family members (i.e., elderly and infirm parents).
  • Education: loss of opportunity for higher education; lower quality or limited scope of education options; disruption of current program; requirement to be educated in a foreign language or culture with ensuing loss of time in grade; availability of special requirements, such as training programs or internships in specific fields.
  • Personal considerations: close relatives in the United States and/or the foreign national’s country; separation from spouse/children; ages of involved parties; length of residence and community ties in the United States.
  • Special considerations: cultural, language, religious, and ethnic obstacles; valid fears of persecution, physical harm, or injury; social ostracism or stigma; access to social institutions or structures.
  • Any other information that explains how your personal circumstances may qualify as imposing extreme hardship on a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative.

Spouses must demonstrate that their relationship will suffer more than the normal hardship or financial inconvenience caused by family separation.

I drafted a comprehensive 25+ page waiver memorandum outlining the relevant case law favorable to my client’s situation.  It also discussed in detail the extreme hardships the U.S. citizen wife (and their children) are presently suffering from, and proved how they would worsen in the event of continued separation of this family.  I also highlighted a variety persuasive factors that I believed warranted an exercise of favorable discretion on the part of the USCIS.

Some of the favorable factors in this case included the following:

  • The U.S. citizen wife suffers from a number of medical conditions including Gallstone Pancreatitis and emotional depression.  She almost died from post-operative pneumonia after a recent medical procedure.
  • The U.S. citizen wife’s U.S. citizen son suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”), Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Emotions and Conduct.  He sees a psychologist regularly and takes medication for his conditions.
  • The U.S. citizen wife resides with her elderly parents, both of whom suffer from serious medical conditions.  The U.S. citizen wife’s father suffers from Pulmonary Thromboembolism, Hypertension, and Emphysema and has been informed by his physician that he may not survive his next heart attack.  The U.S. citizen wife takes care of her parents as best she can on a daily basis and helps manage their medical treatment.
  • The U.S. citizen wife has only a high school education, does not speak Portuguese, and has minimal employment prospects in Brazil and the United Kingdom.
  • The Brazilian husband worked diligently while in the United States to support his wife and two children.  He has continued to do so while residing abroad, sending money to his family every month while enduring a painful separation of almost 4 years from his beloved wife and two children

As a result of the I-601 Waiver and I-212 Waiver prepared and submitted by my office, both waiver applications were approved and the Brazilian husband now resides in the United States as a lawful permanent resident of this country.

I-601 Waiver Approved for Romanian Client Subject to 10 Year Unlawful Presence Bar

I-601 Waiver Approved for Romanian Client Subject to 10 Year Unlawful Presence Bar

Our office received approval of the I-601 Application of Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility for a Romanian client who was subject to the 10 year unlawful presence bar under INA Section 212(a)(9)(B).

She entered the U.S. under the J-1 visa and was granted “duration of status” upon entry.  She then resided in the U.S. for approximately 7 years until she received a notice of J-1 exchange visitor status violation in 2009.  She was informed that  as of the date of the USCIS notice, she was considered out of status and unlawfully present in the U.S.  She was then granted voluntary departure during removal proceedings and returned to her home country of Romania.  The couple contacted my office after the wife was denied at her immigrant visa interview at the U.S. embassy in Bucharest due to being subject to the 10 year unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility.

Note: For non-immigrants admitted for Duration of Status, if the USCIS finds a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for an immigration benefit, unlawful presence will begin to accrue on the day after the request is denied.  If an immigration judge makes a determination of nonimmigrant status violation in exclusion, deportation, or removal proceedings, unlawful presence begins to accrue the day after the immigration judge’s order.  It must be emphasized that the accrual of unlawful presence neither begins on the date that a status violation occurs, nor on the day on which removal proceedings are initiated. See 8 CFR 239.3.

An I-601 Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility requires a showing that the applicant’s U.S. citizen spouse or parent would suffer “extreme hardship” if the applicant is refused admission into the United States.  A US citizen fiancé(e) may also be a qualifying relative for purposes of the waiver according to 9 FAM 41.81 N9.3(a) and 8 CFR 212.7(a)(1)(i).

”Extreme hardship” has a special meaning under U.S. immigration law.  The factors considered relevant in determining extreme hardship include:

  • Health of the qualifying relative: ongoing or specialized treatment requirements for a physical or mental condition; availability and quality of such treatment in the foreign national’s country, anticipated duration of the treatment; whether a condition is chronic or acute, or long or short-term.
  • Financial considerations: future employability; loss due to sale of home or business or termination of a professional practice; decline in standard of living; ability to recoup short-term losses; cost of extraordinary needs, such as special education or training for children; cost of caring for family members (i.e., elderly and infirm parents).
  • Education: loss of opportunity for higher education; lower quality or limited scope of education options; disruption of current program; requirement to be educated in a foreign language or culture with ensuing loss of time in grade; availability of special requirements, such as training programs or internships in specific fields.
  • Personal considerations: close relatives in the United States and/or the foreign national’s country; separation from spouse/children; ages of involved parties; length of residence and community ties in the United States.
  • Special considerations: cultural, language, religious, and ethnic obstacles; valid fears of persecution, physical harm, or injury; social ostracism or stigma; access to social institutions or structures.
  • Any other information that explains how your personal circumstances may qualify as imposing extreme hardship on a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative.

Spouses must demonstrate that their relationship will suffer more than the normal hardship or financial inconvenience caused by family separation.

I prepared a comprehensive I-601 waiver application including a 15 page legal brief going over how the facts and circumstances of her husband’s situation met the legal standards used to define “extreme hardship.”  I also discussed and presented evidence of her rehabilitation, good moral character, and overall dedication as a wife and mother who was integral to the care and well-being of her ill U.S. citizen husband.

This case was particularly difficult because the U.S. citizen husband was born and raised in Romania himself.  He was residing in Romania with the wife at the time the waiver was filed and working for a U.S. company with wages sufficient to support the family. We had to overcome the presumption that a U.S. citizen of Romanian origin, who speaks the local language, was educated in the country, and already residing abroad with his wife and son, has adjusted to life abroad and is not suffering extreme hardship.

Given the location of husband and wife in Romania, I worked with a Romanian clinical psychologist to ensure that her psychological evaluation of the U.S. citizen husband conformed to the specific needs and requirements of the I-601 waiver. Additionally, I carefully analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the case and put together a table of exhibits that supported a showing of “extreme hardship.”  The supporting documents included:

  • Letter and medical records from the physician of the U.S. citizen husband confirming his high blood pressure and hypertension.
  • Letter from a Romanian clinical psychologist confirming the U.S. citizen husband’s clinical anxiety disorder and the risk of escalation of the disorder due to the immigration consequences of his wife’s removal and subsequent inadmissibility.
  • Proof of bankruptcy and foreclosure filed by the U.S. citizen husband as a result of the financial consequences of caused by his wife’s removal from the United States and subsequent inadmissibility.
  • Evidence that his U.S. employment would be soon lost due to his diminished performance and extended absences caused by his wife’s removal and inadmissibility from the U.S.
  • Specific information from official sources on the country conditions of Romania including its poor health system
  • Proof of extended visits and household expenses in two countries that led to financial depletion of the U.S. citizen husband’s assets
  • Affidavits demonstrating my client’s good moral character and her past contribution to the welfare of the U.S. and its economy

As a result of our efforts, our client was approved for the I-601 Waiver and consequently, this family of mother, father, and son will be able to return to their lives back in the United States.

I-601 and I-212 Waivers and Deportation In Absentia

I-601 and I-212 Waivers and Deportation In Absentia

Section 212(a)(6)(8) of the Immigration and Nationality Act sets forth the consequences of failure to attend a removal proceeding.  Specifically, it states:

(1) General. Any alien who, without reasonable cause, fails or refuses to attend or remain in attendance at a proceeding to determine the alien’s inadmissibility or deportability, and who seeks admission to the United States within five (5) years of such alien’s subsequent departure or removal is inadmissible.

This “5 year bar” under Section 212(a)(6)(8) often becomes an issue for applicants who leave the United States to apply for the I-601 and/or I-212 waivers despite having had deportation ordered entered against them “in absentia.”  A deportation order in absentia can be entered when the alien fails to attend their removal hearing after receiving a Notice to Appear (NTA) from immigration court.  For these applicants, they must remain outside the United States for 5 years until they are eligible to apply for their I-601 and/or I-212 waivers.

Keep also in mind that you can be deemed inadmissible even if the judge did not enter a deportation order.  As long as you were given sufficient notice of your removal hearing and failed to appear, you may be deemed inadmissible under Section 212(a)(6)(8).

Those who have an order of deportation in absentia on their record must show “reasonable cause” for failing to attend their removal hearing, in order for their I-601 and/or I-212 waiver applications to be adjudicated.  This is not an easy task.  A review of the case law shows that only extraordinary circumstances such as a medical emergency will meet this standard.

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