Last week U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted a Notice in the Federal Register requesting public comment on its plan to create an alternative process for certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for and receive a provisional waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility while still in the United States, if they can demonstrate that being separated from their U.S. citizen spouse or parent would cause that U.S. citizen relative extreme hardship. The goal of the proposed process change is to reduce the time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives while those family members go through the consular process overseas to obtain an immigrant visa.
Currently, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who have accrued a certain period of unlawful presence in the United States are barred from returning to the United States for as long as 3 or 10 years if they leave the country. Immediate relatives can obtain a waiver of the unlawful presence bar if they show that a U.S. citizen spouse or parent will experience extreme hardship if they are required to remain outside the United States. The immediate relative also would have to show that they warrant a favorable exercise of discretion. But in order to obtain the waiver, these individuals must depart the United States and wait abroad while the waiver is processed.
Under the current process, therefore, U.S. citizens suffer unnecessarily long periods of separation while family members go through consular processing overseas to obtain an immigrant visa. The proposed process change lessens the length of separation by reducing inefficiencies in the current immigrant visa process.
USCIS believes that this proposed change will streamline the immigrant visa process for immediate relatives whose only ground of inadmissibility is unlawful presence. USCIS plans to adjudicate the provisional waiver application in the United States before the immediate relative departs for his or her immigrant visa interview, which will reduce the length of time immediate relatives must spend abroad for consular processing.
How do I apply for the provisional unlawful presence waiver?
A. The provisional waiver process is NOT in effect. USCIS will reject any application requesting a provisional waiver at this time and return the application and any fees filed. The provisional waiver process will only take effect after a final rule is published in the Federal Register with an effective date.
Why is this proposed waiver process limited to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who can demonstrate extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse or parent?
A. The goal of the provisional unlawful presence waiver process is to alleviate the extreme hardship certain U.S. citizens experience when they are separated for extended periods of time from their spouses, children, and parents (“immediate relatives”). USCIS expects that this new process will streamline the waiver process and reduce the length of time immediate relatives must remain abroad to obtain an immigrant visa.
Why does USCIS refer to the waiver as “provisional?”
A. USCIS refers to the waiver as “provisional” because it will not take effect until after the applicant departs the United States, appears for his or her immigrant visa interview, and is determined by the DOS consular officer to be otherwise admissible to the United States. In the proposed process, USCIS would determine eligibility for the provisional waiver and, if the application is approvable, approve the provisional waiver before the applicant leaves the United States for the immigrant visa interview abroad.
Will I use the current Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Admissibility to apply for a provisional waiver?
A. No. USCIS is developing a new form for the proposed provisional unlawful presence waiver process – Form I-601A, Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver. The application filing fee is $585.00, the same fee required for the Form I-601. There is an additional biometric fee of $85.00 for applicants who are under 79 years of age. USCIS will post the proposed form in the Federal Register for formal comment in the near future.
What documents will I be required to file with my application for a provisional unlawful presence waiver?
A. USCIS will include instructions with the new Form I-601A that will describe the types of documents you will need to submit with your provisional waiver application. At a minimum, USCIS will require proof that you have an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, or an approved Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, if you are a self-petitioning widow/widower, and an immigrant visa application fee receipt from the Department of State (DOS).
Will I be able to file the provisional waiver application concurrently with my Form I-130?
A. No. To be eligible for the provisional waiver process, applicants must already have an approved I-130 or I-360. The approved petition is what starts the immigrant visa process with DOS.
If I get a provisional waiver, can I adjust my status without leaving the United States?
A. No. Individuals who receive a provisional unlawful presence waiver must leave the United States to attend their immigrant visa interview with a DOS consular officer in order for the provisional waiver to take effect and for the individual to be granted an immigrant visa. However, because of the way the proposed process for adjudicating provisional waivers is designed, individuals who receive a provisional waiver will likely be separated from their U.S. citizen relatives for significantly shorter periods than is the case under the current process.
I already have an immigrant visa interview scheduled for next month in my home country. Should I cancel it so that I can apply for the provisional unlawful presence waiver when the final rule takes effect?
A. No. If you already have an immigrant visa interview scheduled with DOS, we urge you to keep your appointment. This proposed waiver process is not in effect and USCIS will not be publishing a final rule until later this year. If you trigger the unlawful presence bars upon departure from the United States, you may still file a Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, after you have appeared for your immigrant visa appointment and DOS has determined that you are inadmissible and need to file a waiver. Please consult an attorney before making any decisions.
What happens if I am not eligible for a provisional unlawful presence waiver?
A. When the new process goes into effect, individuals who are not eligible for the provisional waiver process can continue to follow current agency processes for filing a Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, after the consular interview.
If I apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver but USCIS denies my request, can I appeal the decision or file a motion with USCIS asking for the decision to be reopened or reconsidered?
A. No. Aliens seeking a provisional unlawful presence waiver would not be able to file a motion to reopen or motion to reconsider or to appeal a denial of a request for a provisional waiver. Such individuals, however, may still apply for a waiver through the current I-601 waiver process. USCIS also reserves the right to reopen and reconsider on its own motion an approval or a denial at any time.
What will happen at the consular interview if I present an approved provisional unlawful presence waiver?
A. If the DOS consular officer determines that a provisional waiver applicant, in light of the approved waiver of the unlawful presence bar, is otherwise admissible to the United States and eligible for the immigrant visa, DOS would issue the immigrant visa, allowing the individual to travel to the United States. The provisional unlawful presence waiver would become permanent and cover the periods of unlawful presence on which the waiver was based for any future benefit requests.
What will happen at the consular interview if I present an approved provisional unlawful presence waiver but the consular officer determines I have other grounds of inadmissibility?
A. If the consular officer determines that you are subject to other grounds of inadmissibility beyond unlawful presence, the approved provisional waiver is automatically revoked. If a waiver is available for the other ground(s) of inadmissibility identified by the DOS consular officer, you will need to file a Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, with USCIS after the consular interview to request a waiver for all applicable grounds of inadmissibility, including any periods of unlawful presence.
What happens to an approved provisional unlawful presence waiver if I reenter the United States illegally?
A. Illegal reentry into the United States after approval of a provisional unlawful presence waiver will automatically revoke the approval. Whether an individual has a pending or an approved immigration benefit application, reentry into the United States without being admitted or paroled by an immigration officer at the U.S. border can have severe consequences; such individuals may be permanently barred from the United States.
Please note that this new process will be implemented only after USCIS publishes a final rule in the Federal Register with an effective date. USCIS will consider all comments received as part of the proposed rulemaking process before publishing the final rule. The current waiver process remains in place and will continue to remain for those who may not be eligible for a provisional waiver. If you have any questions, please email us at any time.