Monthly Archives: March 2016

212(d)(3)(A) Nonimmigrant Waiver: Advantages and Disadvantages

Section 212(a) of the Immigration & Nationality Act lists the grounds on which a foreign national is barred from entering the United States. Inadmissible persons may not obtain a nonimmigrant visa (e.g. B-1/B-2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B worker) or enter the U.S. as a nonimmigrant without a section 212(d)(3) waiver. Visa-exempt persons (e.g. most Canadian citizens) and persons who already have travel documents also need the waiver if they are inadmissible to the U.S.

Although the 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver provides several advantages, it also has disadvantages.

What are the Advantages of the Section 212(d)(3) Nonimmigrant Waiver?

1.  The waiver is broad

For non-immigrants, the 212(d)(3) waiver overcomes almost every ground of inadmissibility listed in section 212(a). This includes health-related grounds, criminal offenses, prostitution, smuggling, fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefits, false claims to U.S. citizenship to gain benefits under federal, state or immigration law, and unlawful presence in the U.S.

2. The waiver is available to almost all non-immigrants

Inadmissible persons who do not qualify for an immigrant waiver often still qualify for a 212(d)(3) waiver.

For example, a foreign national who is inadmissible due to a crime involving moral turpitude within the last 15 years and who has no U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent, son or daughter for the 212(h) immigrant waiver may enter the U.S. as a nonimmigrant with a 212(d)(3) waiver.

212(d)(3) waiver applicants do not need to show family ties in the U.S. or prove hardships will result if they are not admitted to the U.S. The standards are much higher for 212(a)(9)(B)(v) (unlawful presence) waiver applicants, for example, who must demonstrate a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent will suffer extreme hardship if they are not admitted as an immigrant.

3. The waiver allows certain persons with illegal re-entries and prior removal orders to return to the U.S. temporarily

Under INA section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I),  a person is permanently inadmissible if he reentered or attempted to reenter the U.S. illegally after accruing unlawful presence in the U.S. for an aggregate period of more than one year (on or after April 1, 1997).

Immigrant visa applicants who are barred for this reason must be outside the U.S. and wait ten years abroad before filing the I-212 waiver request (Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal) to return to the U.S. as an immigrant.

In contrast, nonimmigrants who are barred for this same reason may file for a 212(d)(3) waiver at any time. Unlike immigrant visa applicants, they do not have to wait outside the U.S. for 10 years to be excused from the lifetime bar under 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I). With a 212(d)(3) waiver, they may re-enter the U.S. as a nonimmigrant before the 10 years pass.

Persons with prior removal orders who are subject to the 5, 10 or 20-year bar to re-entry under INA sections 212(a)(9)(A)(i) and (ii) may also file for a 212(d)(3) waiver. A temporary stay in the U.S. under section 212(d)(3) does not interrupt the 5, 10 or 20-year absence requirement.

4. The waiver has flexible eligibility standards

The criteria that applicants must meet to get the 212(d)(3) waiver is not defined by statute. In Matter of Hranka, however, the Board of Immigration Appeals listed three factors that must be considered in deciding whether to grant or deny the waiver. They are:

  • The risk of harm to society if the applicant is admitted to the U.S.
  • The seriousness of the applicant’s prior immigration law or criminal law violations, which caused the inadmissibility.
  • The importance of the applicant’s reasons for seeking to enter the U.S.

When reviewing a 212(d)(3) waiver application, the decision-maker applies a balancing test involving these three factors.

The Board stated there is no requirement the applicant’s reasons for wishing to enter the U.S. be “compelling.” The 212(d)(3) waiver is not only for exceptional, humanitarian or national interest cases. It may be granted for any legitimate purpose such as medical treatment (even if available abroad), family visits, school attendance, and tourism. Even applicants with serious criminal convictions, including aggravated felonies, may file for the waiver.

What are the Disadvantages of the Section 212(d)(3)(Nonimmigrant Waiver?

1.  The waiver does not overcome every ground of inadmissibility and is not available to all non-immigrants

The 212(d)(3) waiver does not overcome inadmissibility grounds related to:

  • Security-related grounds (e.g. espionage, sabotage) [INA section 212(a)(3)(A)(i)(I), (3)(A)(ii), (3)(A)(iii)];
  • Foreign policy considerations [INA section (3)(C)];
  • Participation in Nazi persecutions [INA section 3(E)(i)]; or
  • Participation in genocide [INA section 3(E)(ii)]

Persons who are inadmissible under any of these grounds do not qualify for the 212(d)(3) waiver.

2. The waiver alone is not enough to overcome prior removal orders

Persons who have been previously removed from the U.S.  and are subject to a 5, 10 or 20 year-bar to re-entry [under INA section 212(a)(9)(A)(i) and (ii)] must file a Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal,  in addition to the 212(d)(3) waiver request.

Compared to 212(d)(3) waiver applicants, Form I-212 applicants must meet higher eligibility standards and evidentiary requirements. For example, close family ties in the U.S. and unusual hardship to U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives are considered strong favorable factors in an I-212 application. These factors are not so important in a 212(d)(3) waiver application and might even work against a person seeking to visit the U.S. temporarily.

3. The grant of the waiver is completely discretionary

It is within the complete discretion of the Admissibility Review Office (ARO), which is part of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), to grant the waiver. Qualifying for the waiver doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it. The adjudications officer who weighs the 3 Hranka factors may find the negative factors outweigh the positive factors and deny the waiver request.

There is no formal appeal process. Typically, the only recourse it to file for the waiver again when circumstances change or when more supporting evidence is gathered.

Although the eligibility standards are flexible, the 212(d)(3) waiver is still hard to get, especially when the person is inadmissible due to serious criminal convictions and/or egregious immigration violations. The more recent the violation(s), the higher the obstacles in receiving the waiver.

4. The waiver is valid for a limited period

The 212(d)(3) waiver may be issued for a maximum period of 5 years at a time. Normally, the waiver is valid for 1 year, especially for first-time applicants. [UPDATE: In April 2016,  the ARO announced it will generally approve 212(d)(3) waivers for a 5-year period, in both initial and renewal applications filed at the border entry points and at the U.S. Consulate, as of January 2017.  The one exception is for crewmembers whose granted waivers will be valid for two-year periods.] Once the waiver expires, the person must file for a renewal to re-enter the U.S. as a nonimmigrant.

The authorized period of stay as a nonimmigrant — not the validity period of the waiver — determines when the person must leave the U.S. without violating immigration law.

Filing the 212(d)(3) Nonimmigrant Waiver  

The 212(d)(3) waiver application is filed either with the U.S. Consulate or with the CBP at a U.S. port of entry or preclearance office.

Waiver application at the U.S. Consulate

Applicants who need a nonimmigrant visa must file the 212(d)(3)(A)(i) waiver with the U.S. Consulate. When the 212(d)(3) waiver request is filed with the U.S. Consulate, no filing fee and no Form I-92 are required.

After the consular officer reviews your nonimmigrant visa application and makes an initial finding of inadmissibility, you may submit your waiver application on the day of the interview or days after the interview.

The consular officer will review your waiver application. If the officer believes the waiver should be granted, he or she will make a favorable recommendation and forward the case to the CBP’s Admissibility Review Office (ARO) in Herndon, Virginia, for a final decision. (NOTE: The waiver application is not forwarded at all to the ARO if the consular officer determines the waiver request should be denied.)

If the ARO grants the waiver, the U.S. Consulate then decides whether to actually issue the nonimmigrant visa. Even when the 212(d)(3) waiver is granted, the U.S. Consulate may deny the visa for other reasons, e.g. the B-1/B-2 applicant failed to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent under INA 214(b). Therefore, a waiver grant doesn’t guarantee you will receive the nonimmigrant visa to enter the U.S.

Waiver application at the U.S. Port of Entry

Applicants who are visa-exempt (e.g. most Canadian citizens), are citizens of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country and have authorization under ESTA, or who already have appropriate travel documents, must file the 212(d)(3)(A)(ii) waiver with the CBP. Either way, the ARO adjudicates the waiver request.

When the 212(d)(3) waiver request is filed with the CBP, a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant , plus the filing fee,  are normally required. The Form I-192 and accompanying documents should be filed in person with the CBP, months in advance of travel, at a U.S. Port of Entry or preclearance office.

The CBP will forward the I-192 application and supporting documents to the ARO for further processing.

Exception

Inadmissible persons who are applying for T nonimmigrant status or U nonimmigrant status file the Form I-192 (waiver request) with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).

Processing Times

When the 212(d)(3) waiver request is filed with the U.S. Consulate, you can expect a minimum processing time of 30 to 60 days (which is very rare), but it could be up to 90 to 180 days before the ARO issues a final determination.

When the 212(d)(3) waiver request is submitted directly to the CBP, you can expect a minimum processing time of 90 to 120 days, but it could be up to 150 to 180 days before the ARO issues a final determination.

Processing times are merely estimates and there can be long delays.

 

Work with an Immigration Attorney

The 212(d)(3) waiver, by itself, does not allow you to enter the United States. You still need the proper travel documents, including appropriate visa, to seek admission to the United States.

A 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver request must include a cover letter/legal brief, affidavits and supporting evidence demonstrating why you are eligible for the waiver and deserve it as a matter of discretion. Having an experienced immigration attorney guide you through this process will make a positive difference.

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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5 Must-Knows When Responding to an Ethics Complaint

The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR) summarily dismisses many ethics complaints without investigation. As high as 47% of complaints were summarily dismissed in 2012, for example.

But when there are sufficient allegations of attorney misconduct that would violate the ethics rules, the Director’s Office normally issues a Notice of Investigation (NOI) to the attorney.

 

If you are an attorney who is served with an NOI (ethics complaint), here are 5 must-knows when responding to it:

1. The Minnesota Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility govern how complaints are investigated and disciplinary proceedings are conducted

The Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) regulate Minnesota attorneys’ conduct and set the standards for attorney discipline. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility (RLPR) govern the investigation and disposition of complaints. Although knowledge of the RLPR is not required in daily law practice, it becomes pertinent when you are served with an NOI.

Rule 6(a), RLPR  states that all ethics complaints shall be investigated pursuant to these Rules. Rule 25(a), RLPR imposes a duty on the lawyer to cooperate with the investigation and respond to reasonable requests for information. Rule 25(b), RLPR allows the lawyer to challenge such requests, as long as it is promptly made, is in good faith and is asserted for a substantial purpose other than delay.

Before you begin responding to an NOI, you need to not only review the MRPC, but also read the RLPR to gain familiarity with the lawyer discipline system.

2. There are multiple players in the lawyer discipline system

The OLPR is responsible for investigating ethics complaints and prosecuting those that warrant discipline. An agency of the Minnesota Supreme Court, the OLPR has 11 attorneys and is led by a Court-appointed Director, who is now Susan M. Humiston (following Martin Cole’s retirement in December 2015).

The OLPR screens complaints before deciding whether to investigate. When an investigation is deemed necessary, the complaint is usually referred to the local District Ethics Committee (DEC).

There are 21 District Ethics Committees, which conducts most of the initial investigations and provide reports and recommendations to the OLPR. DECs are made up of volunteer lawyers and non-lawyers and may serve up to four 3-year terms.

The  Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (LPRB) is responsible for oversight and administration of the Minnesota lawyer discipline system. It consists of 23 members (14 lawyers and 9 non-lawyer public members) appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Members can serve two 3-year terms.

The LPRB includes a five-member executive committee that has general supervisory authority over the OLPR and the Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility. The LPRB is also divided into six three-member Panels, which preside over hearings on allegations of professional misconduct against lawyers. Individual LPRB members are also assigned in rotation to consider appeals of dismissed complaints.

Although some investigations are not always based on a complaint, but rather on news reports and court decisions indicating professional misconduct, a complainant is usually involved in the process. When the complaint has been summarily dismissed or dismissed after investigation with a determination that discipline is not warranted, the complainant is notified at the same time as the respondent attorney. A complainant is notified of the right to appeal a private admonition only after the attorney has accepted the admonition. The complainant has 14 days to appeal the decision. The reviewing LPRB member has several options on how to rule on the appeal.

In general, all these players have a say in whether the complaint is dismissed following investigation or whether there is a determination that discipline is warranted.

3. The OLPR’s decision to investigate is based on whether there are sufficient allegations of attorney misconduct that would violate ethics rules, not on whether the allegations are likely true

Rule 8(a), RLPR sets the threshold for when an investigation, with or without a complaint, may be initiated. It states the Director may investigate the lawyer’s conduct when there is “reasonable belief that professional misconduct may have occurred…”  The Director may also begin an investigation on his sole initiative (i.e., without a complaint), but must have prior approval of the Lawyers Board executive committee.

The threshold is relatively low: the allegations do not have to be verified or be deemed verifiable when the NOI is issued. Past OLPR Director Martin Cole stated in OLPR Investigation Procedures, “This is somewhat akin to the civil litigation standard that a complaint must state a claim upon which relief can be granted; that is, if the allegations in the complaint are true, do they constitute a violation of one of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct?”

Your first chance to set the record straight is in the response to the NOI. Submitting documentary evidence showing the allegations are untrue and professional misconduct did not occur may lead to the dismissal of the complaint after investigation. Providing favorable facts can also help to lower the level of discipline, if ethics violations are found and lawyer sanctions are warranted.

Discipline is warranted only if there was an actual rule violation.  Get clear on which rules are being implicated in the complaint or which rules will likely be at issue due to the allegations. A minor deficiency in conduct, a failure to meet best practices, or an inadvertent mistake doesn’t necessarily mean ethics rules were broken.

For instance, Rule. 1.1, MRPC (Competence) requires lawyers to “provide competent representation to a client”, which  is “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  The issue comes down to what a reasonably prudent lawyer exercising reasonable care would do, not what the best attorney following best practices would do.

Don’t be too hasty in equating minor shortcomings with rules violations. But when it comes to obvious violations, own up to them and describe mitigating circumstances. Take remedial measures and present evidence demonstrating you have implemented safeguards to prevent misconduct and avoid mistakes in the future. Otherwise, the OLPR is more likely to conclude you must be sanctioned to “guard the administration of justice” and “protect the courts, the legal profession and the public” (which is the main purpose of lawyer discipline).

Your response to the NOI is the earliest and best opportunity to show no professional misconduct occurred or to show discipline is not warranted. At the very least, an effective response can help mitigate discipline when ethics violations are found .

4. A rule violation doesn’t have to be intentional or malicious

OLPR’s Senior Assistant Director Siama Y. Chaudhary stated in An Overview of the Disciplinary Process:

In the event a violation of the rules is found, it does not necessarily mean that the attorney’s conduct was malicious or that the violation was the result of respondent-attorney’s incompetence as a practicing lawyer. In some situations, however, regardless of whether an innocent oversight is to blame, a rule violation is a rule violation regardless of how technical it may seem. 

A rule violation under Rule 1.3, MRPC (Diligence) could be due to lack of systems or faulty systems related to how you manage your client files, or work overload and poor work habits, such as procrastination.  Make implementing reliable office systems and dealing with languishing files a top priority.

A Trust Account overdraft, in violation of Rule 1.15, MRPC (Safekeeping Property), could be due to technical deficiencies in maintaining trust account books and records, instead of the attorney purposely misusing client funds. Get help from a qualified accountant or bookkeeper to bring your financial books and records in order.

If chemical dependency and mental health issues play a role, contact Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers or seek professional treatment sooner rather than later.

For minor or technical rule violations, the OLPR may dismiss the matter or impose the lowest form of discipline. But when such violations are part of a pattern of misconduct or combined with egregious misconduct, the disciplinary consequences are much more serious.

5. Different levels of disciplinary action may be sought if ethics rules violations are found

When a complaint is not dismissed after investigation,  the focus turns to the level of discipline to be imposed. If the lawyer challenges the recommended discipline, the OLPR’s role shifts from being a neutral investigator to an adversary (prosecutor) of the lawyer.

The RLPR provides for private discipline and public discipline.

Private means the OLPR, the complainant, and the lawyer receive a copy of the decision, and the OLPR may disclose the decision only in very limited situations. No petition for disciplinary action is filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Private discipline includes:

Admonition.  An admonition (reprimand) is imposed by the OLPR’s Director. It is the lowest form of discipline that may be issued for “isolated and non-serious” professional misconduct. Rule 8(d)(2), RLPR.

Stipulated Probation. Private probation may be imposed by agreement (stipulation) between the Director and the lawyer for a period of up to two years, subject to approval by the Lawyers Board Chair or Vice-Chair.  This discipline is is often used to monitor attorneys with patterns of misconduct or attorneys with chemical dependency or mental health issues.

Private disciplinary actions may be appealed by complainants. The respondent lawyer may also appeal an admonition.

Public means the discipline is ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court, is typically published in Finance & Commerce and Northwest Reports, is posted on the OLPR’s website, and may be disclosed to any person.

To start the processing of seeking public discipline, the OLPR files charges of professional misconduct with the Lawyers Board. A hearing, which is not public, is conducted before a Lawyers Board Panel.  The Panel decides whether probable cause exists to believe public discipline is warranted on any or all of the charges.

If a Panel or the Lawyers Board finds probable cause, the OLPR may file a petition for disciplinary action with the Minnesota Supreme Court. The petition and all related proceedings are public. Furthermore, since 1983, the Lawyers Board has held a media release policy allowing petitions for disciplinary action, which seek an attorney’s suspension or disbarment, to be released to the media when filed with the Court. The media may choose to publish a news article on the disciplinary matter.

The Court assigns the case to a referee, who is a state district court judge. The referee conducts a hearing in which the OLPR and respondent lawyer present direct testimonies from witnesses and cross-examine witnesses. The OLPR has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that professional misconduct occurred.

Following the hearing, each party may file proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law, and a post-hearing brief. The referee then issues written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a recommendation for discipline, which may include dismissing the case and recommending no discipline be imposed.

The OLPR or the lawyer may stipulate to the referee’s findings, conclusions, and/or recommendation, or challenge them. When either party challenges the referee’s findings, conclusions and/or recommendations, both must file briefs and present oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The Court then issues a written opinion with its decision.

Public discipline includes:

Reprimand.  A reprimand involves public notice, but does not in and of itself limit the lawyer’s practice. It usually, however, comes with a period of probation.

Probation. Probation imposes restrictions, conditions, or obligations on the lawyer’s practice. It is often used to curb ongoing problems related to diligence, client communication, trust account record keeping, or tax return filing.

Suspension. Suspension is the loss of the privilege to practice law for an indefinite period or for a stated period (90 or fewer days or longer than 90 days). It is the most common level of public discipline ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court. There are many types of misconduct that may lead to suspension, including neglect, making misrepresentations to a tribunal, pursuing frivolous appeals and filing frivolous pleadings.

Disbarment. Disbarment involves the permanent loss of the privilege to practice law. It is the most serious discipline and is imposed only in extraordinary circumstances. Examples of misconduct that may result in disbarment include misappropriation of client funds, felony criminal convictions, fraud, abandonment of clients, repeated failure to file income tax returns, flagrant non-cooperation including failure to submit an answer or failure to attend a pre-hearing meeting before the Panel as required by Rule 9, RLPR.

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These are the top 5 must-knows when responding to an ethics complaint. Having a deeper knowledge of the disciplinary process can help you get the complaint dismissed or mitigate discipline. Your response affects the OLPR’s determination on whether the allegations are true, whether rules violations occurred, and whether discipline is warranted.

Be sure to read 5 Must-Dos When Responding to an Ethics Complaint.

SPECIAL NOTE: Want to learn more? Attend the Minnesota CLE webcast on Responding to Ethics Complaints: 5 Must Dos + 5 Must Knows, scheduled for May 31, 2016 at 2 pm. 

At this 1-hour ethics CLE, I will discuss 5 must-do’s and 5 must-knows when responding to an NOI. There will be tips on how to present your best case or strongest defense at the outset, before the OLPR decides whether to file a petition for disciplinary action with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation.  

The author, Dyan Williams, is admitted to the Minnesota state bar and focuses on the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct, which are subject to change. Check your individual state rules of professional conduct, regulations, ethics opinions and case precedents, instead of relying on this article for specific guidance. 

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