Category Archives: good moral character

Birth Tourism, Frequent/Extended Trips, Immigration Status Change: 3 Things That Often Prevent Entry to the U.S. (even though they are not strictly prohibited)

If you had a baby in the United States, made frequent/extended trips to the country, or applied for a change in immigration status during a prior stay as a visitor, you may be stopped from entering the U.S., even though these activities are not strictly prohibited.

This problem arises especially when the U.S. Consulate or U.S. Customs & Border Protection determines you misrepresented the purpose of your visit when you applied for the B-1/B-2 visitor visa and used it or the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to enter the United States.

Section 214(b) of the Immigration & Nationality Act presumes that most nonimmigrant visa applicants intend to immigrate permanently to the United States. Only certain categories, such as the H-1B  (professional worker) and L-1A/L-1B (intracompany transferee), allow dual intent (i.e. intent to immigrate in the future while maintaining temporary status in the present). Otherwise, nonimmigrant visa applicants must show they have no intent to immigrate and simply seek a temporary stay in the U.S.

When you engage in any of the following 3 activities, you could have problems getting a new visa or gaining re-entry to the U.S. for a temporary stay, although each one, by itself, does not violate U.S. immigration law or make you inadmissible to the United States:

1. Traveling to the United States to have a baby (“Birth Tourism”)

Traveling to the United States on a visitor visa for the purpose of giving birth to a child is commonly known as Birth Tourism.  Under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, birth in the United States gives the child automatic citizenship with all its rights and privileges.

Furthermore, birth citizenship provides the  foreign national parent with potential immigration relief. For example, upon turning age 21, a U.S. citizen son or daughter may file an immigrant petition for a parent in the immediate relatives category, which has no numerical limits on immigrant visas available.  A parent who overstays in the United States and is placed in removal proceedings may qualify for Cancellation of Removal and Adjustment of Status (to permanent residence) if she has been continuously present in the United States for at least 10 years, has not been convicted of certain offenses, has good moral character, and her removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to her U.S. citizen child.

There is no specific criminal law or immigration law prohibiting birth tourism per se or preventing a pregnant woman from entering the United States. Nonetheless, U.S. consular officers and customs officers often view it as a misuse of the visitor visa status and a gaming of the immigration system to give the child automatic citizenship.

If the officer sees you are pregnant at the time of applying for a tourist visa or requesting admission as a visitor, he may refuse the visa or deny your entry. This is why birth tourists who hail from various countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, typically come to the United States when their pregnancy is not so obvious.

Even if you succeed in gaining a visitor visa or entering the United States as a visitor to give birth, you might still encounter problems in the future when you apply for a new visa or admission as a nonimmigrant.

A consular officer may deny your request for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa or other non-dual intent visa under INA 214(b) by finding you intend to immigrate due to your having a U.S. citizen son or daughter, or based on mere suspicion that you will use a new visa to give birth in the U.S. again. The U.S. Consulate has sole discretion to make a factual determination on whether you have strong ties to your country to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent.

A non-resident parent who travels with a U.S. citizen child may face tougher scrutiny at the U.S. port of entry. A customs officer who discovers you had a child during a prior visit in the U.S.  may deny your request for admission on a temporary visa and further issue an expedited removal order under INA 212(a)(7)(lack of proper visa or other travel documents), which carries a five-year bar. To be excused from this five-year bar to being admitted to the United States, you need an approved Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal.

In some cases, a consular officer or customs officer may issue a more serious charge under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i)(fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain a visa or entry to the United States), which is a lifetime bar. When such an inadmissibility finding is made by the U.S. Consulate or CBP, there is little or no recourse other than to appeal directly to the agency to reconsider and rescind the decision. As long as the section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) bar holds, you will need a 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver or a Form I-601/212(i) immigrant waiver to be admitted to the United States.

Because a visitor visa may be used for medical treatment, your showing that giving birth in the United States served or serves a health purpose can be a positive factor. An example is if the pregnancy comes with high risks or serious complications. When you are upfront and declare you are coming to the U.S. to give birth, the officer decides, on a case-by-case basis, whether to grant the visa or admission based on proof of strong ties to your country, nonimmigrant intent, and sufficient funds to cover all medical costs.

Paying all medical bills or having your own medical insurance to cover the expenses related to childbirth can help prevent a visa refusal or denial of admission. Ultimately, however, the consular officer or customs officer has discretion to determine whether having a baby in the U.S. is consistent with the purpose of a visitor visa, regardless of whether you cover the medical expenses and do not become a public charge by receiving Medicaid (government assistance) to pay the medical bills.

2. Making frequent, extended visits to the United States

U.S. immigration law allows visitor visa holders to conduct legitimate B-1/B-2 activities for a temporary period, up to six months. Using ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) if you are an eligible applicant from a Visa Waiver Program-eligible country allows you visit the United States for 90 days or less.

The U.S. consular officers and customs officers expect you to use the visitor visa or ESTA/Visa Waiver program to engage in tourism and recreational activities, visit family and friends, and conduct other temporary visit activities. Remaining in the U.S. for the maximum or close to the maximum time allowed and then quickly returning to the U.S. (e.g. within a month) for another extended stay do not reflect the travel patterns of a real visitor.

Frequent, extended trips to the United States will likely cause the customs officer to suspect you are really living, studying or working in the country without authorization. You may end up with a shorter authorized stay or a warning from the officer. You could also be placed in secondary inspection and questioned extensively so the officer can find legitimate grounds to deny your entry.

You may be asked to withdraw your application for admission or be issued an expedited removal order due to lack of proper travel documents and even due to willful misrepresentation to enter the U.S.  A visa revocation will likely affect your eligibility for a new visa. An inadmissibility finding will stop you from using the ESTA/Visa Waiver program.

There is no minimum time you must stay in your country before returning to the U.S. for another visit. But if you are constantly traveling to the U.S. and staying for long periods, you can expect to run into problems later, even if you were previously lawfully admitted as a visitor without any complications.

3. Applying for a change of status after entering the United States in another status

U.S. immigration law allows nonimmigrants to change from one status to another (such as B-1/B-2 visitor to F-1 student, H-1B professional worker, or H-2B nonagricultural seasonal worker) or file for asylum within the U.S. if they meet the eligibility criteria.

A request for change of status through the filing of a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, or Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services is often met with several obstacles. One is that USCIS will not approve the status change request unless you are maintaining lawful B-1/B-2 status or other nonimmigrant status.

Questions regarding whether a willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain an immigration benefit might arise when you file for a change of status within the U.S., instead of apply for the appropriate visa at the U.S. Consulate.

B-1/B-2 visitor visa holders, for instance, may be found to have misrepresented the purpose of their stay if they applied to schools or sought employment after arriving in the United States. Even if you did not attend school or work without authorization in the U.S., your taking steps toward a change in status that permits school attendance or employment in the U.S. could signal to the consular officer that you were not a genuine visitor.

Immigration problems can also occur when you apply for adjustment to permanent resident status instead of file for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate. One of the most common ways for a B-1/B-2 visa holder to adjust to permanent resident (green card) status is to enter into a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen and have the citizen file an immigrant petition on his or her behalf. While an overstay, by itself, does not prevent adjustment of status based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, providing false information to a consular officer or customs officer about the purpose of the visit creates immigration problems.

In general, the U.S. Consulate applies a 30/60 day rule in determining whether a misrepresentation was made if you conduct yourself in a manner inconsistent with representations made to the consular officers concerning your intentions at the time of visa application or to customs officers when you requested admission.

If a B-1/B-2 visitor, for example, marries a U.S. citizen and applies for a green card within 30 days of arrival, the consular officer may presume the applicant misrepresented his intentions in seeking a visa or admission to the U.S. There is no presumption of misrepresentation if the request for change of status is made more than 30 days but less than 60 days after arrival. But depending on the facts of the case, the officer may still have a reasonable belief that misrepresentation occurred, in which case the applicant receives an opportunity to present countervailing evidence. While USCIS is not required to follow the Consulate’s 30/60 day policy, it sometimes uses it as guidance. 

Seeking asylum in the United States, through a credible fear interview process at the U.S port of entry or through the filing of a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, after being admitted to the U.S., also signals immigrant intent. If asylum is not granted, it will be very difficult (if not impossible) for you to be re-admitted as a visitor or in another status that requires nonimmigrant intent, at least in the near future.

Conclusion

Having a baby in the U.S., making frequent, extended trips to the country, and applying for a change in status following arrival in another status are not prohibited by U.S. immigration law. Still, if you engage in any of these three things, a U.S. consular officer or customs officer may find that you gamed the immigration system or took unfair advantage of immigration loopholes.

Use proper caution and be aware of the immigration risks and consequences associated with these activities. If you are refused a visa, denied admission or issued an expedited removal order for any of these reasons, consult an experienced immigration attorney to discuss possible remedies.

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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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Who is Eligible (and Not Eligible) for Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status?

When you are physically present in the U.S., your filing for Adjustment of Status (AOS) allows you to become a permanent resident without needing to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad.

But if you are ineligible for AOS and mistakenly file a Form I-485​, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, your request will not only be denied, but you may also be placed in removal proceedings due to failure to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status and/or other grounds.

General Adjustment of Status (AOS) Eligibility Requirements

Foreign nationals may file for adjustment to permanent resident status if they meet the eligibility requirements at the time of submitting their ​Form I-485 application to USCIS.

Who is generally ELIGIBLE for AOS?

Immigrant categories that permit AOS include:

Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen [spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older)]

​Other relative of a U.S. citizen or​ relative of a lawful​ permanent resident under ​a​ family-based preference category (See U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for a  list of family-based preference categories)

​Person admitted to the United States on a K-1 visa as a f​iancé(e) of a U.S. citizen and then marries the U.S. citizen. [A K-1 visa holder who enters a valid and bona fide marriage to the U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of arrival in the U.S. remains eligible to adjust status on that basis, even if the marriage is legally terminated (whether by death, dissolution, or divorce) prior to adjustment of status and regardless of whether he/she remarries thereafter.]

Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioner

​Foreign national worker under an employment-based preference category (See U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for list of employment-based preference categories)

Foreign national entrepreneur (EB5 immigrant employment-based category)

Special immigrant (includes religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, certain Afghans and Iraqis, certain U.S. armed forces members, certain physicians)

Certain victim of human trafficking  (T nonimmigrant)

Certain victim of crime (U nonimmigrant)

Person granted asylum status

Person granted refugee status

Person selected in the ​Diversity Visa lottery program ​

Beneficiary of INA 245(i) benefits

Who is generally NOT ELIGIBLE for AOS?

With limited exceptions, foreign nationals who are barred from applying for AOS include:

Foreign national ​who last entered the United States without being inspected and admitted​ or paroled by an immigration officer. [INA 245(i) and VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this bar.]

Foreign national who was issued a C-1/D-1 or D-2 visa as a nonimmigrant ​crewman and last entered the United States as a crewman in pursuit of related employment. [VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(1) bar.]

Foreign national who is now employed or has ever been employed in the United States without authorization. [ Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from these INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245 (c)(8) bars.]

Foreign national who ​is not ​in​ lawful immigration status on the date of filing the Form I-485 application. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(2) bar.]

Foreign national​ who ​has ever ​failed to continuously maintain ​a ​lawful status​ since entry into the United States​, unless the failure ​to maintain status ​was through no fault of his or her own or for technical​ ​reasons.  [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(2) bar.]

Foreign national ​who ​was last admitted to the United​ ​States​ ​in​ ​transit​ ​without​ ​a​ ​visa. [VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(3) bar.]

​Foreign national who was last ​admitted​ ​to​ ​Guam​ ​or the​ ​Commonwealth​ ​of the​ ​Northern​ ​Mariana​ ​Islands ​(CNMI) ​as a​ ​visitor​ ​under​ ​the Guam or CNMI​ ​V​isa​ ​Waiver Program​ and who is not a Canadian citizen. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizens are exempt from this bar.]

Foreign national ​who was last ​admitted ​to the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor without a visa under the ​Visa Waiver Program. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizens and VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c) bar.]

Foreign national ​who is​ deportable due to involvement in a terrorist activity or group. [​VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(6) bar, but may still be inadmissible for such activity.​]

​Foreign national who is seeking ​employment-based ​adjustment of status and ​who is not maintaining a lawful nonimmigrant status ​on the date of filing this ​application. [In some cases, the INA 245(k) exemption  excuses this INA 245(c)(7) bar.]

Foreign national who has ​ever ​violated​ ​the​ ​terms​ ​of the ​nonimmigrant status. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(8) bar.]

Foreign national who is a ​conditional permanent resident​. [Conditional permanent residents​ must instead file a Form I-751 petition to remove conditions on their status to obtain permanent residence unconditionally.]

Foreign national who was admitted to the U.S. on a K-1 nonimmigrant ​fiancé(e) visa, but did not marry the U.S. citizen who filed​ ​the petition or foreign national who was admitted as the K-2 ​nonimmigrant​ child of a fiancé(e)​ ​whose parent did not marry the U.S. citizen who filed​ ​the petition.​ 

INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status (AOS) Eligibility Requirements

Most applicants file for Adjustment of Status based on ​INA 245(a), which does not include all the possible ways of adjusting status, such as AOS of Refugees or Asylees under INA 209(b)​.

​​The AOS eligibility requirements under section 245(a) include:

1.  You must normally have​ been​ inspected and admitted​ ​into the United States​; or inspected and paroled into the United States.

Unless you are an INA 245(i) applicant or a V​iolence ​A​gainst ​W​omen ​A​ct (VAWA)​ applicant​, you must meet the Inspected and Admitted or Paroled Requirement before you apply for AOS under section 245(a).

To lawfully enter the United States, you must first present yourself for inspection to an immigration officer at a ​U.S.​ ​port of entry.

Admission

For lawful admission to occur, the immigration officer must authorize you to enter the U.S. in accordance with the procedures for admission.​  If, however, the admission was based on a false claim to U.S. citizenship or to U.S. nationality at the ​port of entry​, the lawful admission requirement is not met.

The most common documents showing lawful admission are:

Arrival/​Departure ​Record (Form I-94)

​Admission stamp in passport​, which may be verified using Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systems

Employment Authorization Card (Form I-688A), for special ​agricultural worker applicants, provided it was valid during the last claimed date of entry on the adjustment application

Temporary Resident Card (Form I-688), for special agricultural workers or legalization applicants granted temporary residence, provided it was valid during the​ ​last ​claimed date of entry on the ​adjustment​ application​

Border Crossing Card (Form I-586 or Form DSP-150​), provided it was valid on the date of last claimed entry.​

Plane tickets evidencing travel to the United States, or other corroborating evidence, when an Arrival/Departure Record is not required in the following situations:

  • a ​Canadian ​citizen admitted as a visitor for business, visitor for pleasure, or who was permitted to directly tr​ansit through the United States;​
  • a ​nonimmigrant residing in the British Virgin Islands who was admitted only to the U.S. Virgin Islands as a visitor for business or pleasure​;​
  • ​a Mexican ​n​ational admitted with ​a B-1/B-2 Visa and Border Crossing Card ​(Form DSP-150) ​at a land or sea ​port of entry​ as a visitor for business or pleasure ​for a period of 30 days to trave​l within 25 miles of the border;
  • a ​Mexican ​n​ational in possession of a ​Mexican diplomatic or official passport.

Waved through at port of entry

A wave through is when you present yourself for inspection, but the inspector waves you through the U.S.-Mexico or U.S-Canada land border, and allows you to enter the U.S. without asking any questions or checking your travel documents.  You must present a credible claim and submit supporting evidence, such as​ ​third party ​affidavits ​from those with personal knowledge about your wave through admission.

​Parole

In some situations, you may receive a grant of parole to enter the U.S. This is a temporary, discretionary act and is not an admission. Without determining whether you may be admitted to the U.S., the immigration officer may parole you in for deferred inspection or due to urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.

Parole in Place may also be issued to certain foreign nationals present without admission or parole, such as ​to a spouse, child, or parent of an ​a​ctive ​d​uty member of the U.S. ​a​rmed ​f​orces, a member in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or someone who previously served in the U.S. ​armed forces​ or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

2. You must properly file an adjustment of status application.​

The Form I-485 must be filed with USCIS in accordance with ​the ​form ​instructions, when you are physically present in the United States. It must be signed, accompanied by the ​proper filing fee (unless a fee waiver is granted), submitted ​at the correct filing location​,  and filed when the priority date is current.

3. You must be eligible to receive an immigrant visa and an immigrant visa must be available when you file the adjustment of status application​ and at the time of final adjudication.​

Eligibility for an immigrant visa depends on the immigrant category in which you are filing for adjustment. Except for the Immediate Relative of a U.S. citizen category, the family-based and employment-based categories typically require a wait (sometimes for years or decades) before an immigrant visa becomes available.

4. You must be admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief. 

You are ineligible for adjustment if you are subject to any inadmissibility grounds listed under INA 212, such as certain criminal offenses fraud or willful misrepresentation of material facts to gain immigration benefits and unlawful presence. A waiver must be available and you must qualify for the waiver if you are inadmissible to the U.S.

​5. You must merit the favorable exercise of discretion.​

The approval of a Form I-485 application under certain categories, including INA 245(a) Adjustment, is a discretionary decision.  This means you are not entitled to adjustment even when you are eligible for it.

Besides evaluating your eligibility, the immigration officer also considers other factors such as your immigration status and history;​ family unity;​ length of residence in the United States;​ business and employment; and​ community standing and moral character.​

Statutory Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a) 

Bars to adjusting status include unlawful immigration status at the time of filing a Form I-485 (INA 245(c)(2) bar); status and nonimmigrant visa violations (INA 245c)(2) and INA 245(c)(2)(8) bars); and failure to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status when you would otherwise be eligible for employment-based immigration (INA 245(c)(7) bar). There are, however, exceptions and exemptions.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Because there are various bars and inadmissibility grounds to prevent AOS, as well as exemptions and waivers available, you need to consult an immigration attorney before you file a Form I-485 application to adjust to permanent resident status.

To learn more, read our related article, Adjusting to Permanent Resident Status Under INA 245(a): Bars, Exceptions and Exemptions.

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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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Approval of Form I-212 + Grant of Immigrant Visa= A True Success Story

A U.S. citizen and his permanent resident sister consulted me about their mother’s immigrant visa case, after the U.S. Consulate found her inadmissible under INA 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), i.e. illegal reentry following accrual of more than one year of unlawful presence in the United States.  With my counsel, their mother (my client) filed a Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission Into the United States, which the USCIS Field Office in Salt Lake City, Utah approved on February 17, 2017.

The I-212 approval led the U.S. Consulate to schedule the mother for a follow-up interview and issue the immigrant visa. This was her second immigrant visa application based on an approved I-130 immigrant petition her U.S. citizen son filed for her.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Consulate denied her first immigrant visa application upon finding her inadmissible under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II), i.e. accrual of unlawful presence of one year or more in the United States prior to departing the country. Because she had no qualifying relative (U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent) to be eligible for the Form I-601 [INA § 212 (a)(9)(B)(v)] unlawful presence waiver, she had to wait 10 years for that bar to expire. After waiting a decade to file her second immigrant visa application, she was shocked to hear she was still permanently barred under INA 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I).

The mother’s description of her re-entry into the United States — following accrual of unlawful presence of more than one year — indicated she was “waved through” at a U.S. border checkpoint, even though she lacked proper travel documents. In general, this means the person entered the United States as a passenger in a car after an immigration officer waved the car through the port of entry.

I counseled the family on two different paths the mother could take to obtain the immigrant visa: (a) file a motion to reconsider with the U.S. Consulate, requesting it find that the wave through counted as a lawful admission and was not an illegal entry to trigger the permanent bar under INA 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I); OR (b) file a Form I-212 application to be excused from the permanent bar.

Because the mother lacked objective evidence of a wave through, the family chose to file a Form I-212 application with USCIS instead of a motion to reconsider with the U.S. Consulate.

The applicant must be outside the U.S. for 10 years before she may file a Form I-212 to be excused from a section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)((I) bar. Luckily, my client had already completed the 10 years while she was waiting for the unlawful presence bar to run. After several discussions with the family, I determined there were sufficient favorable factors to get an I-212 approval.

I worked extensively with the family to prepare their written testimonies and gather supporting documentary evidence to prove their mother regretted her past immigration violations, has good moral character, and did not pose a threat to the American community. I also counseled them on how to establish that her denial of admission would cause unusual hardships to her as well as to her family in the United States. In addition, I prepared a legal memorandum outlining the facts and procedural history, citing to the evidence, and discussing why the mother deserved the waiver based on case precedents, statutory law, and existing policies.

While the Form I-212 application remained pending, I sent a follow-up letter to the USCIS Field Office,  requesting approval and including additional evidence of the hardships the U.S. citizen son, in particular, was suffering due to his mother’s absence from the United States.

After several months had passed, the sister called to ask me whether there were any additional steps to take to get the USCIS Field Office to issue a decision.  I began to explain the various ways  (including seeking Congressional assistance) until she stopped me mid-sentence and started screaming with joy. She had just received a message from her brother stating he received the I-212 approval notice!

The mother’s follow-up interview with the U.S. Consulate occurred in April 2017, and shortly after she was issued the immigrant visa. After 13 long years of separation, she may now finally reunite with her family in the United States.

The brother and sister live in different U.S. states,  and their mother lives in a South American country. Although we communicated by telephone and email and never met in person during the course of representation, we developed a strong, trust-based relationship, which contributed to a favorable outcome. This is a true success story for Dyan Williams Law PLLC and for my client and her family.

Preparing approvable Form I-212 applications are among our main areas of expertise. Clients benefit from the advice we give in filing Form I-212 requests to lawfully re-enter the United States following a removal order or other immigration violation.

Cheers,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
dw@dyanwilliamslaw.com

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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 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You File for Naturalization (U.S. Citizenship)

Before you file a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, to obtain U.S. citizenship, there are five key questions to ask  yourself. Your answers will help you determine whether you qualify for naturalization and may become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

QUESTION #1: Were you lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident? (Do you meet the LPR Admission requirement?)

With few exceptions (which apply to U.S. nationals and certain members of the U.S. armed forces), you must first be lawfully admitted as a permanent resident before you may file for naturalization when you are 18 or older.

If you were granted a green card or immigrant visa in error, or if you obtained permanent residence by fraud or willful misrepresentation, you do not meet the lawful admission requirement for naturalization.

Fraud or Misrepresentation

In reviewing your naturalization application, USCIS will make sure your permanent resident status was lawfully obtained, instead of merely rely on your having a green card. If USCIS determines you were granted lawful permanent resident (LPR) status by mistake or fraud, it will not only deny your Form N-400, but will likely place you in removal proceedings.

QUESTION #2: Have you continuously resided in the U.S. for at least 3/5 years?(Do you meet the Continuous Residence requirement?)

You must reside continuously in the U.S. for at least 5 years as a permanent resident at the time you file your naturalization application. An exception is if you are a qualified spouse of a U.S. citizen, in which case your continuous residence must be at least 3 years at the time you file for naturalization.

You must also maintain continuous residence from the time you file the Form N-400 up to the time of naturalization (i.e. take the naturalization oath and become a U.S. citizen).

You may file your naturalization application up to 90 days before reaching the 3/5-year continuous residence period. This is known as the 90 day early filing period.

Your LPR status begins when USCIS approves your adjustment application or when you are admitted to the U.S. on an immigrant visa. For certain groups, the start date of becoming an LPR may be earlier than the actual approval of the status (commonly referred to as a “rollback” date). For example, USCIS generally considers an asylee’s date of admission as an LPR to be one year prior to the date the adjustment application was approved.

Breaks in Continuity of Residence

Continuous residence relates to the time you resided lawfully in the U.S. without any single absence long enough to “break” continuity for naturalization. There are two types of absences from the U.S. that interfere with the continuity of residence for purposes of naturalization:

1.  Absence of more than 6 months but less than one year is presumed to break the continuity of residence.

Example: Melinda is absent from the U.S. from September 19, 2013 to June 26, 2014. Her absence of 280 days is presumed to break the continuity of residence because it lasted more than six months. Any time spent in the U.S. prior to September 19, 2013 presumably does not count toward her continuous residence.

She may, however, provide evidence showing she did not disrupt her residence during her stay abroad, such as keeping her job in the U.S. and not obtaining employment while abroad; maintaining a residence in the U.S. to which she retained full access; and  having strong family ties in the U.S.

2. Absence of one year or more (without an approved Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, which only certain persons may file) absolutely breaks the continuity of residence.

Example: Jonas was absent from the United States from December 11, 2014 to January 11, 2016. His absence of 396 days absolutely breaks the continuity of residence because it lasted more than a year. Any time spent in the U.S. prior to December 11, 2014 does not count toward his continuous residence.

Four Years and One Day Rule | Two Days and One Day Rule

If you broke the continuity of residence because you stayed abroad too long, you may not file your naturalization application as early as 90 days before you meet the continuous residence requirement.

Instead, if you are subject to the 5-year continuous residence requirement, you must wait at least 4 years and 1 day after re-entering and continuously residing in the U.S. to file for naturalization. If the 3-year continuous residence requirement applies to you, the wait is 2 years and 1 day.

NOTE: Absences of less than 6 months may also break the continuity of residence depending on the facts surrounding the absence. An example is if you claimed nonresident alien status to qualify for tax exemptions or if you failed to file income tax returns because you consider yourself  a non-resident alien.

You must have the intent to maintain lawful permanent resident status and consider all absences from the U.S. to be fixed, temporary visits abroad. Abandonment of LPR status makes you ineligible for naturalization.

USCIS will consider the entire period from the LPR admission until the present when determining whether you meet the continuous residence requirement.

QUESTION #3: Have you been physically present in the U.S. for at least half the continuous residence period? (Do you meet the Physical Presence requirement?)

You  must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months of the five years prior to filing your naturalization application (or at least 18 months if the 3-year continuous residence requirement applies).

Physical presence concerns the total number of days you are actually or physically in the U.S. during the period required for naturalization.

You also must have resided for at least three months immediately prior to filing the Form N-400 in the USCIS district or state where you claim to reside.

QUESTION #4: Are you a person of good moral character? (Do you meet the Good Moral Character requirement?)

You must show good moral character (GMC) during the applicable statutory period, i.e. 3/5-year period immediately before you file for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.

USCIS is not limited to reviewing your conduct only during the statutory period. Your conduct prior to the 3/5-year period may also affect your ability to establish GMC if your present conduct does not reflect a reformation of character or the earlier conduct relates to your present moral character. USCIS will consider the totality of the circumstances and weigh favorable and unfavorable factors, when considering reformation of character, including family ties; absence or presence of other criminal history; education; employment history; other law-abiding behavior (e.g. paying taxes); community involvement; your credibility; compliance with probation; and length of time in the U.S.

If you lie on your Form N-400 application or during the naturalization interview,  and you are caught, USCIS will deny your application for lacking good moral character. If you are granted naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship may be revoked through rescission proceedings.

USCIS will consider your criminal history when determining whether you meet the GMC requirement. Committing certain crimes may lead to permanent bars or conditional bars to naturalization.

Permanent Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character

There are certain convictions or criminal offenses that permanently bar you from establishing GMC for naturalization. They include a conviction for murder at any time, and a conviction for an aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990 (e.g. murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor; illicit trafficking in controlled substance; and crime of violence, theft offense and passport/document fraud leading to imprisonment of at least 1 year). They also include involvement in Nazi persecutions, genocide, torture, and particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

Conditional Bars to Establishing Good Moral Character

Other offenses are conditional bars to naturalization. These temporary bars are triggered by acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions within the statutory period for naturalization, including the period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.

Conditional bars include a conviction or admission of one or more Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (other than political offense), such as theft, forgery, and terroristic threats – except for one petty offense; violation of any law on controlled substances – except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana; prostitution offenses; and willful failure or refusal to support dependents, unless extenuating circumstances are shown.

Criminal History May Lead to Denial of N-400 and, In Some Cases, Cause You to be Placed in Removal Proceedings 

The Form N-400 asks several questions about arrests, charges, and convictions. You should report all criminal offenses, including those that have been expunged or sealed or those that occurred before your 18th birthday.  You are required to submit the certified court disposition and, in many cases, USCIS will request the police report and other related documents.

If you have committed certain serious crimes that make you removable from the U.S., USCIS will not only deny your naturalization application but may also place you in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court.  Be sure to read Immigration Consequences of Criminal Offenses: Myths & Facts. 

QUESTION #5: Can you pass the English and civics tests? (Do you meet the English or Civics requirements?)

You must be able to read, write and speak basic English. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will instruct you to write a certain phrase in English and will give you an English phrase to read, e.g. “Only U.S. citizens may vote.”

You also have to know the fundamentals of U.S. history and the form and principles of the U.S. government. The USCIS officer will have 10 civics questions to ask, and you must answer 6 correctly. You need to study for the civics test; you have one opportunity to retake it if you fail it the first time.

Certain applicants, because of age and time as a permanent resident, or because of a disability, have different English and civics requirements. Those over 50 years old and have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years as a permanent resident, or those over 55 years old and have lived in the United States for at least 15 years as a permanent resident, or those with a disability that prevents them from fulfilling this requirement and will be filing a “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions” (Form N-648) qualify for an exemption.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney

Sometimes the answers to these five key questions are clear. Sometimes they are not. Consult an immigration attorney, who fully understands the naturalization requirements, to verify your eligibility for naturalization before you file a Form N-400 application with USCIS. The attorney can also help you assess and maximize your likelihood of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Getting counsel to prepare and file the naturalization application, advise you on what to expect at the interview, and attend the interview with you typically makes a positive difference.

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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Photo by: Josh Hallett

What should you do to get an I-601 waiver for criminal grounds?

Section 212(a)(2) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) permanently bars you from adjusting to permanent residence or being lawfully admitted to the U.S. (either as an immigrant or nonimmigrant) on criminal and related grounds. When you have a lifetime ban due to a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) or controlled substance violation, for example, you need an I-601 waiver, available under INA § 212(h).

What Must You  Submit When Requesting an I-601 [INA § 212(h)] Waiver?

A section 212(h) waiver applicant must submit a completed and signed Form I-601Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. The Form I-601 filing fee and sometimes a biometrics fee are required.

The Form I-601 instructions include a list of supporting documents you should submit with your waiver request. Examples are affidavits from yourself and third parties describing hardships and/or rehabilitation; expert opinions; medical documentation; and reports of conditions in your home country.

Evidence of extreme hardship 

If you qualify for the waiver on the basis that your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent, son or daughter, or K visa petitioner, will suffer extreme hardship if you are denied admission to the U.S., you must present documentary evidence of the “extreme hardship.”

The agency considers a variety of factors when determining whether there is extreme hardship. They include:

  • Health: Ongoing or specialized treatment requirements for a physical or mental condition; availability and quality of such treatment in your country, anticipated duration of the treatment; whether a condition is chronic or acute, or long-or short-term; need for applicant to assist with physical or mental conditions.
  • 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 care for family members (e.g. elderly and sick 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 for grade or pay level; availability of special requirements, such as training programs or internships in specific fields.
  • Personal Considerations: Close relatives in the U.S.; separation from spouse or children; ages of involved parties; length of residence and community ties in the U.S.
  • Special Factors: Cultural and language barriers; religious and ethnic obstacles; social unrest or civil war in your country; valid fears of persecution, physical harm, or injury; social ostracism or stigma; access to social institutions or structures for support, guidance and protection.

Evidence of rehabilitation| Evidence that your admission would not be against the national welfare, safety, or security of the United States

Evidence of your rehabilitation and evidence that your admission would not harm the national welfare, safety, or security of the U.S. are especially important when you are filing for the waiver on these grounds. Such evidence is also essential to showing the positive factors outweigh the negative factors in your case.

The agency considers several factors when determining whether there is rehabilitation. They include:

  • Passage of time since the last conviction
  • The court order regarding sentence imposed and whether the applicant is likely to commit another offense
  • The applicant’s participation in a rehabilitation program, such as alcohol or drug treatment program, if alcohol or drug use contributed to the crime
  • The applicant’s active involvement in community activities and volunteer work
  • A grant of expungement or pardon
  • A psychological evaluation confirming the crime resulted from a mental problem for which the applicant is being treated

Does Having an Immigration Attorney Make a Difference? 

Filling out the Form I-601 is just the first step. The harder part is convincing the agency that you are eligible for the waiver and deserve it as a matter of discretion.

Although “extreme hardship” is not defined by immigration law, it is more than just the normal emotional hardships or financial difficulties that result from family separation or relocation.  A good lawyer will help you prove your qualifying relatives would suffer extreme hardship if they are separated from you while you are abroad, or if they move overseas to be with you.

The presence of aggravating factors (e.g. conviction for a serious offense, recent convictions) and lack of mitigating factors (e.g. participation in a rehabilitation program) can lead to a denial of your waiver request. Needing another waiver, such as a section 212(i) waiver (for immigration fraud/willful misrepresentation) or a section 212(a)(9)(B)(v) waiver (for unlawful presence), further complicates your case. A good lawyer will help you prove the favorable factors outweigh the unfavorable factors in your case.

It’s much harder to get an I-601 waiver [INA § 212(h) waiver] when you file it on your own and don’t have the benefit of counsel. You have 30 days to file a motion to reopen/reconsider or an appeal if your waiver request is denied. Otherwise, you may re-file the application with new, material evidence. Federal courts lack jurisdiction to review an agency’s decision on an I-601 waiver.

A diligent, experienced immigration attorney will advise you on the documentary evidence to submit, prepare a legal brief explaining how you qualify for the waiver and why you deserve it, and put together a strong waiver application to maximize the chance of success.

For more information on when the crime-related bar applies, who qualifies for the I-601 [INA § 212(h)] Waiver, and the limitations of the waiver, read our related article, When do you need an I-601 Waiver due to criminal grounds (and how do you get it)?

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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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Photo by: Tiago Pinheiro