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.
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).
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.
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.
Photo by: Hernán Piñera