Both the I-601 waiver and I-601A waiver are used to overcome the 3 year/10 year unlawful presence bar. I-601 waiver and I-601A waiver applicants must have a qualifying relative who will suffer extreme hardship if they are not granted re-entry to the U.S. before the 3 or 10 years pass. But there are key differences between the I-601 waiver and I-601A waiver application.
3 Year/10 Year Unlawful Presence Bar
Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) states the 3 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days, but less than one year, and then depart the U.S. prior to commencement of removal proceedings. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S. in a single ongoing period or stay (i.e. continuous period of unlawful presence).
The 3-year bar does not apply if you depart the U.S. after the Notice to Appear in removal proceedings is filed with the immigration court, following service of the NTA on you. But leaving the U.S. while you are in removal proceedings or being issued a removal order carries other immigration consequences.
Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) of the INA states the 10 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or more, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S., even if they were from different periods or stays (i.e. the aggregate period of unlawful presence).
You begin to accrue unlawful presence only after April 1, 1997 and once you turn age 18.
The 3/10 year bar to re-entry is triggered only if you leave the U.S. This does not mean you should never leave the U.S. to legalize your immigration status, but you should know there are risks to your departure. (Illegally re-entering or attempting to illegally re-enter the U.S. further complicates your case and triggers a permanent bar under certain circumstances.)
A person who is inadmissible due to the 3 year/10 year bar may not receive an immigrant visa before the 3 year/10 year bar expires without first obtaining an I-601 waiver or I-601A waiver under section 212(a)(9)(B)(v) of the Immigration & Nationality Act. Only certain immigrants qualify for the waiver.
To determine whether to file an I-601 waiver or I-601A waiver to overcome the unlawful presence bar, you need to know the key differences:
1. The I-601 waiver application may be filed by immigrants who are the spouse or son or daughter of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The I-601A waiver may be filed only by immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, under current regulations. [UPDATE: On July 29, 2016, DHS published a final rule expanding the I-601A waiver. As of August 29, 2016, the provisional waiver is available to all eligible applicants.]
An immediate relative is the spouse of a U.S. citizen; child (unmarried and under 21) of a U.S. citizen; or parent of a U.S. citizen (who is over age 21). While having a U.S. citizen child allows the person to file for an I-601A waiver, he still needs a qualifying relative to fully qualify for and receive the waiver, just like regular I-601 waiver applicants.
A qualifying relative is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent. By statutory law, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident child is not a qualifying relative for obtaining the unlawful presence waiver. Furthermore, like regular I-601 waiver applicants, I-601A waiver applicants must prove the qualifying relative will suffer extreme hardships if they are not admitted to the U.S. before the 3 year/10 year bar expires.
2. I-601 applicants file for the regular waiver on the Form I-601. I-601A applicants file for the provisional waiver on the Form I-601A.
Applicants file for the regular I-601 waiver on a Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. There are similar but different I-601 instructions from those of the I-601A.
On March 4, 2013, USCIS introduced the Form I-601A, Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver to allow certain immigrant visa applicants to obtain the unlawful presence waiver. There are similar but different I-601A instructions from those of the I-601.
3. The Form I-601 application is submitted after the person departs the U.S. The Form I-601A application is submitted before the person departs the U.S.
The I-601 application may be filed only when the person is outside the U.S. I-601 waiver applicants must first depart the U.S. and attend their visa interview at the U.S. Consulate before they may file for the regular waiver. They bear a higher risk of being separated from their family in the U.S. for 3 or 10 years, if they do not receive the waiver following departure from the U.S. They must wait for the I-601 decision while they are outside of the U.S. and separated from their family.
The I-601A application may be filed only if the person is physically present in the U.S. I-601A waiver applicants file for the provisional waiver while they are still in the U.S, before they depart the U.S. and attend the visa interview at the U.S. Consulate.
Being granted the provisional waiver increases the likelihood that the U.S. Consulate will issue the immigrant visa at or shortly after the interview. They may wait for the I-601A decision while they are still in the U.S. with their family. The provisional waiver provides several advantages, but has many limitations. For example, if the U.S. Consulate discovers the visa applicant has prior immigration violations or a criminal history, the approved provisional waiver will be revoked and the applicant has to file for the regular I-601 waiver (if available).
4. The I-601 waiver can be filed in conjunction with an immigrant visa or K visa. The I-601A can be filed only in conjunction with an immigrant visa.
I-601 applicants may be seeking a K-3 nonimmigrant or K-1 fiancé(e) visa based on an approved I-129F petition, not just an immigrant visa. In contrast, I-601A applicants must first have an approved I-130 (immigrant visa) petition filed on their behalf by a U.S. citizen petitioner. They also have to first pay the immigrant visa fee before they submit the provisional waiver request.
5. The I-601 waiver can be used to waive additional grounds of inadmissibility, such as criminal convictions and immigration fraud. The I-601A waiver waives only the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar.
The Form I-601 allows the applicant to file for multiple grounds of inadmissibility, such as crime-related grounds and fraud or willful misrepresentation to gain immigration benefits, not just unlawful presence.
Meanwhile, the Form I-601A application cannot be used to waive any grounds but unlawful presence in the U.S. If you are subject to other grounds of inadmissibility, such as a prior removal order, illegal re-entries to the U.S., false claims to U.S. citizenship, immigration fraud, or criminal convictions, you may not file the Form I-601A.
If USCIS determines, based on the record, there is reason to believe you are inadmissible on grounds other than unlawful presence, it will deny your Form I-601A.
In January 2014, USCIS clarified that it will not automatically deny the Form I-601A when the applicant has a criminal history. USCIS will review the entire record to determine whether the criminal offense falls within the “youthful offender” or “petty offense” exception, or is not a crime involving moral turpitude. If any exception applies, USCIS will continue to process the I-601A waiver request and approve it, assuming the requirements are met and a favorable exercise of discretion is appropriate.
Consult an Immigration Attorney
Because there are keys differences between the I-601 waiver and I-601A waiver, you should consult an immigration attorney to help you decide which waiver to file. A reliable attorney can also help you determine whether you need to actually depart the U.S. to apply for an immigrant visa, or whether you may apply for adjustment to permanent resident in the U.S. without leaving the country. (This is important to know because the 3 year/10 year is triggered only if you leave the U.S.)
If you are not eligible to adjust status, and you want to gain permanent residence in the U.S., you will need to depart the U.S. to apply for an immigrant visa. If you are inadmissible due only to the 3 year/10 year unlawful presence bar, the I-601A provisional waiver is the more appropriate waiver. But under current regulations, only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may file for the I-601A waiver. And if you are inadmissible on multiple grounds, the I-601A waiver will not work.
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: Stefan Baudy