Category Archives: bona fide marriage

Section 201(b)(2)(A)(i) Allows Certain Widows or Widowers of U.S. Citizens to Become Permanent Residents Even When the Citizen Has Died

A U.S. citizen may file a Form I-130 immigrant petition for his or her spouse in the immediate relatives category. If the citizen dies, the widow(er) may still seek permanent residence in the United States under section 201(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Immigration & Nationality Act, when certain conditions are met.

Who Qualifies for Widow(er) Benefits Under INA 201(b)(2)(A)(i)?

U.S. immigration statute permits widow(er)s of U.S. citizens to be classified as immediate relatives and continue the Immigrant Visa or Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status application process if they:

  • Were legally married to a U.S. citizen and not divorced or legally separated from the U.S. citizen at the time of death
  • File a Form I-360 self-petition within two years of the U.S. citizen spouse’s death or have a pending or approved Form I-130 filed by the U.S. citizen spouse prior to death, which will be automatically converted to a Form I-360 petition
  • Show they entered into the marriage in good faith and not solely for immigration benefits
  • Are admissible to the United States
  • Are not remarried before they receive the green card or immigrant visa (NOTE: If there is a remarriage, the applicant may still be able able to pursue section 204(l) relief if he or she was residing in the United States when the petitioner died and continues to reside in the United States).

How to Apply for Widow(er) Benefits

If there is a pending or approved Form I-130 petition, the widow(er) must notify USCIS of the U.S. citizen’s death. The agency will then automatically convert the I-130 to an I-360 self-petition. If there is no pending or approved I-130 at the time of death, the widow(er) must submit the Form I-360 self-petition to USCIS within two years of the U.S. citizen’s death.

Widow(er)s in the United States may file a Form I-485, application to adjustment to permanent resident status, either at the same time the I-360 is filed or after the I-360 is filed, whether it is pending or approved. If an I-485 application was already submitted based on a pending or approved I-130 filed by the deceased spouse, there is no need to file a new one.

A widow(er) who is living abroad may go through the I-360 approval or I-130/I-360 conversion process to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate overseas.

Admissibility Requirement

A Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, is not required for widow(er)s to establish they will not become a public charge under INA § 212(a)(4). A Form I-864W, Request for Exemption for Intended Immigrant’s Affidavit of Support, should be filed with the Immigrant Visa request or Adjustment of Status application.

Widow(ers) are not exempt from the 3/10 year bars to re-entry under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i) if they accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the U.S. and depart for consular processing of the immigrant visa. The waiver for unlawful presence requires a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent, which many widow(ers) do not have. Whenever possible, widow(er)s should apply for Adjustment of Status within the U.S. and avoid triggering the 3/10 year bar.

If there are no significant negative factors, and a previously filed I-130 has been converted and approved as an I-360, USCIS will normally exercise discretion favorably in a Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal, of a widow(er) who is inadmissible due a prior removal order.

Children of Widow(er) of U.S. Citizen

Unmarried children under the age of 21 may be included in the immigrant petition as derivative beneficiaries. As “immediate relatives,” derivative children qualify for benefits under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA), which “freezes” their ages as of the filing date of the Form I-130 or Form I-360, whichever is applicable. CSPA protects them from aging out if they turn age 21 prior to their being granted a green card or immigrant visa. Still, they must meet any other eligibility criteria or filing requirements. 

Consult a Qualified U.S. Immigration Attorney

A qualified U.S. immigration attorney can help with verifying your eligibility for widow(er) benefits and submitting a request for I-130 to I-360 conversion or filing a properly documented I-360 self-petition. It’s also important to seek counsel in the Adjustment of Status application within the United States or in the Immigrant Visa request at the U.S. Consulate abroad.

For information on other possible remedies for surviving relatives, read our related articles:

Humanitarian Reinstatement Allows Certain Principal Beneficiaries to Become Permanent Residents Even When Petitioner Has Died

Section 204(l) Allows Certain Surviving Relatives to Become Permanent Residents Even When Petitioner or Principal Beneficiary Has Died

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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 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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Reversal of INA 204(c)/Marriage Fraud Finding + Approval of I-130 and I-485 = A True Success Story

On appeal, a USCIS Field Office reconsidered and reversed its denial of our U.S. citizen client’s Form I-130 petition for her spouse under INA 204(c), which is commonly known as the marriage fraud bar. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has authority to review such decisions, but USCIS chose to vacate the section 204(c) bar on its own and approve the petition without a BIA order. In addition, the spouse was granted a green card based on his concurrently filed Form I-485 application for permanent resident status. These favorable decisions were made within three months of our filing the Notice of Appeal and within two months of our submitting the legal memorandum to support the appeal.

Beneficiary’s File is Flagged Due to USCIS’ Denial of Prior I-130 Petition by Previous U.S. Citizen Spouse

Section 204(c) of the Immigration & Nationality Act states that no petition may be approved if the beneficiary was previously accorded, or sought to be accorded, an immediate relative or preference status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, through a sham marriage, i.e. a marriage determined by USCIS to have been entered into for the purpose of evading U.S. immigration laws.

In our clients’ case, the beneficiary was previously married to another U.S. citizen who filed a prior I-130 petition for him. They completed two different interviews with USCIS over a two-year period. They were separated and asked various questions about their courtship and marriage, from which USCIS listed a total of five discrepancies between their answers.

USCIS investigators also went to their shared residence when neither of them was present. The petitioner’s mother – who lived with them – was at the home when the officers arrived. She confirmed the couple resided there with her, but the officers found very few personal items belonging to the beneficiary. Through further investigations, USCIS discovered the beneficiary was the lessee of a separate apartment and determined that he lived there instead of with the petitioner.

With the help of prior counsel, the petitioner and beneficiary submitted a Response to the Notice of Intent to Deny the I-130 petition, in which they described the reasons for the discrepancies at the interview, confirmed they lived together, and explained the separate apartment under the beneficiary’s name was being subleased to another person.

Three months after receiving the Response to the NOID, USCIS denied the I-130 petition based on the discrepancies at the interviews and their investigations from which they determined the beneficiary did not live with the petitioner. The evidence filed with the Response was disregarded. The decision was not appealed because the marriage fell apart and the parties ultimately divorced.

Beneficiary Faces INA 204(c)/Marriage Fraud Bar in Subsequent I-130 Petition by Second U.S. Citizen Spouse

Following his divorce from his first U.S. citizen spouse, the beneficiary entered into marriage to another U.S. citizen, who filed an I-130 petition for him about 18 months after the prior petition was denied. After interviewing the couple, USCIS issued a Notice of Intent to Deny the petition a year later.

In the Notice of Intent to Deny, USCIS acknowledged the couple’s marriage is bona fide and cited to no discrepancies between their testimonies at the interview. The Service, however, pointed out the beneficiary is ineligible for an I-130 approval under INA 204(c), in that his prior marriage was found to be a sham.

Petitioner Receives Guidance on Responding to Notice of Intent to Deny through Consultation

The petitioner contacted our firm, Dyan Williams Law, for help just four days before the Response to Notice of Intent to Deny was due to USCIS. Due to the time constraints and pre-existing commitments, we declined to represent her in the Response, but agreed to provide her with a consultation.

To prepare for the consultation, I reviewed the Notice of Intent to Deny the petition, the earlier Response to Notice of Intent to Deny that was filed by the prior U.S. citizen spouse, and other key items. During our telephone call, I gave the petitioner a list of documents and information to gather and present in her Response. I also summarized applicable case law and essential legal arguments she should mention in her Response.

Using my recommendations, the petitioner filed a timely and persuasive Response, which included a notarized declaration from the beneficiary’s ex-spouse confirming they had a good-faith marriage.

Representation on Appeal Leads to Reversal of INA 204(c) Finding and Approval of I-130 and I-485

A week after receiving the Response to Notice of Intent to Deny, USCIS issued a decision denying the I-130 petition under INA 204(c). The Service found there was no credible evidence to substantiate the claim of a bona fide marriage between the beneficiary and his prior U.S. citizen spouse.

The petitioner contacted me soon after she received the decision. This time, I accepted her case for representation and agreed to prepare and file the appeal on her behalf.

On appeal, I argued it was not the petitioner’s burden to prove her spouse’s prior marriage was bona fide. Rather, the Service has the burden to show by “substantial and probative evidence” that the beneficiary previously attempted or conspired to enter into a sham marriage for U.S. immigration purposes. I cited to applicable law, the credible explanations for the discrepancies at the interviews, and material evidence demonstrating the beneficiary and his prior spouse lived together and shared a real marriage before it ended in divorce. I noted the Service made a reversible error by applying the harsh statute – INA 204(c) – to deny the petition.

About two months after the legal memorandum to support the appeal was submitted, the petitioner informed me that USCIS approved the I-130 petition. She and her spouse also received notice that the concurrently filed I-485 application was reopened by USCIS, on its own initiative.

A couple weeks later, the beneficiary received his 10-year green card in the mail. He is now a permanent resident of the United States who may eventually file for naturalization (citizenship). After more than seven years of seeking to obtain permanent residence – first through a failed marriage and then via his current marriage – he finally achieved true success in his immigration journey with our counsel.

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 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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Avoid the NOID by Supplementing the Record and Responding to RFE

USCIS will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny a petition (e.g. Form I-130 or Form I-140) when it has derogatory information or has evidence the beneficiary is ineligible for the benefit sought. A common example is when there is insufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage between the U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) petitioner and the foreign national beneficiary seeking marriage-based permanent residence.

A NOID is one last opportunity to rebut adverse findings that support a denial of the petition. To avoid a NOID, the petitioner should proactively supplement the record and/or file a full and timely response to USCIS’ Request for Evidence (RFE), if one is issued.

In a July 13, 2018 Policy Memorandum, titled Issuance of Certain RFEs and NOIDS; Revisions to Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 10.5(a), Chapter 10.5(b), USCIS officers are given full discretion to deny applications and petitions without first issuing an RFE or a NOID, when appropriate. This includes cases when (a) there is no legal basis to receive the benefit sought and (b) the required initial evidence is not submitted with the petition or application.

RFE and NOID: Similar, But Not the Same

Request for Evidence

An RFE is issued when the officer is uncertain whether or not the request should be approved and needs more evidence to make a decision.

The Policy Memorandum states that in an RFE, USCIS should (a) identify the eligibility requirement that has not been established and why the evidence submitted was insufficient, (b) identify any missing evidence required by statute, regulation or form instruction, (c) identify examples of other evidence that may be submitted to establish eligibility; and (d) request that evidence.

The normal timeframe to submit a response to an RFE is 87 days. A follow-up RFE (or a NOID) might be in order if the response opens up a new line of inquiry or raises eligibility issues that were not considered during initial case review. USCIS may also deny the application or petition if all the requested evidence is not submitted, especially when this prevents a material line of inquiry.

Notice of Intent to Deny

A NOID is given when the officer is leaning toward a denial, but the applicant, petitioner or requestor is unaware of the negative information or its impact on eligibility for the benefit sought.

The Policy Memorandum states, “When a preliminary decision has been made to deny an application or petition and the denial is not based on lack of initial evidence or a statutory denial…the adjudicator must issue a written NOID to the applicant, petitioner, or requestor providing up to a maximum of 30 days to respond to the NOID.”

A NOID is much more serious than an RFE. Unlike an RFE that lists exactly what evidence is missing, a NOID describes derogatory information to support a denial. You have to figure out what evidence and explanations to submit to rebut all the allegations in the NOID and prevent a denial. You also have a shorter time frame (e.g. 30 days instead of 87 days) to address complicated issues. NOTE: When the decision is served by mail, there is an additional 3 days to file the response under 8 CFR § 103.8(b).

Supplement the Record and/or File a Full and Timely RFE Response to Avoid the NOID

While the case is pending — and before a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny is issued — it is sometimes appropriate to supplement the record with additional evidence.

In a recently approved I-130 petition and I-485 (green card) application case, I counseled my clients to submit written affidavits addressing discrepancies between their oral testimonies at the green card interview with USCIS. Among the discrepancies were very different accounts of the marriage proposal, including where, when and how it occured. In their follow-up affidavits, they provided credible explanations for the differences in their answers.

Furthermore, at the time of the interview, they were living in separate apartments due to financial reasons, cultural factors, and logistical considerations. I advised them to submit rental applications showing they were actively seeking to live together. The supplemental evidence was sent to USCIS a month after the interview.

Four months later, the couple finally moved in together after securing their own apartment. We submitted their joint lease agreement and newly filed joint tax return demonstrating the bona fide nature of their marriage.

Seven months after receiving this supplemental evidence, USCIS issued a Request for Evidence asking for more evidence of a shared life together. The RFE listed examples such as lease(s) showing the same residence, documents showing shared finances and obligations, pictures of their wedding, and sworn affidavits from others with personal knowledge of the validity of the marriage.

Within the 87-day timeframe, we provided a full response including the couple’s new joint lease agreement, shared car insurance and health insurance policies, life insurance record listing one party as the other’s primary beneficiary, letters from neighbors confirming they live together, family photographs, and affidavits from relatives describing their good-faith marriage.

A month after receiving the Response to RFE, the Service approved the I-130 petition. After the updated Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record) was provided, upon request, USCIS soon approved the concurrently filed I-485 application for permanent residence.

The couple had celebrated their second wedding anniversary by the time the I-485 application was adjudicated. A 10-year green card (instead of 2-year conditional card) was issued and there will be no need to file a Form I-751 petition to remove conditions on residence.

Despite the discrepancies at the interview and their living in separate residence for several months, my clients got their case approved by proactively supplementing the record and submitting a full and timely response to the RFE. These actions were key to avoiding a Notice of Intent to Deny, which is just one step short of a denial.

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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 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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Combined Approval of Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence + Form N-400, Application for Naturalization = A True Success Story

USCIS Field Office in California

A USCIS Field Office in California approved both our client’s Form I-751 petition to remove conditions on residence and Form N-400 application for naturalization in a single naturalization interview, held in early March 2019. With the conditions on his residence now removed, he is set to attend his naturalization oath ceremony and become a U.S. citizen.

Conditional Resident Awaiting I-751 Decision May Consider Filing For Naturalization

In many cases, conditional residents are eligible to file for naturalization before the conditions on their residence are removed and they get the regular, 10-year green card. Persons who are granted marriage-based permanent residence when the marriage to the U.S. citizen petitioner is less than two years old are issued a two-year, conditional green card. To get the conditions removed and maintain lawful permanent residence, the applicant and his spouse must file a joint I-751 petition before the two-year card expires, and no earlier than 90 days before the expiration. There are only three types of waivers (exceptions) to the joint filing requirement.

Continuous residence is one eligibility requirement for naturalization. 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. Continuous residence for naturalization purposes begins on the start date of your permanent residence, even if it is conditional.

As of June 2018, USCIS began issuing Receipt Notices for I-751 petitions that automatically extend the conditional resident status for 18 months past the expiration date of the two-year card. Previously, the extension was for 12 months, after which the person would need to obtain a temporary I-551 stamp (evidence of conditional residence) at a local USCIS office. The change was made to accommodate longer processing times for I-751s and to allow conditional residents to automatically keep their lawful status and maintain work and travel authorization in the interim.

Naturalization Interview Scheduled Before Conditions Removed

Our client’s naturalization interview was scheduled before he received a decision on the Form I-751 petition. At the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer exercised his authority to approve the I-751 even though it was still sitting at a USCIS Service Center awaiting adjudication. This cleared the way for the conditional resident to become a U.S. citizen.

Filing of Form I-751 Petition

Although both the Form N-400 and Form I-751 may be pending at the same time, the I-751 must always be filed first. A conditional resident may not become a naturalized U.S. citizen until the I-751 petition is first approved.

In December 2017, we filed a timely, joint Form I-751 petition with the USCIS California Service Center in Laguna Niguel, California. To demonstrate the conditional resident entered into and continued to have a good faith marriage with his U.S. citizen spouse, we submitted affidavits describing their relationship, shared car insurance policy, joint bank account and credit card account statements, and evidence of their home ownership.

The I-751 was initially transferred from the California Service Center to another USCIS Service Center. In June 2018, we received a Transfer Notice from the Service Center in Arlington, VA stating it was transferring the I-751 back to the California Service Center to speed up processing. Then in December 2018, we received a Transfer Notice from the California Service Center stating it completed a preliminary review of the petition and was transferring the case to the National Benefits Center in Lee’s Summit, MO for adjudication.

Filing of Form N-400 Application

The I-751 had been pending with USCIS for 10 months when the naturalization application was filed. Within three months of receiving the Form N-400, our client received his naturalization interview notice. It did not instruct him to have his U.S. citizen spouse accompany him or to bring evidence of their bona fide marriage. Nonetheless, I counseled him to do so, particularly because USCIS had yet to approve the I-751 petition and lift the conditions on his residence.

Attorney Appearance at Out-of-State Naturalization Interview

With our law firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I flew out to California to attend the naturalization interview. My client could have retained local counsel to appear with him, but he insisted on having me there. (U.S. immigration is governed by federal laws, regulations and policies, which allow for representation at a USCIS Field Office by an out-of-state attorney.) 

The naturalization interview started off with his completing and passing the Civics Test and English Test. Then the USCIS officer went through his naturalization application, page by page. 

To prepare for the naturalization interview, my client and I had discussed potential questions about his marriage to the U.S. citizen petitioner, their relationship history, and his U.S. immigration record. Among his concerns was that he had been previously denied entry to the United States as a visitor by the U.S. Customs & Border Protection, after being employed in the country on a temporary worker visa for an extended period. I advised him on how to best respond truthfully to this issue, which did end up being raised by the USCIS officer at the interview.

Naturalization Expected

When the USCIS officer stated he would approve the N-400 application, I reminded him the I-751 petition was still pending. The officer was not aware of this because the file had not been flagged. He agreed to call in the U.S. citizen spouse, who had accompanied us to the Field Office and was seated in the waiting room.

Both the conditional resident and his spouse answered questions and presented documentary evidence on the bona fide nature of their marriage. At the end of the interview, the officer said he would also approve the I-751 petition. Even though he did not have the original I-751 filing,  and did not review the copy we had with us, he favorably adjudicated the petition based on the testimony and evidence presented.

A day after the interview, USCIS issued the Form I-797, Approval Notice for the I-751 petition. My client soon sent me an email stating, “When I checked online the status of the N-400 on USCIS website it now says they approved my application, and the next step is to wait for the Oath Ceremony invitation letter in the mail, so looking forward to this very much…Thanks again for all your help. You really made a difference in our lives.

We expect him to be scheduled for a naturalization oath ceremony and to become a U.S. citizen. This is a true success story. 

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 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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Updated Notice to Appear (NTA) Guidance Requires USCIS to Initiate Removal Proceedings In More Cases

On June 28, 2018, USCIS issued updated guidance requiring its officers to initiate removal proceedings in more cases to align with President Trump’s executive order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.  USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said the new policy equips USCIS officers to better support the immigration enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The 2018 memorandum instructs USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge to inadmissible or deportable persons in an expanded range of situations, instead of referring NTAs to the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in limited cases.  One major change is that an NTA must be issued whenever a person’s immigration benefit request is denied and he or she is “not lawfully present” in the United States.

What is a Notice to Appear?

A Notice to Appear is a Form I-862 the DHS issues to initiate removal proceedings against a person. The NTA includes the charges against the person and alleges the immigration laws he or she violated.  Some NTAs include the date and time of the initial hearing, when you first appear before an immigration judge who decides whether you should be removed or whether you qualify for relief, including voluntary departure in lieu of a removal order.

What Was the Previous USCIS Policy on Issuing a Notice to Appear? 

The November 7, 2011 Policy Memorandum (PM), which is now superseded by the June 28, 2018 PM, provided “USCIS guidelines for referring cases and issuing Notices to Appear (NTAs) in a manner that promotes the sound use of resources of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to enhance national security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system. ”

The 2011 policy instructed USCIS to issue an NTA in the following situations:

  • Cases where it is required by statute or regulation, such as termination of Conditional Permanent Resident Status and denials of Form I-751, and asylum referrals.
  • Fraud or willful misrepresentation/section INA 212(a)(6)(C) cases when a Statement of Findings substantiating fraud is part of the record.
  • In naturalization (Form N-400 application) cases where the applicant is removable, including those who were inadmissible at the time of obtaining permanent residence.

The 2011 policy further directed USCIS to refer matters to ICE in the following situations:

  • Egregious Public Safety (EPS) cases “where information indicates the alien is under investigation for, has been arrested for (without disposition), or has been convicted of” certain specified aggravated felonies as defined under section 101(a)(43) of the INA; is a Human Rights Violator, is a known or suspected street gang member or is subject to Interpol  hits; or has re-entered the U.S. after removal subsequent to a felony conviction where no Form I-212, Application for Consent to Reapply for Admission, has been approved.
  • Cases where the person is inadmissible or removable due to a criminal offense falling outside of the EPS definition, after USCIS completes adjudication.

What is the Current USCIS Policy on Issuing a Notice to Appear?

The June 28, 2018 Policy Memorandum (PM) requires USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear in a broader range of cases without first consulting ICE.

Many more persons will be placed in removal proceedings as USCIS is now required to issue an NTA in the following situations:

  • If an application or petition for immigration benefits is denied and the person is not in lawful status (not lawfully present).
  • If an application or petition for immigration benefits is denied and the person is removable (i.e. subject to any removability grounds under INA 237), especially when there is evidence of fraud or misrepresentation and/or abuse of public  benefit programs.
  • Criminal cases in which the applicant is removable and has been convicted of or charged with any criminal offense, or has committed acts that are chargeable as a criminal offense, even if the criminal conduct was not the basis for the denial or is the ground of removability.
  • Naturalization cases in which the applicant is removable and USCIS denies a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, on good moral character grounds due to a criminal offense.

USCIS will continue to apply the 2011 NTA guidance to the following:

  • Cases involving national security concerns.
  • Cases where issuing an NTA is required by statute or regulation.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) cases, except where, after applying TPS regulatory provisions, a TPS denial or withdrawal results in an individual having no other lawful immigration status.
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and applicants when USCIS is: (1) processing an initial or renewal DACA request or DACA-related benefit request; or (2) processing a DACA recipient for possible termination of DACA.

UPDATE: On September 27, USCIS announced it will begin implementing the new guidance on October 1 in certain cases. For instance, it may issue NTAs on denied status-impacting applications, including Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The June 2018 NTA Policy Memo will not be implemented with respect to employment-based petitions and humanitarian applications and petitions at this time. 

In a September 27th teleconference, USCIS also said it will not issue an NTA immediately upon denial of an immigration benefit.  Normally, it will wait for the expiration of the motion or appeal period before issuing an NTA. If an NTA is issued before a motion or appeal is filed or while it is pending, and USCIS takes favorable action on the motion or appeal, USCIS will notify ICE. Withdrawing an application does not cancel USCIS’s authority to issue an NTA. 

Potential Negative Effects of the NTA Policy Change

The new NTA guidance might discourage eligible applicants from seeking immigration benefits out of fear of getting their requests denied and being placed in removal proceedings if they are not lawfully present.  This includes persons applying for a green card (lawful permanent resident status), a change or extension of status, a waiver of inadmissibility and other immigration relief.

Departing the United States on one’s own, after being denied an immigration benefit, will bring harsh penalties when an NTA is issued and the person fails to appear for the scheduled Immigration Court hearing. An in absentia removal order is issued if there is clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence that written notice was provided and that the person is removable, but did not attend the proceeding.

At the same time, those who wait in the United States for an initial court date to appear before an immigration judge will continue to accrue unlawful presence toward the 3/10-year bar to re-entry under INA 212(a)(9)(B).  A person who accrues unlawful presence of more than 180 days but less than one year is barred from re-entering the U.S. for three years. The bar to re-entry is 10 years if the person accrues unlawful presence of more than one year prior to departure. The initiation of removal proceedings does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence.

Furthermore, the updated policy turns USCIS into another immigration enforcement component of DHS, along with ICE and the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP).  An increase in the issuance of NTAs will create additional backlog in the immigration court system and lengthen USCIS processing times.

Conclusion

Besides the new NTA policy, USCIS issued updated guidance to make it easier to deny a petition or application without first issuing a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny. Another  USCIS policy change also subjects more nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to accruing unlawful presence toward the 3/10-year bar, as well as the permanent bar under INA 212(a)(9)(C).

All these new policies are in line with the February 2018 change in USCIS’ mission statement, deleting sentences that refer to the United States as “a nation of immigrants” and to noncitizens who apply and pay for immigration benefits as “customers.” USCIS Director Cissna explained that this is “a reminder that we are always working for the American people.”

For more information, read our related articles:

Updated Policy Makes It Easier for USCIS to Deny Petitions and Applications Without First Issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

USCIS Policy Change Makes Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors More Likely to Accrue Unlawful Presence Toward 3/10-Year Bar and Permanent Bar

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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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