On August 29, 2016, USCIS began accepting I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver applications under the 2016 final rule expanding the pool of applicants eligible for the provisional waiver.
The I-601A waiver is no longer limited to just immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Qualified applicants now include beneficiaries of all family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant visa petitions, as well as Diversity Visa Lottery selectees, who are eligible for an immigrant visa and who meet the legal requirements for a waiver under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v).
What Stayed the Same Under the 2016 Final Rule?
The final rule expanding the I-601 Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver resulted in several changes that promote family unity and streamline the immigrant visa and waiver application process. Despite significant changes under the 2016 regulation, many things stayed the same.
1. I-601A Waiver Applicants Must Still Have a Qualifying Relative Who Will Suffer Extreme Hardship if They are Not Admitted to the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can only expand the I-601A waiver to those who fall within the current immigrant visa categories and who meet the requirements for the unlawful presence waiver described in INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(v). The statute, passed by Congress, requires you to have a qualifying relative who will suffer extreme hardship if you are not admitted to the U.S. It further defines a qualifying relative as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent. In addition to meeting the extreme hardship requirement, you also must warrant a favorable exercise of discretion.
Immigrant visa applicants in any family-based or employment-based category, plus Diversity Visa applicants, may file for the I-601A waiver only if they have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent who will suffer extreme hardship if they are not granted the visa.
Congress, not DHS, has authority to change the statutory requirement. USCIS also cannot grant an I-601A waiver if you have not demonstrated extreme hardship to a qualifying relative as required by statute. USCIS may also deny provisional waiver applications, as a matter of discretion, even when you are eligible for the relief.
USCIS will continue to make extreme hardship determinations on a case-by-case basis, consistent with agency guidance. On October 7, 2015, USCIS posted proposed guidance on extreme hardship determinations for public comment on its Website. USCIS continues to train its officers on provisional waiver adjudication, including the extreme hardship determination.
2. Removal of the DOS Visa Interview Scheduling Cut-Off Dates Does not Alter Other Laws or Regulations Relating to Visa Availability
In the final rule, DHS removed the date restrictions preventing immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from obtaining provisional waivers if the Department of State (DOS) acted prior to January 3, 2013 to schedule their immigrant visa interviews. DHS also rejected a proposed rule making other applicants ineligible for provisional waivers if DOS had acted on or before the effective date of the final rule to schedule the immigrant visa interview.
Although there is no DOS visa interview scheduling cut-off date, I-601A waiver applicants still cannot obtain an immigrant visa unless their priority date is current or they are in the immediate relatives category. The I-601A cannot be filed until you (a) first pay the immigrant visa fee, which may be submitted only when an immigrant visa is available, or (b) you have been assigned a Diversity Visa case number and are waiting for a visa interview.
3. The Waiver, By Itself, Provides No Interim Benefits or Immigration Benefits
The filing of an I-601A waiver, or the approval of such an application, still does not provide any basis for receiving interim benefits, including employment authorization in the U.S. or an advance parole/travel document to re-enter the U.S.
The DHS pointed out that because an approved immigrant visa petition and a waiver of inadmissibility do not, by themselves, grant any immigration status or lawful presence in the U.S., they do not serve as a basis for interim benefits. The DHS further noted that granting interim benefits to persons with provisional waivers could encourage them to postpone their timely departures from the U.S. to apply for their immigrant visa.
The provisional waiver process is meant to encourage the applicant to depart the U.S. for their immigrant visa interview and apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate. The purpose is not to extend an applicant’s unlawful presence in the United States.
4. The Provisional Waiver Excuses Unlawful Presence Only, and No Other Grounds of Inadmissibility
The I-601A waiver excuses you from the 3/10-year unlawful presence bar only. The DHS did not extend the I-601A process to waive other inadmissibility grounds, such as fraud or wilful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefits, criminal convictions, or medical issues.
The DHS also did not expand the provisional waiver to persons who are inadmissible based on illegal re-entry or attempted illegal re-entry after previous immigration violations under INA section 212(a)(9)(C)(i). The person must have an approved Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal, to overcome this ground of inadmissibility.
If during the immigrant visa interview the consular officer finds you are inadmissible on other grounds that have not been waived, such as prior removal orders, criminal convictions, and immigration fraud, the approved provisional waiver will be automatically revoked. Revocation of the provisional waiver does not prevent you from filing a regular I-601 application for waiver of unlawful presence plus other other waivable grounds of inadmissibility.
5. Individuals in Active Removal Proceedings May Not Apply for or Receive the Provisional Waiver Unless Their Case is Administratively Closed
Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) may agree to administratively close removal proceedings for individuals who are eligible for a provisional waiver and are a low priority for removal. ICE also works to facilitate, when appropriate, the timely termination or dismissal of administratively closed removal proceedings once USCIS approves a provisional waiver.
Under the 2013 regulations, persons in removal proceedings may apply for and be granted provisional waivers only if their removal proceedings have been and remain administratively closed. DHS kept this restriction in the 2016 final rule.
6. Individuals Subject to a Reinstated Removal, Deportation or Exclusion Order Do Not Qualify for the Provisional Waiver
A person who illegally reenters the U.S. after having been removed, or having departed voluntarily, while under an order of exclusion, deportation, or removal shall be removed from the U.S. by reinstatement of the prior order. The person has no right to a hearing before an immigration judge in such circumstances.
In the final rule, the DHS confirmed that persons with a reinstated prior removal, deportation or exclusion order are ineligible for the provisional waiver. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) or ICE must first serve notice and actually reinstate the order, prior to the filing of the I-601A application or while the application is pending, for the person to be ineligible for the provisional waiver under the 2016 rule.
7. Individuals Granted Voluntary Departure Are Ineligible for a Provisional Waiver While the Voluntary Departure Period is in Effect
If you were granted voluntary departure in lieu of a removal order, you are ineligible for a provisional waiver while the voluntary departure period is still in effect.
The immigration judge is required to enter an alternate removal order when voluntary departure is granted. DHS may not execute the alternate removal order while the voluntary departure period is in effect. But if the person fails to voluntarily depart on time, the alternate removal order automatically kicks in. Under current law, removal proceedings for such persons are considered to have ended when the grant of voluntary departure, with an alternate removal order, becomes administratively final.
The regulation at 8 CFR §212.7(e)(4)(iii) bars individuals who are “in removal proceedings, in which no final order has been entered, unless the removal proceedings are administratively closed and have not been recalendared at the time of filing the application….” Thus, an individual with a voluntary departure order that has not yet expired is ineligible for a provisional waiver.
In the Supplemental Information to the 2016 rule, the DHS states:
Allowing an individual whose voluntary departure period has not expired to apply for a provisional waiver would suggest that the individual is excused from complying with the order of voluntary departure. This result would contradict the purpose of voluntary departure — allowing the subject to leave promptly without incurring the future inadmissibility that results from removal. For these reasons, DHS did not modify the rule to allow those with grants of voluntary departure to apply for provisional waivers.
Whether a person who overstays the voluntary departure period, thus triggering a final removal order, may apply for a provisional waiver is another issue. A strict reading of the 2016 regulations at 8 CFR §212.7(e)(4)(iv) indicates persons with a final removal order bar may seek an I-601A waiver if they first receive a conditionally approved I-212 (permission to reapply for admission into the United States after deportation or removal).
Until there is further clarity on this issue, persons who have overstayed a voluntary departure period, and are subject to a final order, must exercise caution in applying for an I-601A waiver based on a conditionally approved I-212. If you are still in removal proceedings, the better course it to request administrative closure to pursue a provisional waiver. Assuming the I-601A waiver is granted, you may then file a motion to recalendar and request termination of proceedings so you may apply for an immigrant visa abroad.
More Key Things to Know
What changed under the 2016 final rule?
Although the 2016 rule kept many of the provisions under the 2013 regulation, it expands the provisional unlawful presence waiver and introduced several changes.
For more information, read Expansion of I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver: What Changed?
When is the 3/10 year bar triggered?
If you accrue unlawful presence in the U.S. of more than 180 days to less than 1 year, you are barred from re-entering the U.S. for 3 years. The bar to re-entry is 10 years if the unlawful presence lasted 1 year or more. When you do not qualify for adjustment to permanent resident status, and must leave the U.S. for consular processing, you trigger the 3/10-year unlawful presence bar under INA section 212(a)(9)(B)(i), upon departure.
The 3/10 year bar is triggered only if you leave the U.S. You do not need an unlawful presence waiver if you are in the U.S. and applying for adjustment to permanent resident status. If you are in the U.S. and are eligible for adjustment, you should avoid leaving the U.S. for consular processing of the immigrant visa, which will trigger the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar.
For more information, read When do you need an I-601 waiver due to unlawful presence (and how do you get it)?
Why apply for the I-601A provisional unlawful presence waiver instead of the regular I-601 waiver?
An I-601A waiver grant gives some assurance the U.S. Consulate will excuse you from the 3/10 year bar and issue the immigrant visa. Prior to March 2013, when the I-601A waiver was first introduced under the Obama Administration, every immigrant visa applicant who was subject to the 3/10 year bar had to wait outside the U.S. to get the regular I-601 waiver, after they attended the visa interview. When the I-601 process is delayed or the application is denied, long-term family separation, job loss, and other hardships result.
If you are subject to the 3/10 year bar only, and no other grounds of inadmissibility, and you are still in the U.S., the I-601A waiver is all you need. The I-601A process allows you to apply for the unlawful presence waiver before you leave the U.S. Your immigrant visa interview will be scheduled at the U.S. Consulate only after USCIS adjudicates the I-601A waiver application. In contrast, you may file for the regular I-601 waiver only after you have left the U.S. and attended your visa interview.
The regular I-601 waiver process requires you to wait several months or even years outside the U.S. for a decision. On the other hand, an approved I-601A waiver application facilitates the grant of the immigrant visa and shortens the time you are separated from your U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members. With an I-601A waiver granted, you normally wait about 2 weeks for the immigrant visa to be processed.
For more information, read I-601 waiver or I-601A waiver for unlawful presence?
Seek Help from an Experienced Immigration Attorney
Seek advice from an experienced immigration attorney to confirm whether you are inadmissible due to unlawful presence and/or other grounds, verify your eligibility for the I-601A waiver, guide you on the forms and documents to submit, and help you prepare a strong waiver application for approval.
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: Luis Sarabia