A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New hope for foreigners who are subject to the three/ten year bar

A new proposal by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) brings new hope to foreigners who are subject to the three and ten year bars because of their unlawful presence in the United States. Rather than leaving the United States to apply for a waiver at an overseas consulate office, these foreigners would be allowed to have their waiver pre-adjudicated by the USCIS in the United States according to the proposal. If their waiver applications are approved, they would still be required to depart the U.S. to apply for immigrant visas to return to the United States.

The 3/10 Year Bar
Section 212(a)(9) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that any noncitizen who after having been unlawfully present in the United States for 180-364 days and then voluntarily departs the country before they are placed in removal proceedings is not allowed to return to the United States for three (3) years. Similarly, a noncitizen who has been unlawfully present in the United States for one year or longer and then departs or is deported is not allowed to return to the United States for ten (10) years. These are known as the 3-year-bar and the 10-year-bar. There are some exceptions for asylum applicants, battered spouses, certain family unity beneficiaries and minor children. Furthermore, the unlawful period can be tolled for good cause and non-frivolous requests for extensions. Otherwise, if these noncitizens wish to return to the United States, they must first obtain a waiver from the U.S. government. The Department of Homeland Security has discretion to waive the 3/10-year-bars if the noncitizen can show that his U.S. citizen or legal resident spouse or parent will suffer extreme hardship if he is not allowed to return to the U.S.

Catch 22
For many foreigners who have accrued unlawful presence in the United States but are otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa, they are caught in a “Catch 22” situation. On the one hand, they are not allowed to apply for a green card within the United States because of their unlawful status. On the other, they do not want to leave the country for fear that they would not be able to return to the U.S. because of the 3/10-year-bars. Even if they are eligible to apply for a waiver based on hardship of their spouses and/or parents, they are afraid that the waiver might not be approved. The current policy is that the wavier must be filed with an overseas DHS office. In short, they are stuck between two equally undesirable options.

The New Proposal
The DHS recently announced that it intends to publish in the Federal Register a proposal to revise the procedures for determining the unlawful presence (family unity) waivers for spouses and children of U.S. citizens. The new proposal creates an “in-country processing” mechanism for noncitizens who are spouses and children of U.S. citizens to file the unlawful presence waiver. A noncitizen who has accrued unlawful presence would be able to apply for the waiver from within the United States. This “in-country processing” proposal would permit USCIS to grant a provisional waiver. Applicants would still be required to depart from the U.S. before receiving a final approval on their application. By pre-processing the family unity waiver, the applicant’s waiting time will be shortened. Currently applicants face a long wait when seeking a waiver outside the U.S. The goal of this new proposal is to encourage more noncitizens to come forward to file their immigrant and waiver petitions in the United States.

This process, however, does not change the legal requirements for immigrant visa petition or the family unity waiver application. The “law” regarding immigrant visas and waiver adjudication has not been changed. The change is only procedural in nature. Further, it is important to note that the proposal will not cover spouses and children of legal permanent residents. They must still follow the existing procedure and apply for a waiver at an overseas U.S. consulate office. Finally, applicants must not rely on this proposal yet until it is finalized. Thus far, the DHS has only published a statement of intent to propose the change. It is expected that the change will not be finalized until the end of 2012. Interested foreigners may start gathering documentary evidence to establish their eligibility for a waiver but should not act hastily before they have discussed their case with a qualified immigration attorney.

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