This is perhaps one of the most common questions immigration attorneys get. Let’s take a look at this question through three different scenarios:
Hypothetical A: Susana is a native of Ecuador. She came to the United States under an F1 student visa when she was 18 years old. After graduating, she decides that she doesn’t want to return to Ecuador, so she remains in the United States after her F1 student visa expires. When she turns 27, she meets Ron, a United States citizen, and they decide to get married – after Susana has been illegal for 5 years.
Hypothetical B: Nathan, a citizen of Mexico, entered the United States when he is 20 years old by crossing the border illegally. When Nathan turned 23, he learned that his father was extremely ill so Nathan decides to return to Mexico to visit him. Nathan spends 3 months in Mexico caring for his father, until he returns to the United States. Nathan eventually meets Sarah, a United States citizen and when Nathan turned 26, they decided to get married.
Hypothetical C: Miguel, a citizen of Peru, entered the United States illegally when he was 21. After having lived in the United States for 19 years, Miguel marries a United States citizen. Miguel’s entry into the United States when he was 21 was his only entry.
Out of the three hypotheticals above, Susana has the easiest path to become a permanent resident since, at the time of her entry, she was both admitted and inspected. For reasons to be discussed later, Nathan has the most difficult pathway.
Let’s first discuss Susana’s case. Susana is eligible for adjustment of status. This means that she can apply for and receive her green card while she is in the United States. Because she is the spouse of a United States citizen, she is immediately eligible to get a green card and doesn’t have to wait in line for years upon years like many United States citizen family members do. The adjustment of status process is fairly straightforward. First, in order to be eligible, you must meet the following criteria:
·Be physically present inside the United States; and
·Have made a lawful entry into the United States; and
Lawful entry means that you were admitted or paroled into the U.S. For most people, this means that you entered the U.S. with valid documentation and made face to face contact with a U.S. immigration officer, and that officer acknowledged your entry to the United States. If you entered with a valid visa, but that visa has since expired, you still had a lawful entry.
- have an approved I-130 petition (Family preference applicants must have an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and a visa number must be available. However, there’s an exception for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives may file the adjustment of status application together with the I-130 petition.)
Since Susana meets each of these requirements, she is clearly eligible. She will need to complete the following forms:
In addition to filing these forms, she will need to submit the following documents:
The filing location is easy to find. Just go to USCIS’s website, and it will tell you the filing locations for an adjustment of status application. After filing your adjustment of status application, you will receive a receipt notice about two weeks later informing you that USCIS has received your application. Hold on to this document as it is the only way you have of tracking the status of your case by referring to the receipt number that can be found in the I-797. Approximately 4-6 weeks after filing your application, you will receive another notice from USCIS asking you to attend a biometrics (fingerprint) appointment at your closest USCIS office. This is nothing to be concerned about as it just involves a quick trip to the USCIS office to have your fingerprints taken – nothing else happens on the visit, but make sure to bring government issued identity document with you or else they won’t let you take your fingerprints. Also, make sure not to skip your appointment or else your application will be deemed waived and you will have to start all over and pay the filing fee all over again!!!!
After your biometrics appointment, you should expect a LOOONG delay in your case. Your next appointment probably won’t be scheduled until about ten or eleven months AFTER your initial adjustment of status application is filed. It is taking USCIS approximately 13-14 months to approve these applications from the time they are filed.
Let’s now take a look at Miguel’s hypothetical. Unfortunately, Miguel is not eligible for adjustment of status because he was not inspected and admitted into the United States, meaning he did not enter the United States on a visa. Instead, Miguel must go through an entirely different process. First, Miguel’s wife must first file the I-130 (same form as mentioned above). Once the I-130 is approved, Miguel can ask for a waiver for his unlawful presence in the United States which makes him ineligible for a green card. Anyone who has accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the United States is subject to a three year bar starting from when that person returns to his home country and anyone who has been in the United States illegally for more than one year has a ten year bar from coming to the United States beginning from when that person returns to his home country. The good news is that Miguel can wait for his I-601A waiver to be approved before he returns to his home country to consular process his green card. If the I-601A waiver is approved, the 3 and 10 year bar will not apply to Miguel. Before leaving the United States, Miguel should go ahead and file his I-601A waiver application so that he will know in advance whether his unlawful time in the United States will be waived. Here are the documents Miguel will need to submit to USCIS:
Finally, let’s take a look at the final hypothetical – Nathan’s case. Unfortunately, Nathan is subject to the “permanent bar.” The permanent bar of inadmissibility is found in INA Sec. 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I). It comes into play when the intending immigrant has accrued at least one year of unlawful presence in the United States and then subsequently leaves the United States and attempts to reenter or reenters the United States without inspection. Despite what its name states, there are limited scenarios in which a person may be allowed to waive the permanent bar or seek permission to reenter the United States after 10 years from the date of his or her last entry have elapsed. Basically Nathan must return to Peru and wait for 10 years. Once the ten year period has elapsed, Nathan may then apply for a waiver to reenter the country using the same extreme hardship factors previously discussed herein.
As you can see, there are a lot of issues to navigate when considering whether you are eligible to receive a green card as an illegal immigrant. This blog only considers three limited scenarios. You are strongly advised to seek the services of an experienced immigration lawyer who can help you navigate through this process. Louisiana immigration lawyers and attorneys at Liberty Law Group have the experience and expertise to do just that. Give us a call or send us a text today and let us provide you with a free consultation.
Chris lives in Alexandria, Louisiana where he enjoys playing with his girls and being the best husband he can possibly be.