The Expected Expansion of the Provisional Waiver (I-601A)
By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers
November 4, 2015
The Provisional Waiver (I-601A) process currently allows certain people who are present in the United States to request from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a provisional waiver for certain unlawful presence grounds of inadmissibility prior to departing from the United States for consular processing of their immigrant visas—rather than applying for a waiver abroad after the immigrant visa interview using the Form I-601, Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to expand eligibility for provisional waivers to include aliens in all statutorily eligible immigrant visa categories, including family-sponsored immigrants, employment-based immigrants, certain special immigrants, and Diversity Visa program selectees, together with their derivative spouses and children. It also proposes expanding who may be considered a qualifying relative for purpose of the extreme hardship determination to include legal permanent resident spouses and parents. This has a far reaching scope and is a refreshing positive change in light of deadlocked reform and executive actions being held in litigation all year.
Before the existing and more limited provisional waiver rule was implemented in March 4, 2013, many families had to be separated for 4 to 18 months to complete a legal permanent residency process via consular processing due to an illegal entry or other grounds of inadmissibility. Before the provisional waiver, clients might have been able to stay in Mexico only 4 months due to the generous pilot program in Cd. Juarez, Mexico or in some cases wait 18 months in Honduras or longer, if an appeal was sought and in other countries there were inconsistent waiting times. Obviously, there were hesitations for families to proceed with this process for legalization.
Then the idea of the Provisional Waiver was formulated as a way to allow certain family members to apply for the waiver in the U.S., and prevent waiting and separation times abroad. The concept was proposed in January 2012 and initially opened for Federal Register comment period on January 9, 2012 and again April 2, 2012. The rule was announced January 3, 2013 and began 60 days later, on March 4, 2013.
After the Provisional Waiver program began, the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers has been able to help countless families gain legal permanent residency for family members who only need to remain out of the country for 2 to 4 weeks, sometimes for less time, to complete their consular processing. From fiscal years 2013 to 2015, 74,439 waivers were filed and of those 44,198 waivers were approved and 18,773 waivers were denied. It was such a success that the DHS would like to expand it to people in all statutorily eligible immigrant visa categories and expand the qualifying member for the waiver to spouses and citizens of legal permanent residents as well.
On November 20, 2014, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a memorandum, “Expansion of the Provisional Waiver Program,” directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to amend its regulations to expand access to the provisional waiver program, to provide additional guidance on the definition of “extreme hardship,” and to “consider criteria by which a presumption of extreme hardship may be determined to exist.”
Currently DHS is proposing to expand eligibility for provisional waivers to include as qualifying relatives, who can establish extreme hardship, an LPR spouse or parent, not just to U.S. citizen spouses or parents, as it currently stands. This would be in the interests of encouraging eligible aliens to complete the visa process abroad, promoting family unity, and improving administrative efficiency. The expansion of the provisional waiver program would be a welcome change. The hardships suffered by preference category families, who face the same lengthy separation from loved ones when they seek legal permanent resident status, are as equally compelling as those suffered by immediate relatives. Opening up the provisional waiver process to these individuals will offer more measurable benefits to USCIS and DOS, will further facilitate legal immigration by encouraging a more sizable group to come out of the shadows, and comports with USCIS’s goal of alleviating unnecessary familial hardships. On July 22, 2015, the Federal Register opened a 60-day public comment period on the expansion of the provisional waiver which ended September 21, 2015. As we see, the previous provisional waiver had two comment periods and took a year of discussion that was noted to the public. In this case, the expansion was noted nearly a year ago on November 20, 2014 and we greatly hope the rule will be in place in early 2016.
Additionally, the new rule may have a more concise definition of extreme hardship, the standard one must meet for a successful provisional waiver. This will allow legal practitioners to save their clients time and money by telling them what specific type of evidence is required to prove extreme hardship and accordingly streamline the process and shorten the processing times for cases filed meeting the new guidelines. Currently there are only a few cases that hold guidance and a large room for discretion which can cause varying results in the applications and outcomes.
If you may know someone who could benefit from this expanded provisional waiver, although it is not a rule yet, it is helpful to have a consultation with a qualified immigration attorney. Ideally, learn if the attorney and their firm have extensive experience with waivers. It is important to plan in advance in case freedom of information act requests, FBI background checks, and collection of other documents are necessary. Additionally, in many cases certain processes would need to be started with requisite wait times before the waiver process may begin. In some cases, preparation, research and strategy take time. Once this rule is in effect, many people will be searching for help to see how it could benefit them.
Furthermore, we would like to warn you and others about the use of people who practice law without a license. In Texas, people often called ‘notarios’ frequently persuade people needing immigration legal services that the process is simple and an attorney is not needed. In the process, they are acting illegally by providing legal advice without a license and many times put people in difficult situations that are hard to correct.
The Law Office of Ruby L. Powers has had continued success with waiver and provisional waivers reuniting families from many countries. I regularly speak locally and nationwide on the topic of waivers and am regularly consulted by other attorneys on problem cases. We have a team with many years of immigration, consular processing, and waiver experience specific to this article’s topic. We pride ourselves in quality service and helping guide clients through the arduous process to a reunification, peace of mind, greater financial and emotional stability and an improved life in the United States.