Seguritan US Immigration Articles

Filing for Adjustment Even if Visa Not Immediately Available

This October which is the start of fiscal year 2017, adjustment of status applications may be filed even if a visa number is not immediately available for the priority date of the applicant. The date of filing the application rather than the date when a visa number is available determines when to file.

This is good news to those who have been waiting for a long time for their priority dates to become current. A pending adjustment application entitles the applicant to work authorization and travel permit.

Every year, there is a limit to the number of immigrant visas issued to various visa categories except those that do not need to be on the wait list like immediate relatives of US citizens since an immigrant visa is always available to them.

Family-based immigrant visas are capped at 226,000 and employment-based immigrant visas are capped at 140,000 annually. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) have established a guide to let applicants know when visa numbers will be available for their particular category.

As a guide, the DOS releases a visa bulletin every month. This lists the availability of immigrant visa numbers and likewise shows the backlogs in each category for a given month. The visa bulletin also shows when an application for adjustment of status (green card application) can be filed.

Up until last year, an application for adjustment of status could only be filed if the visa petitioner’s priority date was earlier than the cut-off date in a particular category. A priority date is generally the date when a relative or employer filed an immigrant visa petition on behalf of the beneficiary.

Starting in October 2015, the visa bulletin has adopted two charts per visa preference category— the Final Action Dates and the Dates for Filing Applications. Essentially, the Final Action Dates indicate when a visa is immediately available and the Dates for Filing Applications are the earliest dates when applicants may be able to apply. For purposes of adjustment of status application, the USCIS said that it will announce every month which of these two charts will be used to determine when application to adjust status may be submitted.

Ever since the start of this new revision, USCIS has used the Final Action Dates to indicate when foreign nationals can submit their application to adjust status (green card application). The Dates for Filing Applications have been used only to notify applicants as to when they can start assembling their documents for submission to the National Visa Center (NVC).

However, for the first month of the new fiscal year the USCIS has announced that adjustment applicants must use the Dates for Filing Applications. This means that they can file for adjustment without waiting for the availability of visa numbers.

If their priority date is earlier than the cut-off date in the chart for Dates of Filing Applications they may file for adjustment of status. For employment-based visa categories, EB-1 is now current worldwide. EB-2 is also current worldwide except for China and India. EB-3 is also current worldwide although the Philippines remains oversubscribed. For the Philippines, EB-3 shows a cut-off date of Sept. 1, 2013 which is about 34 months ahead of the Final Action Date.

For the family-based visa preference, the cut-off date for F1 for the Philippines is May 1, 2006; F2A is November 22, 2015 and F2B is February 1, 2007. The cut-off date for the F3 is January 1, 1995 and for the F4, it is April 1, 1994.

 

Expanded Provisional Waiver to Benefit Thousands

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced last July 29 the expansion of the existing provisional waiver program to include all individuals who are statutorily eligible for the waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility. The new rule, which will take effect on August 29 will benefit thousands who are not eligible to file for adjustment of status.

Before the first provisional waiver program took effect on March 4, 2013, applicants who had incurred unlawful presence in the US for more than 180 days, and were not eligible to adjust their status, had to go back to their home country to process their visa application there. They included fiances who entered on a K-1 visa but did not marry their petitioner and also crewmen and EWIs (those who entered without inspection) who were not grandfathered under Section 245(i).

Their departure from the US triggered the three or ten year bar. They were allowed to apply for a waiver of their unlawful presence but this took months, if not over a year. They had to appear first at the visa interview, wait for the denial of their visa application and then file for the unlawful presence waiver from outside the US and wait for its approval there. This discouraged many because of the risks, costs and hardship involved so instead of applying for a green card, they opted to remain undocumented.

To alleviate the hardship brought about by the lengthy family separation, the provisional waiver was introduced. It allowed them to apply for the waiver before their departure to process their immigrant visa application abroad.  However, the 2013 rules only applied to immediate relatives (spouses and children of US citizens and parents of adult US citizens) who can show that their separation would cause “extreme hardship” to their US citizen spouse or parent.

The new rule would cover visa applicants who can show extreme hardship to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent whether their visa petition is family-based or employment-based.

The provisional waiver covers unlawful presence and no other ground of inadmissibility. The application would be made on a new form, Form I-601A Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver.

Individuals who are not eligible for the provisional waiver would still be able to apply under the old waiver procedure, i.e. depart from the US and apply for the I-601 waiver abroad.

Note that the waiver is provisional in that it would not take effect until after the applicant departs the US, appears at his visa interview and is found by the consular officer as otherwise admissible to the US. But the time that the individual would have to spend abroad would be significantly less compared to that under the old procedure.

We have recently represented a fiancée and also a crewmember and we successfully obtained their provisional waiver in only a few months. They went to Manila for their visa interview and came back with their green card after only a few weeks of stay there.

Immigration Options for Crewmen

Sometimes ship crewmembers ‘jump ship’ while their vessel is in the US in the hope that they can obtain their green card and build a better life.

Unfortunately, they would soon realize that as a rule, they are not eligible to adjust status even if they are married to a US citizen.

What then are their options?

If the crewman is the beneficiary of a petition or labor certification filed on or before April 30, 2001 and was in the US on December 21, 2000 if the petition was filed after January 14, 1998, he is covered by the 245(i) exception to the adjustment bar. However, if he does not fall under this exception, he has to go abroad and obtain an immigrant visa.

This would mean years of separation from his family if he has accrued unlawful presence in the US for more than 180 days. But a recent regulation now allows certain individuals, including crewmembers, to shorten the separation by obtaining a provisional waiver before he departs for his immigration interview abroad.

We have recently represented a crewmember who successfully obtained a provisional waiver. Our client was in the Philippines only for a few weeks and is now a lawful permanent resident in the US.

Another option is for the crewmember to check with an attorney if he is a crewman to begin with.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an alien crewman is a person serving in a capacity required for the normal operation and service on board a vessel or aircraft, who intends to land temporarily and solely in the pursuit of his calling as a crewman.

The proper visa classification for crewmen is the D visa. However, the C-1 visa is also given to crewmen who will be in immediate and continuous transit through the U.S. to join a ship or aircraft in the U.S. Consular officials often issue a dual transit/crewmember visa called “C-1/D”.

Confusion sometimes arises because, since the C-1 visa is generally for those who are passing through the U.S. to another country, not all transit visa holders are crewmembers but they are issued a C-1/D visa.

The confusion continues upon inspection for admission or parole in the U.S., where the individual may be issued an I-94 with a C-1 or D stamp, or an I-95 (crewman’s landing permit).

In other words, not everyone with a C-1 or a C-1/D visa is a crewman and ineligible to adjust status. If the person does not meet the statutory definition of a crewman, he/she should not be considered ineligible for adjustment of status. Under the law, it is one’s occupation and purpose of entry that makes him a crewman and not the manner of his arrival.

Given the serious immigration implications of being categorized as a crewman, it is important to look beyond what may be stamped on the face of one’s immigration papers and analyze many factors, including his occupational history, purpose in coming to the United States, circumstances surrounding his inspection upon admission to the U.S., and actions after his entry.

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