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Lawful Admission Required for Adjustment of Status

One of the requirements for adjustment of status is the alien’s lawful admission to the United States. This means that the alien must have been inspected, admitted or paroled into the US.The Immigration Nationality Act (INA) defines the terms “admitted” and “admission” as “the lawful entry of a noncitizen following inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.”

For foreign nationals who enter the US by air or sea and who are processed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), lawful admission is generally easier to demonstrate as they are normally issued an I-94 Form upon entry.

Since April 2013, the CBP no longer issued the paper I-94 and created an electronic I-94 Form based on the foreign national’s travel documents. The electronic Form I-94 may be printed by accessing the CBP’s website. Aside from the I-94, the CBP office also makes an annotated admission stamp on the foreign national’s passport which may also serve as proof of lawful admission.

However, for those travelling by land, there have been instances when border officials simply “wave through” foreign nationals who enter the US by car without asking any questions. Was there lawful admission in this case?

In a 1980 case, the BIA held that an alien who was “waved through” and who did not make a false claim to citizenship was “inspected” and “admitted” to the US for purposes of adjustment of status. In that case, the alien was a passenger in a car entering the US. The border official waved them through after questioning the driver. She was not asked any question nor did she volunteer any information.

The BIA reasoned that the noncitizen was “inspected” when she physically presented herself for questioning and did not make a false claim to citizenship and she was “admitted” when the officer permitted her to enter the United States.

In 1996, Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and amended the INA to define the meaning of “admitted” as being “the lawful entry of a noncitizen following inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.”

However, the Board reaffirmed its earlier decision. The Board held that “lawful entry” did not require that the entry be substantially regular; it only had to be procedurally regular. In this case, the noncitizen was also a passenger of a car crossing the US-Mexico border. She was not asked any questions and was waved through by the border official. It held that, just like in an earlier case, the admission was procedurally regular and met the definition of “admission” under the INA.

Thus, if a noncitizen does not make false claim to citizenship, is not asked any questions, does not volunteer any information, and is waved through by a border official, he has been “admitted” even if he did not have valid entry documents.

The noncitizen does not gain lawful status upon entry in the United States and is still removable for being “inadmissible at the time of entry”. However, since the noncitizen was “admitted”, he is eligible for immigration benefits, such as adjustment of status in the US, if the noncitizen later on marries a US citizen, subject to other requirements under the law.

Where primary proof of lawful admission is not available such as in the case of the noncitizen who was waved through, secondary evidence may be submitted. Secondary evidence may include affidavits regarding admission.

A request for evidence (RFE) is expected when secondary evidence of lawful admission is submitted. A timely response to the RFE must be submitted even if the requested documents have already been initially submitted.

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