Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘US Visa Waiver’

21st July 2010

In a recent press release from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) it was announced that a fee waiver form has been proposed in an effort to streamline the process whereby indigent aliens in the USA apply for relief from Immigration fees. To quote the announcement, as promulgated by USCIS and distributed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has proposed for the first time a standardized fee waiver form in an effort to provide relief for financially disadvantaged individuals seeking immigration benefits…

Apparently, the current version of the fee waiver form is the product of time, research, and study as USCIS has attempted to provide relief to those who cannot pay the government processing fees while still maintaining the integrity of the overall system. To quote the aforementioned announcement further:

The proposed fee waiver form is the product of extensive collaboration with the public. In meetings with stakeholders, USCIS heard concerns that the absence of a standardized fee waiver form led to confusion about the criteria that had to be met as well as the adjudication standards. USCIS worked with stakeholders in developing the fee waiver form that is now posted for comment. “Our goal is to bring clarity and consistency to our processes,” said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. “We are doing so now in the critical area of providing the financially disadvantaged with access to immigration benefits.”

Mayorkas further stated that the method by which the proposed fee waiver form was devised – through extensive collaboration with the public – will be a hallmark of his approach to improving agency processes. Currently, applicants requesting a fee waiver must do so by submitting an affidavit or unsworn declaration requesting a fee waiver and stating the reasons why he/she is unable to pay the filing fee. The new proposed fee waiver form is designed to verify that an applicant for an immigration benefit is unable to pay the fee for the benefit sought. The proposed form provides clear criteria and an efficient way to collect and process the information.

It is admirable to see USCIS taking an active interest in providing relief to those customers who are truly in need. That said, it remains to be seen how this proposal will be received particularly in light of the fact that USCIS has recently announced shortfalls in its budget. Some feel that providing this type of relief runs counter to the notion of USCIS as a self-funded agency. In any case, this author hopes to see this proposal passed if it increases the probability of providing much needed assistance to those wishing to travel to, or remain in, the United States of America for bona fide reasons.

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5th February 2010

In cases where a US visa application is denied it may be possible to remedy the visa denial by applying for a waiver if the denial was based upon a legal grounds of inadmissibility. This type of waiver is called an I-601 waiver. At one time, if a United States visa applicant was infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), then they would be denied a visa visa based upon this factor alone, if no other issues existed that called for a denial. However, recently the United States Immigration authorities have changed this rule. To quote a document promulgated by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

“[I]nfection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is no longer a ground of inadmissibility. If you have the HIV infection, you are no longer inadmissible to the United States, and are no longer required to file Form I-601 because of your HIV infection. As part of the revisions to Form I-601, any reference to HIV infection in the form and the instructions were removed.”

This is not the only rule change that has been recently promulgated as the filing instructions themselves have recently changed in order to more accurately reflect the proper filing locations as well as other regulatory modifications.

“In addition, USCIS… announced that there are revised filing instructions and addresses for applicants filing Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility. The change of filing location is part of an overall effort to transition the intake of benefit forms from USCIS local offices and Service Centers to USCIS Lockbox facilities. By centralizing form and fee intake to a Lockbox environment, USCIS can provide customers with more efficient and effective initial processing of applications and fees.”

The “lockbox” method is currently employed when processing immigrant visa applications such as the IR-1 visa and the CR-1 visa. This allows USCIS to streamline the application process as all applications are submitted to one location. K1 visa applications as well as K3 marriage visa applications are submitted directly to the USCIS Service Center with appropriate jurisdiction.

In situations where an I-601 waiver application is submitted overseas, the application is usually submitted at the US Embassy or US Consulate where the visa is denied. This allows the Consular Officer to make a recommendation regarding the waiver application. Those interested in US visa waivers should note that only licensed United States attorneys or accredited representatives are allowed to represent clients before both the United States Embassy and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). That being said, only an attorney is entitled to charge fees for such services as accredited representatives are usually not-for-profit agencies who only charge a nominal fee (if anything) when assisting immigrants. Those who are not licensed to represent clients is US Immigration matters cannot charge a fee to represent clients in Immigration proceedings pursuant to US law.  For more information please click here.

For more information about American visas and the remedies available upon application denial please see: US Visa Denial.

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16th December 2009

The K1 visa was designed to provide a means and method for foreign fiancees to travel to the United States of America in order to be reunited with their US Citizen loved one. It is commonly referred to as a Fiancee visa because that is this visa’s intended use. The major upside of the K1 visa is the fact that it has the fastest processing time when compared to marriage visas such as the K3 visa and CR1 visa. However, the K1 visa does require that the applicant adjust status to lawful permanent residence after entry in the United States. Generally, this process takes approximately 6 months from application submission until final adjustment decision.

An I-601 waiver is necessary for those who have been found inadmissible to the United States based upon one of the legal grounds of inadmissibility found under the provisions of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. In Thailand, the two most common grounds of inadmissibility are the result of factual findings that the applicant engaged in prostitution within 10 years prior to the application’s submission or a finding that the applicant overstayed in the United States while present on a prior US visa.

Many pose the question: if My Thai fiancee is approved for one of the aforementioned waivers, will she need to ever deal with the issue again? The short answer: no. Once an I-601 waiver application is approved it is binding upon later proceedings. Therefore, if the Office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in Bangkok approves a waiver application, then that holding based upon those facts will be respected by a local USCIS office adjudicating all later matters that have to do with the alien’s presence in the United States.

An example of how this can play out: a Thai fiancee is denied for a K1 visa based upon a legal grounds of inadmissibility, the case is forwarded to USCIS Bangkok pursuant to an application for an I-601 waiver, the I-601 waiver application is approved, the case is forwarded back to the Consulate at the US Embassy, the US Consulate issues the visa, the applicant travels to the USA, is lawfully admitted, marries the American Citizen fiance, and applies for adjustment of status. In this scenario, the prior waiver would be recognized during the adjustment proceedings and therefore the issue would likely not be re-visited. The major upside to a waiver being approved overseas is the fact that it provides certainty as to how the process will move forward and may also be beneficial because waiver issues will be put to rest outside of the jurisdiction in which the American Citizen resides.

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6th November 2009

The United States visa waiver program, not to be confused with an I-601 waiver, allows citizens from certain countries to enter the United States of American without obtaining a visa prior to arrival. In recent years the United States government has implemented ESTA, also known as: the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA requires that travelers wishing to enter the country on a visa waiver inform the US Immigration authorities prior to arrival so that a pre-screening can be conducted. The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service is tasked with monitoring those seeking travel clearances using the ESTA system. Recently it has been reported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that 221g denials must be reported in the ESTA form, to quote AILA directly:

“CBP recently informed AILA that it, after consultation with the Department of State (DOS), is classifying all §221(g) actions on visa applications as visa “denials.” Thus, Visa Waiver Program (VWP) applicants, who are subject to INA §221(g) refusals, should answer affirmatively in their ESTA applications that they have been denied a visa. This suggestion applies even if the reason for the refusal is due to consular administrative processing. If VWP travelers do not disclose such a “denial” on their ESTA applications or provide an update regarding such “denials,” they may have their ESTA registration rejected or be sent to secondary inspection and potentially refused entry when they apply for admission to the United States.”

This is important to note for those originating from a country participating in the US visa waiver program. For example, if the foreign fiancee of a US Citizen has been issued a 221g with regard to a K1 visa application, then that 221g must be disclosed as a denial on the ESTA form if said fiancee intends to visit the US and the foreign fiancee’s home country participates in this program.

As AILA’s article went on to point out, the Department of State does not even consider 221(g)’s to be outright denials,

Technically, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) classifies a §221(g) action as a visa “refusal,” but DOS explicitly retains authority to “reactivate” the visa application upon receipt of required documents or completion of a government mandated administrative clearance. See 9 FAM 41.121 N2.4.

This situation is a classic example of two different government agencies taking a differing view of the same situation. The Department of State seems to view 221g refusals as administrative refusals to issue a visa without further documentation while the Department of Homeland Security seems to view such refusals as US visa denials that could be viewed as grounds for denying a person’s subsequent entry into the USA.

This issue will likely not be particularly problematic in the Kingdom of Thailand as Thailand is not a country participating in the visa waiver program, but for others around the world this issue could lead to problems entering the USA.

For those in this situation, it is always advisable to be honest, but it may be possible to explain the situation by answering “yes” to the question: Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry? After answering in the affirmative there should be space to explain. Therefore, the applicant probably should note that the denial was: a 221(g), at the Embassy or Consulate (example: US Embassy Bangkok, US Consulate Chiang Mia, US Embassy Burma, etc.),  and the reason for the “denial” (example: Embassy conducted administrative processing, Consulate requested further documentation, etc).

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12th September 2009

Every year, many people from all over the world enter the United States of America and remain temporarily. As previously mentioned on this blog and on this website, there are many different types of non-immigrant visas for those who wish to go to the United States and remain for a short period of time or for a particular endeavor which has a definitive chronological endpoint.

United States Tourist visas are a prime example of a non-immigrant category visa that can grant the applicant a long duration of stay. This type of visa is meant for those entering the USA for recreational purposes who intend to leave after their vacation has ended. US Student visas are meant for those who are traveling to the United States to engage in a course of study. Finally American Exchange visitor visas are designed for those who wish to travel to America to live and/or work in a travel exchange program.

With any of the aforementioned visa categories the underlying visa’s validity has an end date. When the non-immigrant visa’s expiration date arrives, the applicant must either depart the United States or seek an extension. An US visa extension is similar to a Thai visa extension in that the applicant must apply for the extension while in the country and if granted, the applicant may remain for longer than the initial visa’s validity.

Those who do not depart or extend are considered in violation of their visa as they are overstaying its validity. In US Immigration circles, the alien is deemed to be in the United States “on overstay.” The longer a violator remains in the United States the higher the probability that the violator will be caught and either removed from the country or given the option to voluntarily depart.

After departing the United States due to overstay, the alien may be deemed inadmissible depending upon the duration of the overstay. Further, the duration of the bar on reentry depends upon how long the violator overstayed. The alien could be subjected to a 10 year bar if he remained in the US without lawful status for a long enough period of time.

In cases involving inadmissibility based upon overstay it may be possible to obtain a waiver of the inadmissibility. The applicant will need to file an I-601 waiver in order to clear up the overstay issue because if the waiver is granted the applicant will be allowed to reenter the country on either an immigrant or non-immigrant visa.

If the alien was removed from the United States because of an overstay, it may be necessary to file an I-212 application for permission to apply for reentry. That being said, either application is approved only at the discretion of the adjudicating officer at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

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13th July 2009

There is some confusion regarding the American State Department’s estimates regarding visa denials from around the world. There are some who are under the mistaken impression that the State Department’s numbers are the definitive source for information regarding waivers of inadmissibility. In fact, any numbers published by the United States Department of State regarding I-601 waivers should be taken with a grain of salt because the American Department of State is not the agency tasked with handling the adjudication of I-601 waiver applications after the a United States Consular Officer at an Embassy or Consulate General has made a finding that a legal ground of inadmissibility exists in a particular Immigration case.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has the authority to grant waivers of inadmissibility under United States Immigration law. Therefore, USCIS’s internal statistics would be the proper government source to consult regarding the number waivers of inadmissibility applied for and ultimately granted. That being said, USCIS does not keep categorical statistics according to the Agenda of the USCIS National Stakeholder Meeting on January 27, 2009:

“Although we track the total number of Forms I-601 processed, USCIS International Operations does not have a system to track the specific grounds of inadmissibility that applicants seek to waive.”

The document that is causing the confusion regarding visa denials can be found at the following url. The first major cause of confusion in this document is the seemingly small number of findings of legal inadmissibility under section 212 (a)(2)(D)(i) for engaging in acts of prostitution or deriving profits from activities that are presumed to be prostitution. According to the table there were only 2 non-immigrant visa waivers granted in 2008 under section 212 (a)(2)(D)(i) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). I find this number difficult to believe as this author has recently discussed the prostitution ground of legal inadmissibility with two highly experienced United States Immigration attorneys and between the two of them, they had applied for and obtained more than 2 non-immigrant visa waivers in 2008. Further, I believe it is highly likely that other prospective US Immigrants and non-immigrants were granted waivers of this ground of inadmissibility because I doubt that only two United States attorneys handled all of the waivers granted under this section of the INA in 2008; particularly if one takes into account not only other immigration attorneys, but I-601 waiver applications filed pro se as well.

For more on US Visas Please See: K-1 Visa or K-3 Visa

(This document is not intended as a source of legal advice, but for educational purposes. For legal advice contact an Attorney. No Lawyer-Client relationship should be deemed to exist between the writer and reader of this blog post.)

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