Options to Adjust Status in the U.S. for the Undocumented/Overstay – What’s Left?
Published: January 26, 2011
With the DREAM Act out of the picture for now, the 15 million undocumented/out of status immigrants living in the U.S. are left wondering, what options for living legally in the U.S. are left? Of course leaving the U.S. is not an option for the vast majority of these immigrants – contrary to what the anti-legalization camp see as their next logical step. These individuals have already decided that life in the U.S. in an undocumented status is better than life as a legal resident in their home country. The option most of this population will pursue is to simply wait. At some point, our nation and the U.S. Congress will come to realize that wide scale deportations are not going to happen, and that a path to legalization is the only solution. In the meantime, as stated, for most it’s a waiting game, although the following options at legalization or adjusting status for the undocumented or visa overstay continue to be viable:
1) Visa Overstays May Be Able to Adjust Status if: they are the spouse of a U.S. Citizen, a parent of an adult (over 21) U.S. citizen, or child (under 21) of a U.S. Citizen. This class of immigrant may have the option to adjust status in the U.S. without having to return to their home country for any step in the process, notwithstanding unauthorized employment or overstaying their authorized period of stay in the U.S. (does not include those entering as “crewman”, or K-1 fiancés who did not marry their petitioner). Spouses of U.S. citizens, parents of adult U.S. citizens, and under 21 children of U.S. citizens are known as “Immediate Relatives” in immigration law talk and do not require additional legal qualification for eligibility to adjust status in the U.S. such as coverage under INA Section 245(i) – see below – to adjust status in the U.S.
Other types of non-“Immediate Relative” family based immigration applicants or employment based applicants who are visa overstays may be able to adjust their status in the U.S. but only if they were included in some sort of family or employment based immigration filing submitted prior to April 30, 2001, or January 14, 1998 - pursuant to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act –see below.
2) Entered Without Inspection (EWI): If you are the spouse of a U.S. Citizen, a parent of an adult (over 21) U.S. citizen, or child (under 21) of a U.S. Citizen who entered without being inspected by an immigration official (e.g. no visa), the option to adjust status in the U.S. only exists if you were previously included in some sort of family or employment based immigration filing submitted pursuant to Section 245(i) – see below.
Other types of non-“Immediate Relative” family-based or employment-based applicants who entered without visas (EWI) may be able to adjust their status in the U.S. but only if they were included in some sort of family or employment based immigration filing submitted prior to April 30, 2001, or January 14, 1998 – pursuant to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
3) EWI’s or Visa Overstays with an employer willing to facilitate a green card process, and they are a professional and/or have some special skills that may be scarce in the U.S. labor market, an employment based immigration filing may be an option if they are grandfathered under Section 245(i). Word of warning though: most candidates for this option may very well be waiting 5 years – give or take – before any type of immigration benefit, such as an employment authorization is in sight.
What is Section 245(i) of the Immigration Nationality Act? Section 245(i) allows for certain otherwise ineligible visa overstay/undocumented immigrants to undergo all steps in the U.S. immigration process in the U.S. and without having to return to a U.S. consular post in their home country (aka “245(i)grandfathering”). To be “grandfathered” under Section 245(i), the applicant must have been:
a. included in some sort of family or employment based immigration filing submitted prior to April 30, 2001, and they were physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000 OR
b. included in some sort of family or employment based immigration filing submitted prior to January 14, 1998 (with no physical presence requirement)
Relief in Removal Proceedings: If the visa overstay or undocumented immigrant gets arrested by immigration authorities and placed in removal proceedings, options to remain in the U.S. and even be awarded permanent residence by the Immigration Court indeed are available. Most notably, relief known as “Cancellation of Removal” allows those without status to be considered for a green card by the Immigration Court if: 1) they have been present in the U.S. for more than 10 years or more prior to being placed in removal proceedings. 2) they are of good moral character and 3) their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent or child will suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if they were forced to return to their home country.
For those who fear return to their home country due to persecution they might face on account of their race religion, political belief or “social group”, asylum-related relief (and eventually green card issuance) may be available from the Immigration Court.
PUBLISHED January 26, 2011 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM”
Copyright © 2011, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois