Michael is a U.S. citizen. Barbara is from Mexico but she has been living in the U.S. since she was 3 years old. She cannot remember being brought into the U.S. but she has been told she entered without status. Michael and Barbara have been married for 10 years and they have 3 U.S. citizen children, ages 9, 7, and 5. Michael and Barbara have been too scared to take any risks and so it took them a long time to decide to file for Barbara’s lawful permanent residency.
Finally, Michael and Barbara decided it was time and they wanted to save on a lawyer so decided to do it on their own. Michael filed an I-130 for Barbara. It was approved. Next, they just did what immigration told them to, which was to send paperwork and go to the interview in Mexico. Barbara went to the interview in Mexico promising her 5 year old she would make it back for her ballet recital. Unfortunately, in Mexico, Barbara learned she would not make it back to the recital or any of her kids’ events for several years. Barbara was told that since she had not filed for a waiver in the U.S. she would have to file for a waiver from outside the U.S. and wait for it abroad.
Only then did Barbara and Michael consult with an immigration attorney. There they learned that Barbara could not come to the U.S. until a waiver was filed and approved. Though she could ask for forgiveness from the 10 year punishment, she would still have to wait for the waiver to be prepared, filed, and approved, which could take years. Barbara didn’t even speak any Spanish and she didn’t have family in Mexico. Worst of all, she wasn’t going to be there for her young children.
This is a terrible situation to be in, especially if you did not see it coming. I strongly advise that you consult with an immigration attorney before you start and not just that—educate yourself.
People often come to me wanting to immigrate, thinking that simply because they have a qualifying U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative, they will be granted U.S. permanent residence. It is not that simple. There are many factors that can seriously complicate the process and it’s important to discuss your situation with an immigration attorney before you submit any application.
Before you begin the process of family immigration, it’s extremely important that you understand the risks. This article explains a huge consequence of family-based immigration when you’ve spent time unlawfully in the United States—and how to avoid it.
There’s more to family based immigration than just having a U.S. relative.
There are two steps to family-based immigration. The first is having a qualifying relative petition for you. The second, an entirely separate process, is applying for lawful permanent residence based on this petition. It’s this second step that actually grants you a green card or permanent resident visa. It comes with its own set of qualifications, beyond your relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This second step comes with a lot of risks too, especially if you’ve spent any time unlawfully in the United States.
The most important thing to consider before starting the immigration process is understanding if you have any “grounds of inadmissibility.” What exactly is a ground of inadmissibility? It’s any circumstance that would make you inadmissible to the United States. In other words, something that would cause you to be denied entry into the country. One of the most common is unlawful presence.
Immigrating if you’ve been unlawfully present in the U.S. has serious risks.
Unlawful presence is time spent in the U.S. without legal status. If you entered the U.S. without status and spent more than six months, but less than 1 year in the United States without status, you will trigger a 3 year bar upon leaving the U.S. This means that if you exit the country, you will not be allowed to reenter for 3 years and any application to immigrate will be automatically denied.
If you entered the U.S. without status and spent more than 1 year in the United States, you will trigger a 10-year bar upon leaving the U.S. This means, that if you leave the U.S. you will not be let back in for 10 years (unless you can apply for a waiver outside the U.S.).
The issue arises when a person who doesn’t qualify to immigrate inside the U.S. (through a process called adjustment of status) travels abroad to their immigrant visa interview. They are typically unaware of this 3 year and 10-year punishment. So what happens? They go to their interview thinking they will return to the U.S. with a green card in a few weeks, only to learn that they will not be let back in for another 10 years.
Unfortunately, Michael and Barbara’s story is a common one and to me, it’s especially sad because it’s something that could have been prevented! These risks can be prevented if you do things the right way.
It is possible to apply for a Provisional Waiver of Inadmissibility before you apply to immigrate to help you avoid these risks. If you know that you have unlawful presence or think that you may have any other ground of inadmissibility, it’s extremely important to talk with an immigration attorney before you start any paperwork. Having this waiver can will allow you to go to your interview abroad without having to wait years outside. This waiver is truly essential in getting your case approved, and an immigration attorney can help you get it.
Find out whether you qualify to immigrate through adjustment of status or if you are required to travel abroad to immigrate (consular processing). Find out if you can file for a Waiver of Unlawful Presence from within in the United States, so that you only leave for a few weeks as opposed to months or years. The only people who qualify for this are the spouses of a U.S citizens or lawful permanent residents and the children of U.S citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Download this FREE Ebook before you start the process.
I prepared this very simple guide to help you understand if you qualify to immigrate here in the United States or if you are required to travel abroad. It is NOT a replacement for a legal consultation, but it is an important first step to understanding your options.
If you have any questions about U.S. immigration through family, I am happy to help. I’m Sharon Abaud, a dedicated and passionate immigration attorney, fluent in English and Spanish, located in the Los Angeles area. Call (310) 803-3040 or visit https://abaudlegal.com/appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
Sharon is the best lawyer I've had the pleasure to work with!
Sharon is the best lawyer I've had the pleasure to work with. She was very professional, but also offered emotional support during sometimes tough episodes and harsh deadlines. Indeed, I would definitely recommend her. Thanks Sharon! Mallory, the kiddos and I appreciate all your hard work!
If you have any questions about your Immigration Status, I'd be happy to help. I’m a dedicated and passionate immigration attorney, fluent in English and Spanish, located in the Los Angeles area. Your immigration case matters to me.