USCIS: Ombudsman Makes Recommendations on I-601 Waivers02 Mar 2012
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering changes to the immigrant visa waiver process. These potential modifications are in response to recommendations for changes in processing Form I-601 applications made by the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman). While the changes are not yet implemented, the following provides background and context to this evolving matter.
What is Form I-601?
The I-601 is used by foreign nationals to apply for forgiveness (waiver) of certain grounds of inadmissibility in the immigrant (“green card”) context. The I-601, therefore, is filed either during the immigrant visa processing at a U.S. consular post abroad, or with the adjustment of status (Form I-485) process.
Common Inadmissibility Grounds to Becoming a GC Holder
Common areas of inadmissibility that could prevent an individual from becoming a permanent resident, and which may have to be addressed by filing of an I-601, include commission of certain crimes. An example of this was discussed in our InfoArticle, Beware: Serious Immigration Consequences of Shoplifting (21.Jun.2002). Another common ground for inadmissibility is fraud or misrepresentation. This is described in our NewsBrief, Misrepresentation and Fraud: Long-Term Consequences (16.Feb.2007).
Even more common is the ground of inadmissibility arising from being unlawfully present in the United States for a period in excess of 180 days. This can arise inadvertently or due to mistakes and misunderstandings about proper immigration procedures, such as that discussed in our NewsBrief, Murthy Success Story: Previously Denied H-4 Nunc Pro Tunc and I-485 Approval (29.Jan.2010).
Overview of the Ombudsman’s Recommendations
The CIS Ombudsman made six recommendations related to the I-601 in mid 2010. Since that time, the USCIS has responded to those suggestions, most recently in December 2011. The USCIS is continuing to work on implementing changes in this area, of which MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers will be apprised, as they progress. The recommendations and USCIS responses to the Ombudsman are available online.
Central Lockbox and NSC to Increase Efficiency and Process
The CIS Ombudsman’s recommendations were mainly directed at the process for I-601 applications filed abroad. The USCIS’s responses, however, are broader and may affect the processing of all I-601 applications, including those filed within the United States relating to I-485 adjustment applications.
The CIS Ombudsman recommended that the USCIS centralize the I-601 process. Agreeing with part of this recommendation, the USCIS is considering having all I-601s filed at a central lockbox location and adjudicated at the USCIS Nebraska Service Center (NSC). The USCIS hopes that this centralization of filing and adjudication will reduce processing times and standardize I-601 adjudications.
Concurrent Filing of I-601 with I-130 Petition
Another recommendation is that the USCIS allow an applicant to concurrently file the I-601 application with the sponsor’s petition for an alien relative (I-130), rather than having this wait until the immigrant visa or I-485 application processes. Concurrent filing would considerably decrease the overall waiting time in cases where the I-601 ultimately is approved and the individual is eligible for family-based immigration benefits.
Instructions for Expedited Processing
Another useful recommendation is the CIS Ombudsman’s request that the USCIS publish clear filing instructions to guide individuals who need expedited processing of their I-601s. In response, the USCIS agreed with this request and pointed to its final guidance on when I-601 applications may be expedited. This guidance was included in a May 9, 2011 memorandum entitled, Requests to Expedite Adjudications of Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, Filed by Individuals Outside of the United States.
We at Murthy Law Firm appreciate efforts to improve processing times and standardize procedures for I-601 waivers of immigrant visa applications. The situations in which the I-601 is appropriate frequently involve humanitarian or other sympathetic issues, as the approval requires demonstrating that qualifying U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives will suffer significant hardship, absent approval of the waiver. We also acknowledge USCIS efforts toward implementing some of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. The outcome should be better immigration processes, with increased reliability and efficiency. The implementation of new procedures in I-601 processing will be monitored and MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers will be alerted to any definitive changes in USCIS policy regarding filing or case tracking.
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