An immigrant who entered the United States without being inspected by immigration officials is normally not able to obtain a green card in the United States but must travel outside the country and process at a foreign consulate. And yet, most undocumented people who depart the United States after a certain amount of unlawful presence face a 3- or 10-year bar against returning, making this option unavailable to them. Since 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has allowed certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for a "provisional waiver" of this unlawful presence bar, based on the extreme hardship their U.S. citizen spouses or parents would suffer if the waiver were not granted. With an approved waiver, and assuming no other grounds of inadmissibility, the applicant can proceed to the consular interview without facing a bar. Again, the extreme hardship only counted if it affected a U.S. citizen spouse or parent.
As of August 29, 2016, USCIS is expanding the waiver, so that an applicant can also use the extreme hardship of a spouse or parent who is a lawful permanent resident (LPR). This expansion will help many would-be applicants who were held back from applying for a provisional waiver because their spouses were permanent residents who could not learn enough English to become U.S. citizens and qualify as a hardship basis.
In addition to expanding the class of persons who can be used to show hardship, the new rule also expands the class of persons who can apply in the first place. The old rule allowed applications only for immediate relatives (spouses, parents, and children under 21) of U.S. citizens. Now, a beneficiary of any family- or employment-based petitions can apply for a provisional waiver, assuming of course that the the approved petition has a current priority date and the applicant has a spouse or parent who is a US citizen or green card holder that will suffer extreme hardship in the event of denial.
The new rule is doing even more than that. Under the old 2013 Rule, USCIS would deny a provisional waiver if it had "reason to believe that the alien may be subject to grounds of inadmissibility other than unlawful presence." Many people were denied waivers because they had minor criminal convictions that may not actually have prevented them from obtaining their green cards. This happened simply because officers considered there was a remote possibility that the crimes would render the applicants inadmissible. In a sense, this was good because it protected people from leaving the United States if they had other issues (such as crimes) that would have resulted in a denial at the foreign consulate. But it also prevented some viable cases from moving forward merely because an officer incorrectly perceived a problem. Under the new rule, reason to believe other grounds of inadmissibility exist is no longer a basis for denial of the provisional waiver. But importantly, it is still true that a provisional waiver is automatically revoked if the foreign consulate discovers, at the time of the immigrant visa interview, an additional ground of inadmissibility. The change opens new possibilities but creates an even greater need for caution and consultation with an attorney.
Perhaps most excitingly, the new rule is opening the provisional waiver application to some individuals who have final orders of removal, exclusion or deportation, including an in absentia order of removal. An additional waiver on Form I-212 is necessary in these cases, and not everyone will qualify. Among other disqualified persons are those who unlawfully returned to the United States after a prior removal or prior unlawful presence of a year or more, and those who reentered unlawfully after removal and thereby received a reinstated order of removal, deportation, or exclusion.
Remember that the rule does not come into effect until August 29, 2016. This is a new avenue of relief that will help many people who were previously told there was no immigration law that could currently help them. If you think you fit into any of these categories, you should seek qualified counsel to explore your options.