By Katelyn M. Hufe, Esq.
Last year’s AILA Conference in San Francisco came just 3 months after USCIS launched the provisional waiver program. Now, USCIS has had over a year to work out kinks in the program. The result: a 62% application approval rate, increasing clarity in standards and procedures, and the reopening, review and approval of several wrongfully denied applications.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the program, the March 2013 provisional waiver program aims at reducing hardship on families who are separated from their loved one during the waiver process. Thousands of people unlawfully present in the U.S. require a waiver in order to get their green card through their spouse, child, or parent.
Before, those people had to return to their home country for many months in order to complete the process. With the new (or year old!) program, people can apply and wait for a decision while here in the United States, and, if approved, return to their home country for a very brief period to obtain their immigrant visa. Financially and emotionally, this program has been a life raft for families hanging on in a sea of harsh and unstable immigration processing.
Fast forward to June 20, 2014 at the AILA Annual Conference in Boston, and where are we? Well, 62% of applications are being approved, and USCIS has been requesting additional evidence in 31% of cases. The government has a backlog of 12,695 cases. USCIS has an impossible goal of completing cases in 90 days (which earned a crowd chuckle), but, more realistically, does try to make decisions within 6 months (although, as many of us know from experience, this often drags out to 8 months to a year).
Finally, we had 2 important takeaways from the conference panel:
1) While USCIS was routinely and inappropriately denying applications where an applicant had minor criminal issues (including, as I learned, traffic tickets!), this problem seems to have been remedied. USCIS has provided new training and guidance to employees and even reopened many of these denied applications to grant waivers in those cases, and;
2) Through the hard work of AILA, we now have access to USCIS power points, procedures, and checklists that tell us EXACTLY what USCIS is looking for in these application packets. This information tells us precisely what information and documentation we need from our clients and helps us to do everything we can to get applications approved.
In short, it’s been a good year for the provisional waiver program. Things are running more smoothly, and AILA lawyers are more equipped than ever to file winning applications. Let’s hope for a year of even more improvements by the time the AILA 2015 Annual Conference in National Harbor, MD rolls around!
And, as always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions or to learn more about the waiver program.