Adjustment of Status with TPS and Matter of Z-R-Z-C

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a type of immigration status for citizens of certain countries which have suffered from war, natural disaster, or other significant problems. Although it’s temporary, some countries have been designated for decades. Many people look for ways to become permanent residents if possible.

Sometimes, people with TPS become eligible to apply for permanent residency. Typically this is the result of getting married to a US Citizen or having a US Citizen child turn 21, but there are sometimes other options. These cases can quickly become complicated by the passage of time, the fact that the TPS statute is unique, and because USCIS has been making significant changes especially during the Trump Administration.

Everyone applying for adjustment of status is recommended to talk with an immigration lawyer before filing, but this is especially important for people who have had TPS at some point.

Can TPS holders adjust status in the US?

Many people with TPS have successfully adjusted status to become permanent residents, but not everyone with TPS will qualify to do so. TPS was never intended to allow people to live in the US permanently and the law does not create a pathway for people to become permanent residents after a period of time. Instead, TPS holders must continuously renew their status and face the constant threat that any president could simply terminate TPS for their country, as the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to do.

While not everyone with TPS qualifies, there are some common situations in which people with TPS can adjust status:

  1. Marriage – sometimes people with TPS marry a US Citizen or resident of the US and are able to either apply for adjustment of status or consular process in their home country
  2. Children – once a US Citizen child turns 21, the child can petition for their parent and sometimes they can adjust status in the US
  3. Old Petitions – Another law, INA Sec. 245(i), allows some people with very old petitions filed for them to adjust status
  4. Other – There are many exceptions and less common options that allow people to become permanent residents, and TPS can help prevent unlawful presence and sometimes help people adjust status

Changes to TPS adjustment of status after Matter of Z-R-Z-C

In a significant departure from prior law, USCIS has decided that it will no longer consider people who travel with parole and TPS to have been paroled for purposes of adjusting status. USCIS announced this new rule when it issued and adopted Matter of Z-R-Z-C on August 20, 2020. This decision said that, despite many years of considering people who travel with parole and TPS to have been paroled, USCIS will no longer consider that parole to count for purposes of adjustment of status.

This change is extremely important. Previously, people with TPS could travel on parole and use that new entry to allow them to get residency through a family member, such as a US citizen spouse or child. Traveling with parole not only allowed those with TPS to make temporary trips abroad, but also it provided an entry for them to use to adjust status. Many people have become residents on the basis of a parole in this way.

USCIS is now saying that travel with parole after August 20, 2020, will not give people that same benefit. However, there are two important exceptions. USCIS has allowed people who already adjusted status to keep their residency and will even consider travel with parole prior to August 20, 2020, to still qualify for adjustment of status. USCIS stated that these groups of people had a significant reliance interest in the prior law.

Is this policy change legal? In my opinion it seems completely arbitrary, contrary to years of USCIS interpretation, and legally baseless. As such, I don’t expect the policy to withstand legal challenge, but those cases can take a long time. Because this is a change in policy rather than a change in law, a new president could undo this change quickly and easily.

Resources

October 2020 Visa Bulletin Advances Priority Dates Significantly Allowing Green Card Applications

On October 1, 2020, the new visa bulletin will take effect and it contains significant advances for certain categories of green card applicants. Due to travel bans, many people are unable to enter the US and the pandemic continues to keep embassies and consulates closed. Those in the US remain eligible to adjust status, however.

USCIS decides each month which chart from the visa bulletin that will allow someone to file an application for adjustment of status. There are charts for family and for employment based applications. While family based charts have not advanced significantly, some employment based categories have.

USCIS has stated that for October filings, applicants may use the dates for filing chart rather than the final action date chart. This is a big deal because the dates on the filing chart have advanced by nearly five years in some categories, as well as significant advances in others. Take a look at the dates for filing chart from the October 2020 visa bulletin in the employment based category:

EBOthersChinaEL SALVADOR
GUATEMALA
HONDURAS
INDIAMEXICO PHILIPPINES 
1stC01SEP20C01SEP20CC
2ndC01OCT16C15MAY11 CC
3rdC01JUN18C01JAN15CC
Other WorkersC01OCT08C01JAN15CC
4thCC01FEB18CCC
Religious WorkersCC01FEB18CCC
5th Non-RegionalC15DEC15CCCC
5th RegionalC15DEC15CCCC
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2021/visa-bulletin-for-october-2020.html

What Green Card Categories are Impacted by the October 2020 Visa Bulletin?

Here are some short observations about the primary categories that have advanced significantly in the October 2020 visa bulletin:

  • All employment categories are now current for those filing outside of China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and India
  • EB1 categories for China and India advanced by nearly two years
  • EB2 for India advanced nearly two years
  • EB3 for China advanced a year while EB3 for India advanced nearly five years

USCIS Is Allowing for Adjustment of Status Applicants to Use the “Dates for Filing” Chart for October 2020

Each month, USCIS decides which dates will be used for those filing green card applications. Generally speaking, there must be a visa available to file for adjustment of status. If not, the application will be rejected. Not only have some important categories advanced significantly in the October 2020 visa bulletin, but also USCIS has decided to allow the Dates for Filing chart to be used rather than the much slower Final Action Date.

What Does the October 2020 Visa Bulletin Mean for Green Card Applicants?

The short answer is that many employment based green card applicants are going to be eligible to file as of October 1, 2020. Because people will be eligible to file using the Dates for Filing chart and that chart has made significant advances, many people are going to receive a welcome surprise and become eligible to file green card applications. This can have other benefits for employment based workers, and applicants are encouraged to consult with an attorney to determine what are the best options for them and their families.

What is the filing fee for an I-765 work permit application based on a pending asylum case?

Work Permit

During the past few years, the rules and fees for filing asylum work permits have changed multiple times. This has created a lot of confusion, leading to rejected cases, missed deadlines, and unemployment. In addition, process times have skyrocketed for many cases, especially with renewal applications.

Fortunately for asylum seekers, the processing of work permits has been restored to the old rules by court order. Applicants no longer have to apply to become members of nonprofit organizations to receive fair treatment. First-time applicants should be procssed timely and the old fee structure has returned.

As of February 8, 2022, the fee for a first work permit based on a pending asylum application, category (c)(8), is $0 (free). For renewals in category (c)(8), the fee is $410 per application. No biometrics fees are being assessed.

Additionally, the 30-day processing timeline is back so asylum seekers can depend on getting a work permit quickly once they complete the 150 day period. Applicants no longer need to wait 365 days to file.

The official notice, posted at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765, is copied below:

On Feb. 7, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the case, Asylumworks, et. al. v. Alejandro N. Mayorkas, et. al., vacated the June 22, 2020, final rule, Removal of 30-day Processing Provision for Asylum Applicant-Related Form I-765 Employment Authorization Applications Rule and the June 26, 2020, final rule, Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants Rule. Effective immediately, USCIS has ceased applying these rules to asylum applicants. Instead, USCIS is applying the provisions of 8 C.F.R. §§ 208 and 274a that were in place before the rules listed above took effect in August 2020. This applies to the adjudication of Forms I-765 and I-589 that were pending with USCIS as of Feb. 8, 2022, as well as to Forms I-765 and I-589 received on or after that date.

As a result of the Asylumworks order, effective immediately, applicants for employment authorization in the (c)(08) category SHOULD NOT submit the $85 biometric services fee with their Form I-765. The biometric services fee is no longer required and submitting the $85 biometric services fee may cause your application to be rejected for overpayment. USCIS will continue to provide updates regarding how the Asylumworks order impacts applicants and USCIS processes.

How to Get a Green Card through Marriage with DACA or Deferred Action

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, does not automatically lead to permanent residency at this time. However, that doesn’t mean that those with DACA don’t have any options to become permanent residents and get green cards. This article reviews some of those options. It’s always best to speak to an immigration lawyer before starting any green card process to make sure you’re on the right path.

Marriage-Based Options for DACA Holders

Many people wonder if marrying a US Citizen or permanent resident will allow them to apply for green cards. Sometimes it does, but every case is different and some people have easier options than others. Two of the most important factors are whether the person with DACA was inspected and admitted, as well as the status of their spouse.

Adjustment of Status for DACA Holders Who Marry

The easiest situation is for someone who has DACA but who previously entered on a visa or was given parole at some point. Many people who have DACA today entered the US as visitors on a B2 visa, border crossing card, or similar status. In doing so, they were “inspected and admitted” and can adjust status in the US if they marry a US Citizen.

Being paroled is different than being inspected and admitted on. Parole is usually granted to people at the border or after applying with USCIS using form I-131. It used to be easier for DACA holders to get parole. Today, in most cases it will be extremely challenging, but it is still possible to request parole before leaving the United States for serious humanitarian reasons. If someone was not inspected and admitted on a visa, but was paroled, they are still eligible to adjust status if they apply through marriage to a US Citizen.

If the DACA holder marries a resident rather than a citizen, they may still have options, but those options are usually more challenging. Most people who were not inspected and admitted or paroled must leave the US to consular process rather than adjust status. But there are some important exceptions. It’s important to check with a lawyer before starting a process.

Consular Processing for DACA Holders Who Marry

Those DACA holders who are not eligible for adjustment of status can sometimes still consular process. Many people prefer to adjust status in the US for many reasons, but it is not always allowed. Consular processing means traveling back to one’s home country to attend a visa interview, after which the case is approved and the person becomes a resident when they reenter the United States.

As mentioned above, most people who were not inspected and admitted or paroled into the US must leave to become residents. In many cases, they will need a waiver due to having spent significant periods of time in the US without lawful status. The most common path is filing an I-130 family petition, followed by an I-601A provisional unlawful presence waiver, and then finally attending the interview abroad.

Waivers are not required for some DACA holders because the DACA status protected them from gaining “unlawful presence.” There are immigration punishments that affect people who overstayed or lived unlawfully in the US, and those are based on how many days of “unlawful presence” they have accumulated. Typically it becomes impossible to leave and reenter after 180 day. Having DACA will prevent those days from counting as unlawful presence for purposes of some immigration punishments. These cases must be reviewed with a lawyer to be safe.

For many other people, a waiver will be necessary because the immigration punishment triggers the moment they leave the US. Unfortunately, waivers can be challenging to obtain, especially for younger couples without children. Waivers involve a high standard of “extreme hardship” which is defined in a way to exlcude many kinds of hardships that couples face when separated. Because the process of obtaining proof for a waiver can be challenging, it’s highly recommended to schedule a consultation and work with an experienced lawyer on waiver cases.

USCIS Extends Deadlines for Certain Types of Immigration Cases

USCIS has been providing flexibility with some deadlines during the pandemic, but that was set to expire on September 11, 2020. USCIS has now provided a last minute extension, which will now apply to all listed requests that are issued between March 1 2020 and January 1, 2021. This should help people who are continuing to encounter problems in obtaining documents for their cases or who are otherwise having difficulty responding to the requests.

It’s important to note that the deadline is not extended until January 1st, but rather a 60 day extension will be automatically applied to the listed requests if they are issued between March 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021. Each individual request will have a different deadline and applicants should make an effort to respond within that extended deadline.

USCIS has stated that deadlines will be extended for:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers;
  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 Pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant;
  • Filing date requirements for Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA); or
  • Filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

Read more at https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-extends-flexibility-for-responding-to-agency-requests-1

I-212 Conditional Waivers of Deportations, Advance Permission to Apply for Admission

waivers are key to many immigration cases

I-212 conditional waivers are a special type of waiver used in limited circumstances, rather than to forgive all deportations generally. The waiver essentially allows someone with an order of removal to get a pre-approval to return to the US despite a legal bar to reentry. It is somewhat uncommon and there are some significant exceptions where it may not be a good option for everyone.

What is the I-212 Conditional Waiver

The I-212 is a form used by applicants to requests various types of relief from immigration punishments, whether those are called “waivers” or “advance permission to reapply.” The essential part is that they allow a person to shorten or eliminate a punishment they have received, usually on the basis of having good behavior, a qualifying relative, and other positive factors.

In the I-212 conditional waiver context, applicants are requesting relief from an order of removal (often called deportation) which has not been executed. That means that a judge ordered that a person be removed but they were not actually removed. Other options may be available to someone who was actually removed.

The I-212 waiver allows someone to get permission in advance of their actual departure from the US (which triggers the actual punishment) to receive “consent to reapply for admission” and shorten their time abroad. This is one step in a multi-part process, which generally requires an I-130 family petition, an I-212 waiver, an I-601A waiver, and then consular processing.

The I-212 conditional waiver is established in 8 CFR Sec. 212.2(j), which reads:

“(j) Advance approval. An alien whose departure will execute an order of deportation shall receive a conditional approval depending upon his or her satisfactory departure. However, the grant of permission to reapply does not waive inadmissibility under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the Act resulting from exclusion, deportation, or removal proceedings which are instituted subsequent to the date permission to reapply is granted.”

This conditional process was implemented by rule in 56 FR 23212 on May 21, 1991. After new unlawful presence bars were introduced, this conditional process was not always useful because the applicant would still be inadmissible and need a waiver abroad. It become more relevant following the introduction of the provisional unlawful presence waiver process, and later the Expansion of the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers of Inadmissibility which became effective on July 29, 2016. This rule describes the process and DHS’ reasons for implementing it in this way.

Deciding if the I-212 Conditional Process is the Correct One

It’s extremely important to understand the benefits and limitations of the I-212 conditional waiver process. When someone has an unexecuted order of removal, they are at risk of actually being detained and removed at any moment. Not everyone is going to enjoy the benefit of getting a waiver in these circumstances. Furthermore, the waiver does not waive everything. Many people have other problems that run alongside the issue solved by this process.

The ILRC has issued an excellent practice advisory that covers these topics in extensive detail, and which serves as a guide to figuring out whether the I-212 conditional process is the best one for a particular case. Some important considerations are:

  • What is the risk of detention and does the person have a plan if they are detained?
  • Was the person removed in-absentia, which would likely result in denial?
  • Are there other grounds of inadmissibility beyond a simple removal order and some unlawful presence, including criminal history, medical issues, smuggling, misrepresentation or fraud, false claims to citizenship, among others?
  • Does the applicant have good bona-fides and a realistic chance of approval?
  • Is the applicant willing to leave the US to consular process?

It is highly recommended to work with an immigration lawyer in cases like these because there are serious risks and technical challenges.

USCIS Memorandum on Changes to the DACA Program, Termination of Initial DACA Applications

Changes to the DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

On August 24, 2020, USCIS made an announcement and issued a memorandum explaining how DACA initial and renewal applications will be treated going forward. For the most part, the new memorandum maintains the status quo we have been under for the last several years. There are some good and bad changes depending on the case, but the worst part is that USCIS will be rejecting and ending initial DACA applications, even when submitted before the date of the memorandum.

How Has the DACA Program Changed?

The memorandum lays out several important changes, listed here:

  • All initial DACA applications will be rejected, and refunded
  • USCIS will continue processing renewal requests
  • New work permits under DACA will be for one year, rather than two
  • USCIS will not revoke existing work permits for issues which changed based on this memorandum
  • Reject any I-131 advance parole requests for DACA recipients except in situations of exceptional circumstances
  • Any approved advance parole requests will be honored for the duration of their validity
  • USCIS will honor the information-sharing policy as set out in the DACA FAQ and Napolitano Memorandum
  • USCIS will be implementing a strict 150-day policy and not honoring renewal requests if they are submitted more than 150 days before the expiration date. USCIS recommends filing more than 120 days before the expiration date.
  • USCIS explicitly acknowledged that it attempts to approve DACA work permits closer to the expiration date of the prior DACA period, which is not a bad thing especially if they will only be issued for one year.

DACA Initial Applications Rejected

The worst news is that all the pending initial applications for DACA, especially following the Supreme Court’s decision and up to the date of the memo, are going to be rejected or terminated. This action is likely illegal. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, or perhaps a bit later, the only DACA guidance in effect has been the original 2012 memorandum and FAQ which established the program. USCIS has arbitrarily decided to simply sit on new DACA initial applications and not even to process the fees, much less the applications.

While USCIS does get to set certain rules, they cannot flout their own policy guidance. Those individuals who had filed DACA initial applications should consider bringing lawsuits under the Administrative Procedures Act. If the struggles of the Trump Administration has proven one thing, it’s that you can’t sit and wait for USCIS to make the right decision. The only way to force the government to obey the law is through Congress or the Courts. Congress is not likely to make any changes this year, and so it falls to individuals to bring lawsuits to protect their rights.

Advance Parole is Still Available

Some good news from the memo is that advance parole is still available, although the standard seems to be getting higher. USCIS notes that advance parole for those individuals who only have DACA is an “extraordinary privilege” and that they should be assessed in keeping with other parole requests under INA Sec. 212(d)(5), which is going to be higher than previous DACA advance parole standards. The memo mentions that employment, visiting family, and vacation are not valid reasons. Some examples of valid reasons include:

  • Travel to support national security and federal law enforcement interests
  • Travel to obtain essential life-supporting medical treatment not available in the US
  • Travel to support the immediate safety, well-being, or care of an immediate relative, but especially minor children

From Marriage to Green Card: How the Family Immigration Process Works

Family and Marriage Green Card Applications

Many people assume that being married to a US Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) will allow them to get green cards as well. Fortunately, many people are able to become residents through marriage, but not everyone. This article discusses some of the common situations that might come up in these circumstances. Every case is different, though, and there’s no reason not to schedule a free immigration consultation to review a specific case.

Green Cards Through Marriage to US Citizens

Marriage to US Citizens often results in the simplest process. This is because the law provides several special benefits to spouses of US Citizens, including immediate visa availability, less strict rules about unlawful presence in the US as well as unauthorized employment, and the ability to adjust status even without lawful status.

Visas are available to spouses of green card holders immediately because they are classified as “immediate relatives.” Simply put, immediate relatives don’t have to wait for a visa (they do still have to wait for the government to process their paperwork). The downside is that they cannot include a derivative in their own application. This sometimes results in confusion when a US Citizen files a petition for a spouse but not their children. Including the names of children in a petition does not necessarily mean they are included as derivatives. Each immediate relative must have their own I-130 family petition.

Less strict rules also make the process more simple. The spouse of a US Citizen can get a green card even if they are unlawfully present in the US (typically by overstaying a visa), worked without authorization, and are not currently in lawful status. Spouses of residents don’t get these important benefits. This is not to say that all immigration punishments are forgiven against spouses of US Citizens, as there are many situations where a spouse might need a waiver or might be completely ineligible.

One common situation that can prevent a spouse from becoming a resident in the US is having entered without permission. In most cases, to adjust status and become a permanent resident, a person must show an entry with inspection and admission. They must usually present a visa or valid I-94 at the border and then be permitted to enter. If they didn’t they will want to review the options with an experienced attorney. Some people are eligible through the existence of an old petition, eligibility for Parole in Place for family of military members or veterans, and some other less common options.

If these exceptions don’t apply, most spouses need to consider consular processing, which involves finishing the process outside the United States. In many cases, people need to obtain a waiver before they can be given a visa and return to the United States as a resident. It’s always important to review waiver cases due to the risk of being stuck outside the US.

Green Cards Through marriage to Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders)

Another common situation is that a lawful permanent resident will marry and want to file for their spouse. These cases often get more complicated because spouses of lawful permanent residents are not given the same rules as spouses of US Citizens. The top problems are visa availability delays, unlawful presence, unlawful status, and unauthorized employment. One common strategy is to try and get the resident to naturalize and become a US Citizen, if eligible.

Spouses of residents are under the visa bulletin category “F2A” which is named after the section of the law describing the different categories. At this moment, F2A is current, meaning that visas are available already. In prior years, the delay has been around a two year wait. This means that people had to wait over two years simply for the visa, not to mention the other delays in immigrant visa processing. If there is a waiting period for the F2A category it causes lots of problems. For one, to apply for adjustment of status in the US, the visa needs to be available according to USCIS. Combined with the requirement to maintain status up until the time of filing, this prevents some people from becoming residents through adjustment of status.

Immigration violations can be very serious for spouses of permanent residents. US immigration law says that if someone has ever had unlawful status, or ever worked without permission, they cannot adjust status. This comes up frequently because many visas, such as a B-2 tourist visa, are only issued for six month intervals. Filing for adjustment of status without having a lawful status, or when in some quasi-status like a pending asylum application, can make the process challenging or impossible.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to get a green card, and spouses who are prevented from adjusting status can often consular process in their home country. In some cases, the spouse will need a waiver. Some waivers can be pre-approved by USCIS to lessen the period of separation abroad.

One benefit to filing as the spouse of a resident is that children can be included. The F2A category allows for dependents, such as unmarried children under age 21. Sometimes, even children over 21 are allowed to continue under the Child Status Protection Act. This ability to include dependents can save some money since only one petition is required.

Adjustment of Status Versus Consular Processing

There are two options for becoming residents and this can be confusing at first. Many people choose to adjust status in the US, but in some cases consular processing is a better option. Additionally, adjustment of status is often unavailable, leaving consular processing as the only choice.

Adjustment of status has strict requirements that preclude many people. They can’t have entered unlawfully in most cases, which prevents many with DACA and many who were brought to the US as children from using it. It’s also a common issue for parents who have US Citizen children who are over 21, yet who entered without permission. Sometimes, immigration waivers are possible here.

Consular processing is usually not desirable but it is a reality for many cases. Additionally, some people prefer to consular process. The main reason is that adjustment of status doesn’t allow easy travel. USCIS is taking 5-6 months to even issue travel permits, meaning that someone has to stay put for that entire period of time or abandon their application by traveling. Consular processing allows frequent travelers to leave when they need to, but it can be hard to predict when the interview at the embassy or consulate will actually occur. Additionally, having left the US one might have trouble re-entering if they are considered to have immigrant intent. This is a common reason that entries are denied, because most nonimmigrant visas only allow temporary travel.

Consular processing is also a bit cheaper. For example, completing an adjustment of status under today’s prices for a spouse costs about $2,160 while consular processing costs about $1,725 (medical exams are the large variable here). USCIS price increases on October 2, 2020, will make the divide even greater. The difference is bigger for families. A resident bringing a spouse and two young children to the US will have to pay about $4,460 for adjustment of status, whereas consular processing would cost about $3,215. The main differences there are having to file multiple expensive adjustment of status applications versus relatively cheap visa fees, as well as medical exam prices being higher in the US.

US Citizenship Office in Austin – Is There a USCIS Office in Austin, Texas?

USCIS

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operates many offices across the United States and even internationally. You can check for the nearest USCIS Office at https://egov.uscis.gov/office-locator/. As of today, USCIS does not have an immigration office in Austin, Texas, despite many immigrants living in the area.

There are many USCIS offices in Texas. Most people living in Austin, Texas, have to travel to San Antonio, Texas, for USCIS services. For example, US Citizenship applications filed by those living in Austin, Texas and surrounding cities will have their interviews scheduled in San Antonio, Texas. Perhaps someday USCIS will open an office in Austin, but there are already USCIS offices in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston, which may make that a lower priority for USCIS.

ASC Biometrics Appointments in Austin, Texas

Many immigration applications require biometrics, which are just fingerprints and photos, and these appointments can be done in Austin, Texas. It’s best to follow the instructions on the biometrics appointment letter, also called an ASC Appointment, for the acronym Application Support Center. USCIS contracts to provide biometrics services at the ASC in northwest Austin, located at Parkline Plaza Shopping Center, 11301 Lakeline Boulevard, Suite 150, Austin, TX 78717. Fortunately, that means that most people don’t have to travel to San Antonio for fingerprints.

Scheduling In-Home Visits from USCIS or for Biometrics for Individuals Who Need Accommodations

Traveling to San Antonio can be a real hardship for some people. There are extreme circumstances where someone can actually request both biometrics and USCIS interviews to be conducted in another location, even in one’s own home. They do this, for example, for people who are disabled and unable to travel, or who would suffer serious hardships to travel. Requesting this kind of accommodation can delay a process but it’s an important option for people in that kind of situation.

To schedule such an accommodation it may be best to contact USCIS directly at the USCIS Customer Support number: 1 (800) 375-5283.

What is a Master Calendar Hearing in Immigration Court?

Executive Office for Immigration Review

Cases in immigration court usually are scheduled for two different types of hearings. There are short hearings, usually called “master calendar” hearings, and longer hearings known as “individual hearings” or “merits hearings.”

The master calendar hearing can have several purposes. Usually at the first hearing, an immigration judge advises the person appearing (the “respondent”) of his or her rights and duties. Most people are given one or more opportunities to hire an attorney if they ask for more time, but this depends on the judge and court.

Failure to appear at any hearing can lead to an order of removal simply for not appearing. If that happens, the person probably needs to discuss filing a motion to reopen with the court if eligible. Master calendar hearings are very quick for those with attorneys, and might only take 15 minutes. The judge will typically ask the person to identify himself or herself, any other people involved in the case, will sometimes ask the person respond to the allegations which the government is presenting, and then schedule another hearing.

At times, master calendar hearings do become more involved. For one, those appearing without an attorney will generally have to wait until all those people who came with attorneys are done. This could be several hours if there are a lot of people scheduled. Additionally, the judge may want to address some of the issues before scheduling another hearing, such as when someone denies charges and allegations, disputes nationality, asks the judge to terminate the case, or simply doesn’t understand the proceedings and needs clarification. Judges have large numbers of people scheduled on any given day and prefer to address each case as quickly as possible, so it can be helpful to have an attorney simply for the sake of saving time. Of course, working with an attorney is almost essential in these cases because immigration law is extremely complex.

Work Permits for Approved Withholding of Removal Cases

Work Permit

Currently, there are a number of people who have been approved for a benefit called withholding of removal, which is similar to asylum. This is because the Trump Administration’s “transit ban” prevented many people from obtaining asylum in the United States because they had crossed through Mexico on the way here. For people with very strong cases, instead of receiving asylum, the judge ordered approval of withholding of removal.

Withholding of removal is a benefit that allow someone to remain in the United States, but often not permanently. It does not contain some of the benefits that apply to someone given asylum. This includes the ability to apply for a green card after one year being in the United States. However, those who have been granted withholding of removal can apply for a work permit. The first work permit application is free.

It’s very important for anybody granted withholding of removal within the past few years to speak with an attorney in order to review their options. Because the transit ban was recently enjoined (stopped) by a court for many states, there may be new legal options. Many people may have a limited amount of time to reopen their cases in Immigration Court. This can allow that person to apply for Asylum again, and potentially get approved. An approved asylum case is significantly more powerful than withholding of removal. Asylum generally allows one to apply for a green card after 1 year and results in a much more stable and secure residence in the United States.

I-485 Green Card Application Fees

Green Cards

USCIS proposed fee increases in 2020 which would have made significant changes to the prices for many important benefits like citizenship, work permits, and waivers. It also changed policies like allowing people to request a fee waiver based on having low incomes.

On September 29, 2020, a US District Court Judge issued an order stopping the new fee increases from going into effect. On December 28, 2020, the government withdrew an appeal in that same case. It is not expected that the USCIS fee increases will go into effect at this time.

In most cases, the form I-485 fee is $1,225. However, there are some exceptions and many people will be filing this form alongside other benefits which may have other fees. Consult an attorney before filing in this type of case, because it’s important to review both eligibility and the required documents before filing.

The current prices for different forms and benefits can be accessed at uscis.gov and by using the USCIS fee calculator.