August 25, 2011
I-601 Waiver Attorney, Ruby L. Powers
A common question I am asked by potential clients whose only option to obtain legal permanent residency for their spouse or fiancé from Mexico is, 'How long will it take?' The answer is not concrete but depends on several variables but I can give a general idea. The fastest with no complications, a very engaged client, and a pilot program approval would about 9-10 months from I-130-I-601 approval according to today's processing times. In this ideal situation above, of that time if the client was in the US before the visa appointment, the client would be in Mexico 3-3.5 months.
But there are so many variables that it is best to discuss the steps and their timing. Also, it is important that anyone beginning this process understands that there is a possibility that the loved one cannot return to the US for 10 years.
First, the I-130 petition usually takes between 3-5 months for USCIS to adjudicate. My most recent I-130 was approved in 3 months. Although USCIS processing times list 5 months on their website. For a fast adjudication, a well-documented I-130 is essential.
Once the I-130 is approved, the file is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC). The fee bills, which basically means advance payment for consular services, usually arrive within 4 weeks. With the new electronic NVC system, the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application and I-864 Affidavit of Support can be sent in with supporting documents within a week of paying fee bills. This is where the case can slow down if the client is unsure or if they are not prepared for the next steps.
From the point NVC has the DS-260/I-864, it has been taking about 4 weeks for NVC to process. I am also usually following up and making sure NVC has everything. They changed the process a lot the last few months with the MEP filing and DS-260 so I follow up after a month of submission to make sure there are no problems. Then, we receive an email with the visa appointment scheduled in Ciudad Juarez. Recently, from the date of notice of the appointment and the visa appointment, it is about 3-4 weeks. Not a lot of time if you aren't prepared. I normally like my clients to have their waiver started and almost finished by the time their family member leaves for Juarez.
Once we have the visa appointment, the client needs to schedule a biometric appointment about two days before the visa appointment and also plan to do a medical exam. Only after the biometric appointment is scheduled, should you schedule your flights and travel plans to Juarez.
After the initial interview and expected denial, the client can leave Juarez but needs to schedule their I-601 waiver appointment. The I-601 appointment timing varies. A year or two ago, the waiver appointment could be two days after the visa appointment, then it was 2 weeks later and now it has become approximately 2 months later. From what I have learned, this time allows for USCIS to do a background checks and make sure the person qualifies.
At the waiver appointment, the client submits their waiver application. A complete waiver packet includes: cover letter, I-601 Form with filing fee, G-28 Form, and G-325 Form, legal brief, qualifying relative's affidavit, and supporting documentation. As of Aug 25, 2011, the Juarez waiver results have been taking about a month from the waiver appointment to learn whether the client was approved in the pilot program or referred for further review.
Approved in the pilot program means the waiver was approved favorably and as fast as Juarez could adjudicate it. Approximately 50% of waivers through Juarez are approved through the pilot program.
If there was information missing or the waiver didn't appear to have sufficient hardship at first glance, the client has an old A number, criminal record or any other complication, then the waiver is usually referred for further review. According to a recent referral notice, USCIS states it takes 12 months to adjudicate referred waivers. According to a recent USCIS CDJ email, it states they are taking 10 months. According to their website, they are taking 13-15 months. Memos, meetings, and notices state that USCIS is trying to get that processing time to 6 months and has been sending their waivers to other offices in the US for help to decrease the backlog. They have had the 6-month goal for about 2 years. I think that the referral adjudication is close to 10 months right now.
When USCIS adjudicates a referred case, it can either be approved or denied. If approved, you might have to update some documents like medical, I-864, etc at the Consulate because those have expired from so much time passing. If denied, you can either reapply or appeal.
If you reapply, it is possible to reapply starting at the waiver stage and not having to start all over again. Appeals take about 2 years to be adjudicated. Depending on the circumstances, I generally suggest reapplying.
If approved in the pilot program, it can take a couple of weeks to get the visa in the passport. But once you have it in the passport, you can travel to the US and your green card will soon follow.
It is important to understand that the I-601 process is a serious undertaking. It requires that families be prepared and know that significant time, money and risk is involved. You should make sure you are working with an immigration attorney you trust, cares about your case and is promptly responding to your communication. If the waiver is denied, the law requires that the intending immigrant remain outside the U.S. for a specific period. For many, this period is ten years. Again, they could try reappling or appealing at this point.
In the end, with a strong case and the required preparation and patience, an approved I-601 waiver will provide a family security and joy knowing that their family member is in legal status, can live in the US, and has work authorization, ability to travel and a path to citizenship. An experienced attorney and an engaged client can make a huge difference in this process. Like many things in life, there is a great deal of work and risk involved before receiving a great reward.
Ruby L. Powers is an immigration attorney and owner of the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers which is located in Houston, TX. She represents individuals and businesses in all areas of immigration law all over the world. Her husband is originally from Turkey and her mother was born in Mexico so she has personal experience with US immigration law that she brings to her practice. She enjoys reuniting families by helping them obtain I-601 waiver approvals.