What is the I-817 Application for Family Unity Benefits?

This USCIS form helps undocumented immigrants receive work permits and a two year extension of residence in the U.S. if they are related to beneficiaries of the IRCA Act which was passed in the 1980s.

According to U.S. immigration law, there is a way for the unmarried children or spouse of a legal permanent resident who had obtained their legal residence through amnesty to also become legal residents. This sounds confusing but let’s provide some background context to further understand this.

In the 1980s, undocumented illegal immigrants were able to obtain legal residence in the United States through the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The IRCA at the time provided a two-step path to legalization for aliens who had resided in the U.S. since 1982, or for those who had performed a minimum number of hours of farm labour in the U.S. However, the IRCA often did not end up conferring the benefits of legal residence to their spouses or children which created family separation problems.

This is the purpose of Form I-817. This is a USCIS form that is also a family-based immigration form. It is used to apply for the following benefits if you are a child or spouse of an individual who became legalized under Reagan’s IRCA Act:

  1. You will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for a period of two years if your I-817 is approved.
  2. You will also receive an EAD card (work permit) that will be valid during the same two-year period.

The point of the Family Unity Program, which flows through this application process, is to prevent foreigners in the U.S. from being separated from their families for too long. The I-817, by giving the immigrant in question a work permit and a legal status in the U.S., also sets up such immigrants for other potential paths to a green card or U.S. citizenship.

In addition, you can use the I-817 to request an extension of your work permit if you are eligible based on the above conditions of the IRCA and your parent/spouse becoming an amnesty alien.

Processing Time and Fees

The filing fee for the Form I-817 is $600. Also, if you are 14 years or older, there is also an $85 Biometric service fee. The processing time for the I-817 is one of the longest in terms of USCIS processing. In short, the processing time could take from 13 months to several years to process.  

Supporting Documents and Evidence

In order to convince the USCIS that you are eligible for the Family Unity benefits that would be granted with the acceptance of I-817, all applicants need to have had a parent/spouse who maintained their status as a legal resident of the United States, meaning they did not fall out of status, and if they became a naturalized citizen, that they maintained U.S. citizenship until they passed away.

Secondly, the applicant will need to provide the following documents in order to prove that they have satisfied the continuous residence requirement and that they are related to the amnesty alien in order to receive benefits:

  1. Leases/rental agreements of the apartments or residences you have lived in as an adult
  2. Your passport or I-94 Entry/Exit Record showing that you have not left the U.S. for a period of longer than 6 months, or for longer than a year.
  3. A birth certificate validating the blood relationship to the parent, or a marriage certificate validating the marriage relationship between the spouses.

For more information on the USCIS continuous residence principle, please see the following link: https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-d-chapter-3 

For a thorough understanding of the IRCA, please see the following link: https://immigrationhistory.org/item/1986-immigration-reform-and-control-act/

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