The standard procedure for pursuing a green card involves an applicant who does not have a history of illegal entries in the United States. And in general, most guides, and self-help sites cover immigration through the lens of law abiding principles. The stigma of having illegal entries in the United States also prevents immigrants from filing any paperwork with the USCIS because of the depiction and/or possibility of being put into removal proceedings or being deported from the U.S.
However, there are some options for immigrants who are living in the United States with a record of illegal entry into the country. These options only apply to a very select number of green card applicants, but they are options nonetheless. This blog is dedicated to better understanding the forms and procedures, and legal options, that one can go through in order to waive their inadmissibility, and be eligible for a green card.
Note: Illegal entry refers to non-citizens who have entered the United States (at some point) without being properly inspected and admitted.
The I-601 and I-601A Waivers
There is no easy option for those who are planning on marrying a U.S. citizen with a history of an illegal entry, as having this on your record makes you ineligible for a green card. The situation is compounded by leaving the United States. You might risk not being able to see your family, if you have started one, for many years. Thus you need an official government forgiveness if you are to proceed.
Note: those who have stayed in the U.S. illegally between six months and one year, but leave and return to their home country, will most likely receive a 3-year ban on applying for an immigrant visa back to the United States unless they receive such a waiver.
This is where the I-601 Waiver of Inadmissibility comes in hand. The waiver is meant for applicants who have had an illegal entry into the United States, as well as applicants who are submitting the waiver due to a communicable disease, a vaccine exemption, or criminal grounds they are wishing forgiveness for.
The filing fee for the I-601 Waiver is $930 and is only available to submit via mail. For a complete list of filing options based on where you live, please see the following link: https://www.uscis.gov/i-601-addresses
The waiver is presents an opportunity, albeit a risky one, for green card applicants with an illegal entry. Because of the nature of their situation, and to avoid too much time in the U.S. as an illegal, they usually choose to leave and apply for a green card via consular processing. Thus there is a considerable risk of having the I-601 supporting document denied and not being eligible for a green card at all.
An alternative, however, is for stateside immigrants to apply for a provisional I-601A waiver. The I-601A provisional waiver is meant for applicants that can prove that granting them a waiver would keep their loved ones out of extreme hardship. This needs to be supported, usually with the assistance of an immigration attorney who has worked on similar cases before.
The main benefit of the I-601A is that the applicant can wait for an approval of their waiver before leaving for their consular interview.
If you stay in the United States illegally for less than 6 months (less than 180 days), then you have other options available to you, except that they will involve leaving the U.S. if you wish to pursue a green card in the future, or a K-1 visa.
If you have a fiancé in the United States and are currently under the 180 day limit (for legal reasons) it might be a good idea to separate from your loved one(s) and try to pursue a K-1 visa as a fiancé. K-1 visas present a legitimate way for immigrants to pursue a green card with decreased wait times as compared to some other family based immigration categories. Those interested in this process, however, should be advised that the K-1 visa option is only for those who actually intend on getting married. So many steps in this application (especially the CBP interview) ensure that the applicant has intent on getting married when they come to the United States.