Obtain a Green Card Now or Wait for Possible Immigration Reform?

By Robert L. Reeves, Nancy E. Miller and Frances Arroyo

There are numerous ways to obtain a green card right now without further delay. Individuals with a pathway to legal status should investigate all of their options.  Under the proposed comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) undocumented immigrants will have to wait 10 to 13years just to apply for their green cards and then wait 5 more years to be able to apply for citizenship.  The proposed bill currently being debated in the House of Representatives provides for an 18-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, three years longer than the 15-year proposal in the Senate path to citizenship. It is important to remember that changes in law take time to pass through Congress and CIR is not even certain to pass.  The smart move is to seek other options to legalize status in the U.S.   The following examples are just a few options to obtain a green card right now.

One option is cancellation of removal.  Cancellation of removal procedure allows qualified individuals to obtain a green card if they have lived in the U.S. for ten years or more, have good moral character and can show that their U.S. citizen, or Legal Permanent Resident parent, spouse or child would suffer a severe hardship, particularly if the qualifying relative is at least 15 years old or has a disability or health problems.  Cancellation may only be granted by an immigration judge.  Applicants are eligible to obtain employment authorization as soon as their application is filed with the court.  With work authorization one may apply for a social security number, work legally and obtain a state issued drivers license. 

Applying for a family based immigrant petition is another option for those who have been patiently waiting for immigration reform to pass.  Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21or parent if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21) have special immigration priority and do not have to wait in line for a visa number to become available for them to immigrate.  

 Within the past year, two immigration policies have been instituted by the Obama Administration to allow more undocumented immigrants to apply for immigration benefits.  On June 15, 2012 the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “DACA” became a reality for individuals brought into the U.S. as children.  Under this directive, immigrant youth are authorized to obtain a temporary two-year work permit.  While immigration reform is debated in Congress, as of March 2013 U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services estimate that 268,361 DACA applications have been granted.  The immigration service continues to accept and adjudicate DACA applications.  

 A new waiver called the provisional waiver is another way for individuals to obtain a green card. Applicants who need a waiver of inadmissibility for unlawful presence may apply and obtain a waiver in the United States before they depart for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This pre-approved waiver avoids getting stuck outside the U.S. This provisional waiver applies to the following categories of undocumented immigrants who: (1) entered the United States without inspection by an immigration officer, (2) came in as crewmen, or (3) entered the United States on a fiancé visa but did not marry their petitioner may currently apply for the provisional waiver. 

Waiting for potential reform might not be the best plan for those who already have a viable path to legal status in the U.S. As the CIR debate continues and politics unfold, more than one million individuals obtain legal permanent resident status each year. There are many other option available. We recommend having a consultation with a good immigration lawyer to explore what options may be available for you.