Noncitizen spouses, parents, and ummarried minor children of U.S. citizen members of the U.S. military (current or past) who are in the U.S. after an unlawful entry have, as of 2013, a path to a U.S. green card that is not available to others.
An opportunity known as “parole in place” or PIP allows those who already qualify for a green card based on this close family relationship to “adjust status” – that is, apply for lawful permanent residence or a green card – without leaving the United States, despite their past illegal entry and stay. (But it will not help people who are already in removal/deportation proceedings or already have a final order of removal on their immigration record.)
Other immigrants in similar situations whose family members are NOT U.S. military members are not allowed to adjust status, but must leave the U.S. for “consular processing” in order to complete their application for a green card – at which point they might face a three- or ten-year bar upon return, as a penalty for their past unlawful presence. This very trap has kept many noncitizen family members of U.S. military servicepeople from applying for a green card in the past, and created anxiety for all concerned.
This is a confusing and technical area of immigration law, but we’ll try to break it down further in this article, and explain what benefits are and are not available to family members of U.S. citizens in the military through the “parole in place” or PIP policy.
Step One: Determine Eligibility for a U.S. Green Card
Not everyone will be helped by the PIP policy. First, you need to figure out whether you are in one of the categories of family members who are eligible as an “immediate relative,” that is, either a U.S. citizen’s:
- unmarried child (under age 21), or
If you’re an immediate relative, you are technically eligible for a green card right away, without waiting in line. But you must still get through the application process – and may now do so much more easily, thanks to the PIP policy.
Figuring out whether you are “inadmissible” is also a key factor in determining eligibility for a U.S. green card. Inadmissibility means you are barred from receiving a visa or green card based on your history of criminal, immigration, or security violations, communicable diseases, likelihood of needing public assistance (“welfare”) and so on. See “Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out” for details.
The good news is that PIP works to remove at least two of the grounds of inadmissibility that might block your way, both of which are found in the Immigration and Nationality Act at INA § 212(a)(6)(A)(i).
The first ground of inadmissibility that PIP takes care of applies to any noncitizen “present in the United States without being admitted [inspected by a border official] or paroled.” With a PIP approval, you will have been retroactively “paroled in” to the United States.
The second ground of inadmissibility that PIP takes care of applies to any noncitizen who “arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the [Secretary of Homeland Security].” Again, PIP makes these two grounds of inadmissibility moot. What’s more, because it allows you to adjust status in the U.S., you will no longer have to worry about inadmissibility and being barred from return to the U.S. for three or ten years as a penalty for past unlawful presence, because you won’t have to leave the U.S. in the first place.
However, if you believe you might be inadmissible on any other grounds, you may have trouble successfully applying for a green card, and should definitely consult with an experienced immigration attorney.
Step Two: Determine Eligibility for PIP
To be eligible for PIP approval, you must be the spouse, child, or parent of either:
- an Active Duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces
- a current member of the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or
- someone who has previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.
PIP eligibility isn’t automatic for people in these three groups, but they are the only ones who are encouraged to ask for it under the new policy.
Here’s who will not be granted PIP: Anyone with a criminal conviction or other “serious adverse factors.” Parole in place can be granted only on a "discretionary" basis, which means the immigration authorities don't have to grant it if they don't want to -- they have to first be convinced that the applicant deserves their help. If you have anything negative in your personal history that makes you wonder whether immigration officials would prefer to remove you from the U.S., by all means consult an immigration attorney.
Step Three: Apply for “Parole in Place” Approval
You can’t jump straight to applying for your green card (adjustment of status), or your application will be rejected. First, you must take care of the issue of your illegal entry to the U.S., and request parole in place. To do so, you must prepare and submit the following to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
- Form I-131, Application for Travel Document
- Evidence of the family relationship to the U.S. citizen military serviceperson (such as a copy of a birth or marriage certificate)
- Evidence that the U.S. citizen family member is either an Active Duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve or the Ready Reserve, such as a photocopy of the military identification card (DD Form 1173; make copies of both the front and back).
- Two identical, color, passport-style photographs of the noncitizen applicant, and
- Evidence of any additional favorable discretionary factors that you wish to have USCIS take into account, such as letters from community leaders or teachers showing your involvement in volunteer activities, personal education, or your children's education.
There is no fee for this application. (Based on 8 C.F.R. 103.7(d).)
See the Form I-131 page of the USCIS website for a free download of the form and instructions on where to mail it.
After USCIS has reviewed your application, it may decide to call you in for an interview. Typically these are short interviews, perhaps even at a filing or intake window rather than an actual office. Nevertheless, if USCIS feels it needs more information in your case, it may conduct a more extensive interview.
Step Four: Apply for Adjustment of Status
Once you have obtained approval of your parole in place, you can proceed with filing a visa petition (signed by the U.S. citizen) and adjustment of status application, all at the same time. See an attorney or follow the instructions on the “Getting a Family-Based Green Card” and “Adjustment of Status Procedures” pages of the Nolo website.
In addition, be sure to include a copy of your parole in place approval notice from USCIS.