Updated: February 28, 2017
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.
(If you are already in removal/deportation proceedings or have a final order of removal on their immigration record, you may still be able to obtain PIP, but it will require you to persuade Immigration and Customs Enforcement or "ICE" to join in your motion (request) to the court that it reopen and/or terminate the proceedings.)
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. (The "provisional waiver" can help with this, but not everyone qualifies for it.)
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” policy.
** IMPORTANT NOTE ** The PIP policy faces an uncertain future under the Trump administration, which took office in January 2017. By executive order, Trump announced that no form of parole should be granted on an across the board basis. Many analysts are concerned that this will spell the end of PIP.
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:
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.
Parole in place helps someone adjust status in two ways. First, someone who wants to adjust must have entered the U.S. legally. The law a person must have been "inspected and admitted or paroled." Parole is a type of permission to be in the United States legally, usually for a temporary period of time. If parole in place is granted, the government is giving you legal entry, without you actually having to go anywhere. That's why it's called parole "in place."
Second, you must be “admissible” to adjust status. There are many reasons why a person might be inadmissible and prevented from getting a green card. See Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out for details. PIP works to remove a ground of inadmissibility that prevents a lot of people from adjusting their status: being in the U.S. after entering the country illegally. With your new permission to be in the U.S. as a result of your PIP approval, the government is saying that you were admitted into—"entered"—the U.S. legally, as far as it's concerned.
PIP, if it eliminates your illegal entry problem, can also take care of another inadmissibility problem: you will no longer have to worry about being barred from return to the U.S. for three or ten years as a penalty for leaving after past unlawful presence, because if you are eligible to adjust status, you won’t have to leave the U.S. in the first place.
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.
To be eligible for PIP approval, you must be the spouse, child, or parent of either:
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.
You can’t jump straight to applying for your green card (adjustment of status)—if you do, 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):
There is no fee for this application.
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.
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.