Many people enter the U.S. illegally and later marry a U.S. citizen. If these people want to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) they must, in most cases, first seek a waiver (special forgiveness of the normal immigration consequences of entering illegally). Prior to March 2013, U.S. immigration laws required these people to leave the country while their applications for a waiver were being processed, thus risking a denial and a long ban upon returning. Since March 4, 2013, people in this situation have been able to apply for a “provisional waiver” if they meet certain qualifications.
Many people who had not previously attempted to obtain a green card are now applying for a provisional waiver. But getting through the process has been harder than expected, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) returning many applications for additional evidence or other corrections.
First Steps If Your Provisional Waiver Application Gets Returned
The application process to apply for the provisional waiver can be complicated. Even if you have done your best to follow all of the suggested steps in applying for the provisional waiver, you may still receive a packet in the mail from USCIS containing the application and documents you submitted with a letter stating that your application is not complete. If your application form was complete but USCIS didn’t get enough evidence from you to decide whether to grant the waiver, you may receive a “Request for Evidence” letter.
If either of these things happen, don’t panic or give up. The government has not denied your application; it is simply asking for some more information in order to process it correctly.
The first thing you should do is to read the letter that USCIS sent you. It will typically be the first page you find when you open the returned package. It is very noticeable because it will say something like “Form I-797C, Notice of Action” in the top right corner or “Request for Evidence” on the top.
Read this letter carefully and make a separate checklist for yourself of the reasons why the application was rejected or what USCIS says was missing. Some reasons for rejection of your application might be that you failed to sign the application, you did not provide evidence of your family relationship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or you did not include the payment receipt from the National Visa Center (NVC). The most common reason for a Request for Evidence is that you did not provide enough evidence to convince USCIS that your relative would suffer extreme hardship if you have to be outside the U.S. for three or ten years.
Look for additional papers that USCIS sent in the returned packet. You will likely find a colored piece of paper (green or blue) with some instructions. The paper probably states that you should place the colored paper on top of the application once you have included the missing information. When you return it, USCIS will see this paper and realize that it has already reviewed the application and needs only to check for the missing items.
What If I Still Don't See What’s Wrong With My Application?
It is possible that you won’t be able to understand what is wrong with your application even after reviewing the letter from USCIS and all the documents in your application.
One tip is to look at the NVC receipt. If it says “in process” rather than “paid,” that's the likely reason that USCIS rejected the application, particularly if it stated that you did not include the NVC receipt. You probably submitted the NVC payment and immediately printed the receipt before NVC had a chance to process the payment. Simply return to the NVC receipt website, log in, and print a new receipt. By now the payment should have been processed and the receipt will say “paid” at the bottom. The NVC also has a frequently asked questions page dedicated to the provisional waiver, which can provide important information.
Another possibility is that you simply do not understand what USCIS is asking for in its request. (Sometimes USCIS itself is confused!) You can try calling USCIS and speaking with an agent. Be prepared for long wait times on the telephone.
What's the Best Approach to Completing and Resubmitting the Application?
At this point, you have the list of items that USCIS would like to see in order to complete your application. Collect each of these items and check them off your list. Treat this as a second opportunity to apply; take some time to review the original USCIS list and think about other documents that might help your application.
Less is not more with this type of application. You should send anything you feel is relevant for your application, but stay away from sending things that USCIS has not requested or that have nothing to do with your application. For example, if USCIS is requesting more information about your relationship to your U.S. citizen spouse, provide a marriage certificate and also take time to include photographs of the two of you, copies of car titles, bank statements with both names, and other documents that show that you are married to your U.S. citizen spouse. It is helpful to do this with all of the other evidence as well.
When you complete your collection of evidence and documents, draft a short cover letter. Include the USCIS address, your address, and a very brief explanation of the documentation you are providing. Also be sure to include a bullet-point list of everything you are sending, which can serve as a table of contents for the reviewer. Your list might look like this:
Please find the following documentation enclosed:
Psychological evaluation of [name] by Dr. [name]
Treatment records of [name] for [medical condition], [Hospital name]
Birth Certificate of Child with Names of Applicant and Spouse
Affidavit of [Teacher name] attesting to behavioral issues of [child name]
What If I Am Still Confused?
If you are still confused about why USCIS rejected your application, consult with an attorney or hire an attorney to take over the case for you. Although you may want to save some money by doing this yourself, you do not want to risk your future in the United States only to save some money. Many attorneys will charge reasonable prices or even take a payment plan; the help you will receive will be well worth the effort.