Applicants for U.S. green cards who are afraid to leave the U.S. for their consular visa interview because they might be blocked from return based on their past time spent in the U.S. unlawfully can apply for a “provisional waiver” (also known as a "stateside waiver") of this unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility. (For a full discussion of the underlying problem, see “Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S.—Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars.”)
By applying for a stateside waiver, applicants can get a “yes” or “no” answer from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before departing the U.S. for their visa interview. With a “yes” answer, they can leave the U.S., feeling fairly comfortable that the consular officer will approve the immigrant visa and allow them to return to the U.S. as permanent residents.
If the answer from USCIS is “no,” applicants will at least find out while they’re still in the U.S., not trapped outside for three or ten years. They can potentially reapply. (And, the enforcement authorities have said they do not intend to use this process as a way to identify people for removalunless they’re criminals or public safety risks.) Or they can take a chance and leave the U.S. for a consular interview and present their waiver application there. This article discusses the scope of and limitations on eligibility.
When the provisional waiver first became available on March 4, 2013, applicants had to be immediate relatives of U.S. citizens—that is, a spouse (opposite-sex or same-sex, if the marriage was legally valid in the state or country where it occurred), parent, or unmarried child under age 21.
In 2016, however, the waiver was greatly expanded. Now, anyone who is eligible for an immigrant visa (whether based on family, employment, the diversity visa lottery, or a special immigration classification) may apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver.
The other eligibility requirements are that the applicant be:
The agency in charge of deciding on provisional stateside waiver applications is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), even if the applicant is in removal proceedings. Only applicants whose removal proceedings have been administratively closed and have not been recalendared, however, will be eligible to apply. After the USCIS approval of the waiver, they will need to obtain termination or dismissal of their cases by the immigration court before leaving the U.S. for their consular interview.
For guidance to the application process, see "How to Apply for Provisional Waiver of Three- or Ten-Year Time Bar."