What Are the Chances That My I-601 Waiver Will Be Granted?

USCIS's adjudication process for I-601 waiver applications is somewhat subjective—it depends on which immigration officer is reviewing the application and that officer’s interpretation of your and your family's circumstances.

By , Attorney University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Updated 1/29/2024

If you are a would-be immigrant who is inadmissible to the U.S. (as discussed in Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out), you might be able to overcome this by applying for what's called a waiver of inadmissibility. That's another way of saying legal forgiveness, so that the U.S. government decides to overlook the ground of inadmissibility and let your application proceed. In most cases, the waiver request is made on Form I-601, which you would submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as discussed in this article.

(Note that there's a different form and discussion you'll want to turn to if you're looking for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence in the U.S. and if this is your only ground of inadmissibility: the I-601A waiver.)

Standards for Receiving U.S. Government Approval of an I-601 Waiver

What, exactly, you will need to show in order to receive an I-601 from USCIS waiver depends partly on the reason you are inadmissible and thus ineligible for a U.S. visa or green card in the first place. For example:

  • If you are requesting a waiver of the vaccination requirement for U.S. entry or immigration, you'd need to provide evidence that you are sincerely opposed to vaccinations in any form, and that your objection is based on religious belief or moral conviction.
  • If you have tuberculosis and are requesting a waiver of health-based inadmissibility, you would need to provide (within the I-601) a statement from a physician at the local health department in the area where you plan to live explaining how the doctor will monitor and manage your condition, plus evidence that you are the spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen,
    lawful permanent resident, or immigrant visa holder.
    you are the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)'s child
  • If you are requesting a waiver of a crime that you committed 15 or more years ago, evidence that you have been rehabilitated, that your admission to the U.S. will not be contrary to its national welfare, safety, or security, and that you have a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative spouse, prospective spouse (fiancé) son, daughter, or parent) who would experience extreme hardship if you were denied U.S. admission.

For further detail, see USCIS's instructions to Form I-601.

Most types of I-601 waiver applications include an "extreme hardship" element. In other words, the applicant would need to show, as part of receiving waiver approval, that a qualifying relative (a member of the immigrant-applicant's immediate family) is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and that that person would suffer extreme hardship if the immigrant were to be denied U.S. entry or removed from the U.S., or if the whole family had to move overseas in order to be together.

The chance of your application being approved also depends in great part on the strength and quality of the evidence you submit. Adjudicators will review your evidence and balance the hardships you present with the existence of any aggravating and mitigating factors.

Subjective Element to Receiving Approval for a Waiver of Inadmissibility

In addition to the various hard-and-fast legal standards, realize that the decision-making process for I-601 waiver applications is somewhat subjective. The ultimate decision will depend on the discretion of the U.S. immigration officer reviewing your application, and that officer's interpretation of your circumstances.

Proving Extreme Hardship to Qualifying U.S. Relatives

The term "extreme hardship" is not defined in U.S. immigration law. Consequently, the decision-makers have greater discretion to approve or deny I-601 waiver applications than they do with other U.S. immigration benefits. One of the most common reasons U.S. immigration authorities deny an I-601 waiver application is insufficient evidence of extreme hardship to qualifying U.S. relatives. Sometimes this is simply due to the applicant not having submitted enough convincing documentation.

No matter how sad your qualifying relative might feel if you were denied a visa or green card (or if your relative had to leave the U.S. to be with you), you can assume that every other separated family will feel much the same. That's not going to be viewed as "extreme" enough.

You'll need to provide evidence of something more with your application. If, for example, your relative would be forced to move to an unfamiliar country outside the U.S., you'd want to alert USCIS to the fact that your relative doesn't speak the language, has no other family or friends there, and would perhaps lose their livelihood or face particular health challenges. (Denials are more common in cases where the opposite is true, and the person will be heading to an ancestral country with a familiar language.)

The more documentary evidence you can provide, such as a letter from the family member's employer saying it would be impossible to continue the same job abroad, or a letter from a doctor saying a medical condition would be hard to treat, the better.

If your relative would remain in the U.S. without you, a denial is more likely if your relative is healthy and self-sufficient, and doesn't need your help taking care of other family members in the United States. The opposite is true if you can show, for example, that the non-citizen is the primary wage earner, but would lose that income, while the U.S. citizen staying behind would have to care for a child (perhaps a special-needs child) with no source of income.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in an Application for a Waiver of Inadmissibility

The chances of your I-601 waiver application being denied might be higher if aggravating factors are present in your immigration, criminal, or other history. Aggravating factors include, but are not limited to, prior violations of immigration law, criminal charges, arrests, convictions, and marriage fraud.

Any of these factors on your qualifying U.S. relative's record could also be viewed as aggravating.

When you prepare your I-601 waiver application, it is important that you identify all aggravating factors that could weaken your application. Keep in mind when preparing an I-601 waiver application that the cause of your inadmissibility may itself be an aggravating factor and negatively affect your chance of approval. Even if the law permits you to file a waiver application, your chances of success are less if you were found inadmissible for fraud or willful misrepresentation, or for criminal grounds.

If you have aggravating factors present, you will need to show a much higher level of extreme hardship for your qualifying relative. You will also want to submit evidence of mitigating factors. Mitigating factors can overcome aggravating factors, particularly if they are directly related.

For example, if you have a criminal background, evidence that you participated in a rehabilitation program is a mitigating factor that could strengthen your application. If you are inadmissible because of unlawful presence in the U.S., evidence that you acted in good faith and believed you were complying with immigration laws is a mitigating factor that could strengthen your application.

What If USCIS Denies an I-601 Waiver Request?

In the event that USCIS denies your waiver request, you potentially have the option to file a motion to reopen or reconsider, or submit a new application. Your chances of approval will not necessarily increase, however, unless you are able to figure out what went wrong the first time persuade a new decision-maker that your qualifying relative really would experience extreme hardship, or that you otherwise meet the standards for the waiver in question.

Seeking Legal Advice

The level of discretion and subjectivity involved in adjudicating I-601 waiver applications means one can never guarantee a positive outcome. It's always a good idea to consult an attorney. who has extensive experience filing waiver applications. It is through experience that attorneys can identify those factors that can make or break an application and learn what types of documentation and arguments will most effectively persuade USCIS to grant one.

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