What Does My Notice to Appear (NTA) Mean?

How to read the document showing the charges against you for immigration proceedings.

Updated 2/07/2023

Let's say you are a foreign-born person in the United States and have been served with a Notice to Appear. You might have received it in the mail or you might have received it in person from a U.S. immigration officer. Although this document is typically only one or two pages long, it is significant to your future, and worth taking the time to understand.

This article discusses a number of important elements contained in the NTA that you should review prior to appearing in Immigration Court, where you will be expected to plead to (admit or deny) the charges against you.

What Is a Notice to Appear (NTA)?

A Notice to Appear (an "NTA") is the charging document that signals the U.S. government initiating removal proceedings against you. If you receive an NTA, it means that you must appear in immigration court (before an immigration court judge, and defending yourself against charges made by an attorney representing the U.S. government) on the date specified or at a date to be determined in the future.

The NTA might be served on you personally (or by hand) or mailed to your last known address or to your attorney, if you have one. The NTA must also be served to the immigration court that will conduct your removal hearings.

By law, at least ten days must go by between service of the NTA and the first scheduled court hearing. You may, however, waive the ten-day notice requirement. You might want to do this if you were personally served the NTA and are being held in the custody of U.S. immigration officials, either because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has refused to issue a bond for your release, or you cannot afford to pay the bond.

Review the NTA carefully to ensure that there are no mistakes and that you understand the allegations against you. This is essential in order for you to raise any defenses and apply for any immigration relief for which you might be eligible and to meet deadlines imposed by the Immigration Court.

Biographical Information on the NTA

The NTA first lists your name, any aliases you might have used, your alien registration number (A#), date of birth, and address. Review this information to ensure that all is correct and that there are no misspellings. For example, an incorrect address on your NTA could result in you not receiving important information from the immigration court in the future.

Nature of Proceedings Stated in the NTA

Directly under your address, the NTA lists three different statements, but only one box will be checked off. The choices are:

  • You are an arriving alien. This means that you have been stopped at the border or port of entry and have not yet been admitted to the United States.
  • You are an alien present in the U.S., who has not been admitted or paroled. Typically, this box would be checked if you entered the U.S. without being inspected by a border agent or immigration officer.
  • You have been admitted to the U.S., but are removable for the reasons stated below. This statement refers to noncitizens who were lawfully admitted to the U.S. for a period of time, most likely on a nonimmigrant visa or a green card, but are no longer authorized to remain. Common reasons for this are overstaying your nonimmigrant visa or a conviction for a crime that renders you deportable.

Make sure the correct box is marked. Notably, an arriving alien has extremely limited rights in removal proceedings. Additionally, people who entered the U.S. without being admitted or paroled have fewer opportunities for adjustment of status (applying for a green card) than those who entered lawfully.

If the incorrect box is marked, you will need to provide evidence in court to show that you have been classified incorrectly.

Factual Allegations Made in the NTA

The NTA will then list the factual allegations against you. Typically, these will be:

  • You are not a U.S. citizen or national of the United States.
  • You are a native and citizen of your home country.
  • You entered the U.S. on a certain date and through a certain city and whether or not your entry was authorized and if so, for what period of time.
  • The alleged reasons why you are removable. (This could include criminal convictions against you, having remained in the U.S. beyond the authorized period of stay, or not having a valid visa to enter the United States.)

These factual allegations will form the basis for the charges of removability in the next section of the NTA. During a Master Calendar hearing in immigration court, you or your attorney will need to either admit or deny each of these factual allegations.

For more about what to expect, see, What Will Happen at Your Master Calendar Hearing?.

Charges of Removability Made in the NTA

In the next section, the NTA lists the charge (or charges) of removability against you, and the immigration laws that the U.S. government thinks you violated. This is the legal reason why you can potentially be deported from the United States. Like the factual allegations, you or your attorney will have to either concede (admit to) the charges or deny them at your Master Calendar hearing.

If you deny the charges of removability, the immigration judge can schedule a Contested Merits Hearing. During this, you will have to present the legal reasons why you believe that you are not removable from the U.S. as charged. The government attorney will argue that the charges listed on the NTA are correct.

If the judge decides in your favor, removal proceedings will be terminated. A judge who disagrees with you will sustain the charges of removability and you will have to prepare a defense from removal and apply for any immigration relief for which you might be eligible under the law.

If you concede to the charges of removability, you must inform the court what your defenses from removal will be, if any. (See Possible Defenses to Deportation of an Undocumented Alien.)

Date and Place of Removal Proceedings Given in the NTA

The bottom of the NTA might list the date, time, and location of your initial, Master Calendar hearing. If it does not, you will receive a Notice of Hearing separately.

Do not forget this date, because if you fail to appear for a hearing, you may be ordered removed in absentia and you will give up your rights to apply for relief from removal.

Legal Warnings and Certificate of Service With the NTA

The NTA must also list important legal warnings. These include:

  • your right to be represented by counsel (an attorney) during removal proceedings, but at no expense to the U.S. government (in other words, you have to pay for your own lawyer)
  • the consequences of failing to appear for a scheduled hearing, such as receiving an order of removal in absentia
  • your duty to notify the immigration court of any change of address during removal proceedings, and
  • your duty to surrender to removal if ordered or to voluntarily depart if allowed to do so.

Finally, the notice will include a certificate of service, which will detail how and when the U.S. government issued you the NTA. If relevant, prepare evidence to show that you did not receive this certificate in the manner described.

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