By using Form I-601, certain foreign citizens who are ineligible to immigrate to the United States because they are “inadmissible” can request a waiver (forgiveness) of inadmissibility. This form is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
What Does It Mean to Be Inadmissible?
Despite being otherwise eligible for a U.S. visa or lawful permanent residence (a green card), the U.S. government can refuse entry to anyone who falls within the list of grounds of inadmissibility found in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). The idea is to protect the United States from people who pose security, health, or related risks, or appear likely to need public assistance (often called welfare).
Some grounds of inadmissibility apply to all applicants, such as to people with a criminal record or links to terrorism. Others are applied to some categories of visa applicants but not others. For example, it’s mainly only people applying for family-based immigrant visas who need to prove that they won’t need public assistance (or in technical terminology, are not likely to become “public charges”).
When Will You Find Out That You Are Inadmissible?
If you have done your research, or are working with a lawyer, you might figure out that you are likely to be considered inadmissible before you submit your application for a visa or green card. In that situation, it’s often possible to submit the Form I-601 waiver request along with the rest of your application materials — and beneficial, in saving you some time.
In fact, the benefits are even greater if you are inadmissible based on excessive unlawful presence in the U.S., and likely subject to a three- or ten-year time bar on returning if you leave the U.S. (for your consular interview, for instance). Some immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can actually apply for a “provisional” or “stateside” waiver using Form I-601A rather than the regular Form I-601, thus allowing them to receive an answer before their departure. For details, see “Staying in the U.S. With The I-601A Provisional Waiver of Inadmissibility” and “Tips for Filing an I-601A Provisional Waiver Application.”
You might not, however, discover that you are considered inadmissible until you are at your interview for a visa or green card. In that case, if a waiver is available, you will usually be given more time in which to submit your waiver request.
Not All Grounds of Inadmissibility Can Be Waived
Certain categories of inadmissibility are considered so serious that the U.S. government provides no waiver for them. For example, you will not be eligible for a waiver if the immigration authorities believe that you are a murderer, torturer, drug abuser or addict, spy or saboteur, or terrorist, or that you have participated in genocide or the persecution of others, have made false claims to U.S. citizenship, are unlawfully present in the U.S. after previous immigration violations, and so on.
You’ll need to carefully research the specific ground of inadmissibility described in the I.N.A. in order to discover whether it comes with a waiver and what the terms of the waivers are. Get a lawyer’s help with this.
Basic Eligibility to File Form I-601
In order to file Form I-601, your application for a green card or other immigration benefit must fall within one of the following categories:
- immigrant visa
- adjustment of status
- K-1 or K-2 nonimmigrant visa
- K-3, K-4, or V nonimmigrant visa
- Temporary Protected Status
- Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act
- Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act
- Violence Against Women Act self-petition, or
- T nonimmigrant visa status holder filing for adjustment of status who is inadmissible due to a ground that has not already been waived.
However, as described above, merely fitting within one of these categories does not make you eligible to file Form I-601. There needs to be a waiver available in your category of inadmissibility.
Presenting a Convincing Case for a Waiver
You will need to present a sympathetic case in order to qualify for the waiver. Waiver approvals are made on a discretionary basis. Despite your filling out the appropriate form and supplying lots of documents, under no circumstances will it be mandatory for the immigration authorities to grant your waiver. It’s up to their wishes.
So you’ll need to present not only the form but documents, preferably from authoritative sources, backing up the facts you’re asserting in your waiver request.
Many of the waivers require proving extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is your immediate family member. In other words, you might need to show that, if you were denied the green card, your spouse, parent, or child would not only face either the sadness of being separated from you or the difficulty of moving to your home country, but would encounter additional hardship on top of that.
The classic case is where the U.S. citizen or permanent resident has special emotional or physical needs. In such an instance, you would need to supply medical reports or letters from doctors or counselors along with your request for a waiver.
To learn more about making your case, see Showing Extreme Hardship for the I-601 Waiver Process.
If you are outside the United States, you must file Form I-601 with the U.S. embassy or consulate where you apply for a visa. If you are already in the United States, and applying to adjust status, you would file Form I-601 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
You must pay a fee when you file Form I-601. These fees change regularly, so check for the latest fee on the I-601 page of the USCIS website. However, you can request a waiver of this fee if you are a(n):
- VAWA self-petitioner
- applicant for a T visa or U visa
- battered spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen
- applicant for Temporary Protected Status
- alien for whom a determination of the likelihood of becoming a public charge is not required a the time of your application for admission or adjustment of status.
Getting Legal Help
Filing a waiver of inadmissibility with Form I-601 is a complex process with serious consequences if you are denied. You would be well-advised to contact an attorney to assist you.