Archive for the Voluntary Departure Category

Is the 10-Year Bar for Real and Could It Stop Me from Getting My Green Card?

Posted in Immigrant Visas, Lawful Permanent Residence, Naturalization, Removal (Deportation) Proceedings, Voluntary Departure, work permit with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by GuruImmigration

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Note: The Law Offices of Larry L. Doan in Los Angeles, CA, provides the following blog article and other information on this site, including our responses to comments, for the purpose of legal information only; it is NOT legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

Many people have written us skeptical or not sure of the danger of the 3- and 10-year bars. Admittedly, these bars seem somewhat abstract or theoretical, and it can be difficult to grasp how they could affect oneself. Some people have asked how is it that people who are already in the U.S. “cannot get their papers here.” Well, that’s the way the law currently is. It was passed in 1996 as a way of penalizing people who came here illegally or who came legally but overstayed their visas for at least 6 months. The penalty was that these people could not get their papers here but must travel back to their home countries to do so. However, as soon as they set foot outside the U.S., they are subjected to these bars when they try to apply legally to return to the U.S. within 3 or 10 years.

With that in mind, it was quite nice that a reader of this blog recently commented and shared her experience with the 10-year bar. Her story was quite sobering, and we thought it has a little bit of everything that we’ve been blogging about, so we wanted to share it with you to show how this bar could wreak havoc on people’s dreams of living in the U.S. We’ve edited some of the original language to make it easier to read:

Hi Guru,
I came to USA on a tourist Visa in 1994 July. Got married to a green-card holder then in 1997 October. My husband applied I-130 for me in October 1997 and it was approved. I went with a friend of mine to the immigration in 1998 and I was inquiring for employment authorization and that’s where I was caught. I was released couple of hours later and reported to them every month. Appeared before the judge in Sept. 1998 and granted voluntary departure. The judge gave me 120 days which will expire on December 31, 1998. I was waiting for my husband’s swear in coz he had his citizenship interview. Since it did not take place in time I had to leave USA on 30th December 1998. I did not overstay the 120 days given by the judge.

OK, this lady had an I-130 petition filed for her by her green-card holder husband in 1997, then went to the Immigration Office to try to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD, or work permit) and got caught. Why? Doesn’t having an approved I-130 entitle you to a work permit?

The answer is most of the times no, not at all. When the husband filed the I-130 in 1997 for her, that placed her into the F2A category of spouses and children of green-card holders. At that time in 1997, people in that category had to wait something like 4 years for a visa number to be available. However, as we’ve shown elsewhere, without a visa number available, one cannot get a work permit. So, in 1998, when she went to the local Immigration office to inquire (and most likely apply) for the work permit, she was not entitled to one yet. At that time, we know she was out of status because it had been 4 years since she came to the U.S. on the tourist visa (in July 1994) and no tourist visa lasts 4 years. The act of going to the Immigration office made them aware of her presence in this country as being out-of-status. Therefore, they detained and released her but ordered her to appear in front of a judge in removal proceedings!

This shows that people who are out-of-status in the U.S. should proceed extremely carefully when trying to apply for something with Immigration here without consulting a lawyer. The lady here presumably did not do so, or got bad advice that she could qualify for a work permit, and made the mistake of applying for it. That’s how Immigration discovered that she had overstayed her tourist visa by 3 or 4 years.

What about the husband becoming a citizen, wasn’t that supposed to help her? Well, no, not unless he was approved for naturalization and was sworn in on time. In removal proceedings, the judge only gives the alien a couple of continuances at most, a good lawyer could get even more. If, after the continuances, the alien still does not have any form of relief available, then the judge cannot keep delaying the case and either will order removal or allow the alien the privilege of voluntary departure. Voluntary departure allows the person to leave the U.S. cleanly without having a removal or deportation against them on their records, and the maximum time given is 120 days to leave. IF the husband had been sworn in as a citizen in time while the lady was still in removal proceedings, then she would have converted from the F2A category to the immediate relative category, and a visa number would have been immediately available to her. Then she could have applied to the judge for her green card without having to leave the U.S.!

But, unfortunately, as she stated, “I was waiting for my husband’s swear in coz he had his citizenship interview. Since it did not take place in time, I had to leave USA on 30th December 1998.” So, because her husband did not become a citizen quickly enough, she indeed had to leave the U.S. within the 120-day period granted by the judge.

Her story then continues:

I went back to Malaysia and remained there since January 1st 1999. In May 1999 my husband became us citizen and he applied for immigrant visa for me and I had the interview on May 2000 and was denied because of overstay and it was a 10 year bar. I appealed and was rejected the I-601. The 10 year bar starts from the day I left USA. I left on 30th December 1998 and i have already completed the 10 year which is 30th December 2008.

So, back in Malaysia, after her husband had become a U.S. citizen, a visa number immediately became available for her. She naturally then tried to apply for the immigrant visa to return permanently to the U.S. She first was denied her visa due to the consulate’s finding that she overstayed previously by about 4 years on her prior tourist visa. Then, she filed the I-601 to try to apply for the extreme hardship waiver. However, this was also denied. Because of this, she could not get back to the U.S. legally, and had to wait 10 years from the date she left the U.S. before she could apply again! How could this happen, you might ask, since she got voluntary departure?

Well, voluntary departure at least prevented a removal order from being on her records, which would have been worse. However, the truth of the matter is that, receiving a grant of voluntary departure while in removal proceedings in court did nothing to erase the more than one year of unlawful presence that she had accumulated in the U.S. before starting her court proceedings. Thus, she became subjected to the 10-year bar as soon as she stepped foot outside the U.S. That’s how strict this bar is. The timing was particularly unlucky because not long after she left the U.S. on December 30, 1998, her husband became a citizen, and she became qualified for a visa to return to the U.S. But, unfortunately, at the consulate interview in Malaysia, the bar was invoked against her, as you can see, and so she had to wait 10 long years until December 30, 2008 to reapply.

Note: Some people are under the mistaken impression that this 10-year bar is only applicable if there was a removal (deportation) order against them. Not true! This 10-year penalty for being unlawfully present in the U.S. at least one year (either by overstaying one’s visa that long or being here illegally when one has no visa) kicks in no matter how one departs the U.S., even if it is voluntarily!

In any event, this lady’s heartfelt story above shows that there are real immigrants out there everyday who simply cannot “get their papers” here, but must return to their countries to do so. And, when they do that, they may be stuck in their countries for 10 years before being allowed to return, as happened with this lady. Having paid her dues, she is now in the process of reapplying again through her citizen husband, and should get approved easily this time since the 10 years have already passed with her being outside the United States. This is a real story. It is a story multiplied by thousands of times. For the sake of unification of families, let us hope that Congress will remove these bars from the law as soon as possible.

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Any action you take or rely upon after reading the information on this blog is your own responsibility and the Law Offices of Larry L. Doan bears no responsibility or connection to such action. For an analysis of your detailed and specific questions related to your individual immigration situation or problem, there is no substitute for a “live” meeting with an attorney. This can only be done during a paid consultation between the Law Offices of Larry L. Doan and you.  To get started with a consultation, please contact us:


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