USCIS recently expanded the I601A program to make a wider class of people eligible. Although this is absolutely wonderful news, it remains crucial for individuals to ensure that they are in fact, eligible before applying. Not only is the I-601A a time consuming and costly undertaking, but it is also one that involves risk. A critical error or miscalculation can result in denial, or worse, permanent banishment from the United States.
One major area of confusion and frustration concerns priority dates for family based cases. The assignment of a priority date is extremely important in estimating when a preference based family case is ready to be adjudicated by USCIS or the Department of State. Ordinarily, it is pretty straightforward: one looks at the priority date assigned to one's case, and then consults the latest Visa Bulletin to determine how far off one's case is. Things get confusing, however, when a beneficiary's or petitioner's status changes. For example, what happens if a beneficiary gets married? Or what happens if the petitioner becomes a United States Citizen? Depending on the circumstances, a priority date may be preserved; in other cases, a priority date may be lost. Fortunately, in many situations, an automatic conversion occurs. For instance, if a child of a USC marries, the case is automatically converted from an F-1 preference based case to an F-3 case, which is for married children of US Citizens. The priority date remains unchanged, resulting in the married adult child being able to immigrate with his/her spouse and children under the age of 21 without having to have an entirely new I-130 filed. Another common scenario where a conversion also occurs is when a petitioner becomes a citizen after having filed for an adult child over 21 as a green card holder. After naturalization, the beneficiary's classification is automatically changed from F2B to F1.
Unlike aliens accorded permanent residence without conditions, those who have been granted conditional two year green cards must file together with their spouses for the permanent "10 year green card." (This term itself is a misnomer, as the status is indefinite; however, the card itself will expire in 10 years.) Despite its importance, the I-751 application process can appear deceptively simple. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate or downplay how critical this application is in a permanent resident's life here. Denial of the application will, in most cases, automatically lead to the individual being placed into removal proceedings. Even in cases where there is no question that the marriage is a genuine one, an alien's status may be jeopardized by failing to file the form correctly. Besides procedural errors, such as mailing to the wrong address, not enclosing the proper filing fee, or having only the immigrant sign the application, perhaps the biggest mistake that we have seen by people make doing these cases by themselves is failing to follow the instructions. The instructions are nearly as important as the form itself, given that USCIS explicitly advises the applicant what is expected. This is also reflected by the sheer length of pages: the actual application is 11 pages; the instructions are 10.
One of the reasons why naturalization is so special and coveted in New Jersey is that unlike most other states, USCIS makes every effort to administer the Oath and provide the Naturalization certificate the same day to applicants who have been approved. However, if the applicant is not fully prepared with the necessary documents, the Oath may be delayed even if the applicant has passed the English and civics tests and otherwise satisfied all the requirements for citizenship. As a general reminder, it is important to keep these tips in mind in preparation for your interview.