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Is There a 10 Year Immigration Law That Gives You a Green Card?

| Jun 12, 2014 | Common Immigration Questions and Problems

The number 10 seems to be a momentous number that carries a lot of implications and consequences for many types of immigration applications and contexts. At the outset, it should be clarified that contrary to popular belief, there is no “10 year law” that entitles someone illegally in the United States to apply for a green card. For whatever reason, this is a very popular myth that is circulating amongst immigrant communities. Nonetheless, 10 years is a very significant milestone. Three of the most conventional ways in which the number ten means something occurs within the following situations:

Cancellation of Removal

Under certain conditions, certain nonpermanent residents-that is, people who don’t have “green cards” or permanent residence-may apply to cancel their removal hearings and adjust status. This is done before an Immigration Judge in Immigration Court. One of the requirements is that the alien demonstrates ten years physical presence in the United States. If the individual can prove ten years physical presence and exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a United States Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident spouse, parent, or child, the Judge may cancel the proceeding and admit the person to permanent residence. (Please note, however, there are certain restrictions that may serve to disqualify an individual.) This is probably where the idea of the “ten year law” originated from.


When an individual is deported or removed from the United States after a Removal Hearing, he or she is ordinarily barred for ten years. The alien must remain outside for at least ten years while the order is in effect.

Ten Year Unlawful Presence bar

When an alien stays illegally in the United States and accrues one year or more of “unlawful presence,” and then leaves, he or she will trigger the ten-year unlawful presence bar. In other words, upon departure, the individual is barred for ten years from re-entering. Some people also confuse this ten-year bar with the Provisional Waiver program that was enacted in 2012. It is important to recognize that the provisional waiver does not apply to everybody. However, when an individual is eligible under the regulations, he or she will be able to apply for a waiver of the unlawful presence bar here in the United States. The benefit to this is that the applicant will be informed of the decision here in the United States, unlike a traditional waiver applicant who must leave the United States, attend the consular interview, and apply for the waiver abroad. If the provisional waiver is granted, the interview will be scheduled abroad, and the applicant will be able to leave and come back since the unlawful presence bar has already been addressed and cancelled.

Ten years is by no means limited to the above scenarios. In many cases, ten years may also serve as a benchmark for immigration government attorneys considering a request for prosecutorial discretion. Generally speaking, ten years can be a good or bad things. It all depends on which perspective you are looking from: whether you have already left or been deported from the United States, or whether you are trying to qualify for some sort of immigration relief. An individual who has stayed here longer in the US, albeit unlawfully, and who has proof of “equities” may stand a better chance of staying than someone who has been here for less than ten years.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the “Subscribe To This Blog’s Feed” button on the right. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the “Case Evaluation” box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.

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