January 30, 2012


By Myriam Jaidi

From the Comedy Central Show “South Park”(Season 2, Episode 204). The scene: Chef, an adult, is speaking with 4th graders Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman:
    Chef: I just want to tell you that drugs are bad.
    Stan: We know, we know, that’s what everybody says.
    Chef: Right, but do you know why they’re bad?
    Kyle: Because they’re an addictive solution to a greater problem, causing disease of both body and mind with consequences far outweighing their supposed benefits.
    Chef: And do you have any idea what that means?
    Kyle: No.
    Cartman: I know. Drugs are bad because if you do drugs you’re a hippy, and hippies suck.
    Chef: Look children: this is all I’m gonna say about drugs. Stay away from them. There’s a time and a place for everything and it’s called college. Do you understand?
    Children: Yes!
If Chef had been speaking to non-U.S.-citizens, he should have stopped at “Stay away from them,” given the draconian state of our immigration laws relating to any type of drugs, including marijuana, despite the fact that it has been decriminalized in many jurisdictions in the United States.

We learn in various contexts that drugs are bad, and we should just say no. The exchange above references some of the documented problems with drugs – their use or overuse can result in disease of both body and mind and other serious consequences. Nevertheless, many people identify with the statement Chef makes above. The assumption or joke being that many Americans will have or have had experiences with alcohol and/or drugs, such as marijuana, in college. This assumption may be good for a laugh, but for non-US citizens drugs (meaning controlled substances, for non-medical use) are not only bad, using drugs can lead to inadmissibility on various grounds including public health, criminal, and misrepresentation.

The ground of inadmissibility that comes to mind immediately is the criminal ground under INA INA 212(a)(2)(A)(II). If someone has a criminal conviction relating to a controlled substance, or even admitted to committing the crime, he or she is inadmissible and there is no waiver, although, in certain circumstances, enumerated in INA 212(h)(1), it may be possible to obtain a waiver where the crime “relates to a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.” Please note that convictions involving controlled substances (other than a single offense involving less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use) and having been or being a drug addict or abuser are treated similarly harshly after admission into lawful permanent resident status has been granted. These are both grounds of deportability under INA 237 INA 237(a)(2)(B). This blog addresses issues prior to being admitted as a lawful permanent resident.

What if someone used drugs but was never arrested for it? For example, what if Stan, who is not a US citizen, now lives in New York and went to college in New York on an F-1 visa. In college, during his freshman year, Stan made friends with a group of people that smoked pot a couple of times a week. After freshman year, he stopped smoking pot. After he completes his studies, he is sponsored by a company for an H-1B visa and is working in New York. A few years later, he meets and falls in love with Wendy, a UScitizen. They get married and she wants to sponsor him for a green card. Stan goes to a Civil Surgeon to get the required medical exam done on Form I-693. In the course of providing his medical history, Stan tells the Civil Surgeon, without being asked, that he smoked pot twice a week during his freshman year in college. He doesn't think it is a big deal -- as Chef implied, a lot of people use marijuana in college.

The Civil Surgeon’s role is to perform a medical exam to determine whether a person who is applying for adjustment of status within the United Statesmay be inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds. (Outside the United States, a similar role is performed by a “panel physician”.) They request a medical history and conduct a physical exam to ensure that a person does not have tuberculosis, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, leprosy and other communicable diseases noted in 42 CFR 34.2(b)(4) – (9). They also inquire about physical health and medications a person may be taking to ensure that any vaccines the individual might need are not contraindicated.

According to the Center for Disease Control Immigration Requirements: Technical Instructions for Physical or Mental Disorders with Associated Harmful Behaviors and Substance-Related Disorders (hereinafter“CDC TI”), drug screening is not a routine part of the medical exam. See CDC TI at p.11. However, there is a section on the Form I-693 addressing Drug Abuse/Drug Addiction (see Form I-693 at p.3). In order to complete this section, Civil Surgeons are instructed to “evaluate the applicant’s history, behavior and physical appearance when determining if drug screening should be performed.” CDC TI at p.11. If a Civil Surgeon reviews an applicant’s medical history with them and in the course of doing so sees no tell-tale signs of drug use or abuse, they may not ever inquire about recreational drug use. If they do inquire, however, and an individual lies and the truth is later discovered, the individual could potentially, based on the certification on the Form I-693, be subject to civil or criminal penalties, be found inadmissible for fraud under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i), be at risk of having any immigration benefit derived from the medical exam revoked, and could be subject to removal from the United States.

Many Civil Surgeons do not inquire, but some do. The CDC TI for Civil Surgeons provides a table (at page 12) of indicators that drug screening might be necessary. Among the indicators provided is the following: “history of any substance abuse or dependence.” The terms “drug abuse” and “drug addiction”(aka dependence) are defined in the regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as follows:
    Drug abuse. The non-medical use of a substance listed in section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act, as amended (21 U.S.C. 802) which has not necessarily resulted in physical or psychological dependence.

    Drug addiction. The non-medical use of a substance listed in section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act, as amended (21 U.S.C. 802) which has resulted in physical or psychological dependence.
42 CFR 34.4(g) & (h). These terms are further elucidated in the CDC TI, which draws information from the DSM and states as follows:
    the DSM criteria for substance dependence, either on alcohol or other psychoactive substances are characterized by compulsive long-term use of the substance despite significant substance-related physical, psychological, social, occupational, or behavioral problems. Tolerance and withdrawal are often associated with substance dependence.

    Substance abuse is characterized by a pattern of recurrent substance use despite adverse consequences and impairment. To establish any substance-related diagnosis, the examining physician must document the pattern of use and behavioral, physical, and psychological effects associated with the use or cessation of use of that substance.
CDC TI at p.6. In our hypothetical, the Civil Surgeon conducting the medical exam for Stan might see Stan’s use of marijuana throughout his freshman year in college as drug abuse, drug addiction, or neither. If she determines that Stan’s behavior actually does not fall within either category, she will indicate “No Class A or B Substance (Drug) Abuse/Addiction” on the I-693.

If the Civil Surgeon determines that Stan’s circumstances do indicate he is either an abuser or addict, there are various options the Civil Surgeon might pursue. She might collect evidence from Stan to determine whether Stan is in“full remission.” “Full remission” is another term taken from the DSM and it is defined as a period of at least 12 months during which no substance use has occurred. CDC TI at p.14. If she determines that Stan was either a drug abuser or drug addict but has been through full remission, she could classify Stan as Class B and mark the appropriate box on the I-693. A Class B finding does not make a person inadmissible under the public health grounds but could trigger an inquiry as to whether Stan’s condition might make him inadmissible under INA 212(a)(4) as likely to become a public charge. Health is one of the factors that statute requires adjudicators to take into consideration in determining whether someone might be inadmissible as a public charge. Thus USCIS would look into whether Stan’s past problems make it likely that Stan might become a public charge. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual (the Adjudicator’s Field Manual does not currently contain guidance on the issue of public charge, as the section for that topic is “reserved”),someone is likely to become a “public charge” if they are likely to become primarily dependent on the U.S. Government for subsistence either through cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at U.S. Government expense. See 9 FAM 40.41 N.2.

What else might the Civil Surgeon do? If the Civil Surgeon determines that Stan has a Class A issue, Stan will be inadmissible on public health grounds unless and until a finding of remission is made that can move him to Class B. If the Civil Surgeon decides she wants more information before reaching a diagnosis, she could also defer her diagnosis to a later date. If the Civil Surgeon decides to defer diagnosis, she would provide Stan with instructions on what steps he would need to take, what information he would need to provide, and the time frame for providing the information to her. If the Civil Surgeon feels that she will not be able to reach a conclusion regarding Stan’s condition, she can also refer Stan to a specialist consultant for further analysis on the drug issue. The specialist consultant’s findings would then be reflected on the I-693.

Could the information Stan provided to the Civil Surgeon about his past drug use trigger any other issues for him with regard to inadmissibility? Depending on exactly what Stan said and what the Civil Surgeon explained in response about the illegality of Stan’s freshman year marijuana habit, Stan might be inadmissible under INA 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) if he is found to have admitted “committing acts which constitute the essential elements of . . . a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)).”

How could this happen? How could a visit to the doctor turn into a trigger of a criminal ground of inadmissibility? It could happen if certain criteria established by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) are met (or even if they are not and the person lives in the Ninth Circuit, as noted below). The BIA set forth the following requirements for a validly obtained admission: (1) the admitted conduct must constitute the essential elements of a crime in the jurisdiction in which it occurred; (2) the applicant must have been provided with the definition and essential elements of the crime in understandable terms prior to making the admission; and (3) the admission must have been made voluntarily. See Matter of K-, 7 I&N Dec. 594 (BIA 1957). These requirements have been strictly followed in published BIA cases, and only in the Ninth Circuit have some of the Matter of K- factors been effectively ignored, arguably without a sufficient justification. See Pazcoguin v. Radcliffe, 292 F.3d 1209 (9th Cir. 2002).

In Stan’s case, whether or not his discussion with the Civil Surgeon would make him inadmissible under this section of the law would depend on exactly what he said he did, what the elements of the crime in that specific jurisdiction are, whether the Civil Surgeon provided him with the definition and essential elements of the crime in understandable terms, and whether his admission was voluntary.

Does the analysis change if the Civil Surgeon never asked about drug use? If the Civil Surgeon had not asked Stan and Stan had not offered the information there should be no issue. The Civil Surgeon made a determination based on her medical knowledge and observation of Stan that there was no reason to pursue any drug testing or line of questioning. Stan has not technically misrepresented anything because he was never asked about drug use and therefore did not misrepresent his past.

However, there is a question on the adjustment of status application (Form I-485) that Stan may have trouble answering: “Have you knowingly committed any crime of moral turpitude or drug related offense for which you have not been arrested?” The question on the Form I-485 (and the question regarding inadmissibility on the DS-260, for consular processing of an immigration visa, which is presented differently but raises the same issues) contains many legal terms Stan may not understand. In addition, because the question is on a form with which there can be no discussion and no interaction, clearly the requirements for an admission under Matter of K have not been satisfied. Furthermore, it would be very difficult for applicants to know that they have committed a crime for which they have not been charged or arrested, because one would have to figure out the applicable law, the elements of the crime or crimes, and whether all the elements of any crime have been satisfied. We have a complex penal law system in the United States. It requires the charging authority to determine the applicable law in each particular case and then demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that all the elements of that law were satisfied in order for a person to be convicted. This cannot happen on a form.

If Stan had ever been arrested for possession, he could only be convicted if the prosecution established all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, including proving that the substance was in fact marijuana by doing a lab test. For all Stan knows, he may have been smoking oregano during his freshman year. Then there is the question of whether Stan’s use of marijuana is equivalent to“possession” of marijuana in a manner that, under New York law, is prohibited. All of these issues must be pondered before the question can be answered.

The outcome might be different depending on the circumstances – if Stan had mentioned it to the Civil Surgeon, if the Civil Surgeon had pursued the line of questioning, the answer might be different. If Stan had gone to rehab for an addiction issue and his drug use had been confirmed, the result of the analysis might be different, impacting the appropriate answer to the question on Form I-485. The question can only be answered after an in-depth analysis on a case-by-case basis.

Even in the scenarios discussed here– where Stan had revealed his drug use to the Civil Surgeon or to the rehab program – and a determination was made that he was not inadmissible under the public health ground, can it be argued that he should not then face a sort of“double jeopardy” by being implicated under the criminal ground of inadmissibility? Disclosure was made and Stan legitimately cleared the issue of inadmissibility on a public health ground. It seems reasonable that clearing the public health ground should not leave an individual subject to the criminal ground. If Congress wanted one potentially subject to the public health ground of inadmissibility to remain inadmissible under the criminal ground, then Congress would not have provided a way to overcome the public health ground of inadmissibility. Congress would have collapsed drug use or abuse under one ground of inadmissibility. How to answer the question on the forms and the issue of the interplay between the various grounds of inadmissibility are issues that could be the focus of another article, and we raise the issue here to provide a glimpse of its complexity.

The upshot here is that the humorous, somewhat cavalier attitude about drugs displayed in U.S. pop culture by no means reflects the reality faced by those present in the United States who are not citizens. For non-citizens the “Just Say No” slogan developed in the 1980s has greater meaning given the stunning consequences non-citizens face if they do engage in use of controlled substances.

January 22, 2012


By Cyrus D. Mehta

Many cases involving complex interpretations of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) occur while the applicant is applying for an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post. The CSPA protects a child who may turn 21 or more from “aging out,” and thus being eligible for permanent residence as a derivative, when his or her parent is issued permanent residence.  Often times, while there is room for interpretations under the CSPA, the consular officer may take a restrictive view of a CSPA provision and refuse the visa. There is no appeal process to review a consular officer’s decision at an overseas post, and the refusal may seem to be the end of the road and separation from the “aged out” child from the parent. Fortunately, despite the absence of an appeal process, one can seek an advisory opinion on a purely legal issue with the State Department’s Visa Office in Washington DC via legalnet@state.gov, and a denial under the CSPA mostly involves a legal issue rather than a factual issue. By contrast, the denial of a tourist visa application is almost always fact based, and under such circumstances, it may not be possible to seek an advisory opinion from the Visa Office. 
This author has had success in overturning a consular official’s denial on at least two occasions in the past. On both these occasions, the State Department’s Visa Office agreed that the 45 days provided in section 421(2) of the USA Patriot Act can be subtracted from the age of a child if the age subtraction formula under the CSPA did not bring down the age of the child under 21 years. In other words, the child can use the benefit of both the Patriot Act and the CSPA to lower the age of a child below 21 years. Although this author had previously advocated that there was nothing in the CSPA preventing the use of the 45 days from the Patriot Act in addition to the age subtraction formula provided in  the CSPA, this is now no longer an issue as it has been clearly acknowledged in 9 FAM 42.42 N12.4(e.) and 9 FAM 42.42 N12.8(b.).
Our recent success, which we report here for the benefit of others, was regarding the interpretation of “sought to acquire the status of permanent residency” within one year of visa availability. At issue is whether the payment of the visa processing fees with the National Visa Center within the one year period constituted “sought to acquire” permanent residency within the one year period. The actual application for the immigrant visa, DS 230 Part I or II, had not been filed within one year. The applicant was unrepresented at that time and was not aware of the precise requirement to apply for permanent residence within one year of visa availability.
As a background,  INA §203(h), introduced by Section 3 of the CSPA, provides the formula for determining the age of a derivative child in a preference petition even if the child is older than 21 years. To qualify as a child under INA §101(b)(1), one must be below the age of 21 and unmarried. The age is determined by taking the age of the alien on the date that a visa first became available (i.e. the date on which the priority date became current and the petition was approved, whichever came later) and subtracting the time it took to adjudicate the petition (time from petition filing to petition approval). Based on this formula, if the child’s age falls below 21, the child is protected under the CSPA. Specifically, §203(h)(1)(A) also requires the alien to have “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa availability.
The CSPA thus artificially freezes the age of a child below 21 years of age so that he or she is not deprived of permanent residency when the parent is granted the same status. One of the requirements, however, is for the child to seek permanent residency within one year of visa availability. Often times, a CSPA protected child falls through the cracks by failing to meet the prevailing rigid filing requirements within the one-year deadline.
Both the Department of Home Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) have interpreted the phrase “sought to acquire” narrowly, although unpublished decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals have taken a broader view. DHS limits this phrase to filing an I-485 application for adjustment of status. See “Revised Guidance for CSPA” (April 30, 2008).  The DOS too has interpreted “sought to acquire” narrowly and indicated that in consular processing cases, the date that a child seeks to acquire LPR status is the date Form DS 230, Part I, is submitted by the child, or by the child’s parent on the child’s behalf to the National Visa Center (NVC). See “Child Status Protection Act: ALDAC 2” (January 17, 2003), See “Child Status Protection Act: ALDAC 2” (January 17, 2003). If the principal beneficiary parent adjusts status in the US, and the child will be applying for the visa overseas, the DOS requires the principal to file Form I-824 to initiate the child’s follow-to-join application. The DOS has also indicated that since Form I-824 is not the only way to initiate the process, posts may seek advisory opinions in cases in which some other “concrete” step has been taken.  
The US consular post we were dealing with insisted that the applicant did not seek to acquire permanent residence within one year because the applicant only paid the visa processing fees with the National Visa Center, but did not file the DS 230, Part 1, within one year of visa availability. The payment of the visa processing fee was not sufficient to constitute “sought to acquire” permanent residence within the one year time frame.
Upon receiving official confirmation of the refusal at the US consular post, we sought an advisory opinion from the Visa Office through legalnet@state.gov. Although we acknowledge that they are not binding on the State Department, we pointed to recent unpublished decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which have interpreted the “sought to acquire” term more broadly, that should still be persuasive. For example, In In re Murillo, 2010 WL 5888675 (BIA Oct. 6, 2010) the BIA reaffirmed its broadened “sought to acquire” to include substantial steps towards the filing of the relevant application, although these steps may fall short of an actual filing of an application. In this case, the applicant claiming protection under the CSPA hired an attorney to prepare an I-485 adjustment application within the one year time frame, but filed it within a reasonable time thereafter. This decision follows closely on the heels of other unpublished Board decisions that have applied the same “sought to acquire” standard. See In re Kim, 2004 WL 3187209 (BIA Dec. 20, 2004), (the child beneficiary “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa approval because her parents hired an attorney to start preparing the adjustment application within the one-year period); In re Castillo-Bonilla, 2008 WL 4146759 (BIA Aug 20, 2008) (the respondent “sought to acquire” LPR within the one-year period when, during this time, he informed both the Immigration Judge and the Board that he wished to file an adjustment application, even though the application was not actually filed within one year).
It is in the same spirit as the unpublished BIA decisions, and consistent with INA §203(h)(1)(A),   we requested that the Visa Office advise the Consul to consider the fact that the filing fee paid within the one year time frame constituted a very concrete step towards seeking permanent residency. Indeed, payment of the fees constituted a much more credible step  towards seeking permanent residency than making an informal request to the NVC or contacting an attorney, which are the facts supporting the aforementioned BIA decisions.  We also pointed out to Visa Office, as we did with the consulate unsuccessfully, that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) at 9 FAM 42.42 N12.9 recognizes the complexity of the CSPA, and advises that a Consul may seek an advisory opinion in the following instance:
If the officer encounters a case involving a derivative following to join a legally admitted immigrant, or adjusted principal, who has not filed Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application of Petition, on the derivative’s behalf within the required time frame, but the consular officer determined that the derivative has taken some other concrete step to obtain LPR status within the required one year time frame.
We therefore asked that the Visa Office provide such an advisory opinion under the authority laid out in the FAM, and advise the consular officer that other concrete steps taken to obtain LPR status, such as the payment of immigrant visa fees that occurred here, may be considered.
In less than two weeks from seeking the advisory opinion just prior to the New Year (2012), we received the following communication from the Visa Office:
Thank you for your inquiry to LegalNet.  Since the derivative applicants submitted their IV fee within one year of visa availability, the Consular office will consider CSPA's sought to acquire requirement satisfied.  The visa unit in [redacted] will contact the applicants to resume processing.

January 13, 2012


By Cyrus D. Mehta

Determining whether a foreign degree is equivalent to a US degree is crucial for an employment-based immigrant visa petition. Within the US employment-based preference system, being classified under the Employment-based Second Preference (EB-2) puts one at a significant advantage over one who is classified under the Employment-based Third Preference (EB-3). There is no backlog in the EB-2 for most countries while the EB-3 is hopelessly backlogged, Even if the EB-2 for countries like India and China is backlogged, it is less so than the EB-3. Indeed, the EB-3 backlog for India is unimaginable and totally untenable. It is estimated that it will take 70 years for the green card for a person from India who establishes his or her priority date in 2012! 
To be classified under the EB-2  pursuant to section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the position must require an advanced degree or its equivalent, which the USCIS in 8 CFR section 204.5(k)(2) defines as a foreign equivalent 4-year bachelor’s degree plus five years of post baccalaureate experience.
In the United States, one normally obtains a master's degree after completing a 2-year program following a 4-year bachelor's degree. Thus a student has to undertake 6 years of study in order to be awarded a master's degree from an accredited US college or university.
It has generally been assumed that a foreign master's degree, obtained after 6 years of education, would generally be equivalent to a US master's degree.  EDGE (Electronic Database For Global Education), administered by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers provides information on foreign degree equivalence from educational institutions from around the world. It is treated as gospel truth by the USCIS in determining whether a foreign degree is equivalent for immigration purpose. Till recently, EDGE has correctly said that an  Indian 4-year degree, such as a Bachelor of Technology degree, followed by a 2-year master's degree, is equivalent to a US master's degree. On the other hand, a master's degree following a 2- or 3-year Indian bachelor's degree only equated to a US bachelor's degree and not a master's degree.
It has recently come to our attention, thanks to Natalie Muehlberger of Trustforte Corporation, that EDGE has recently downgraded many Indian master's degrees. This is how EDGE, a paid  service, describes it now: 
Credential Description
Awarded upon completion of 1.5-2 years of study beyond the three-year bachelor's degree or four year BTech or BEngr degree.
Credential Advice
The Master of Science represents attainment of a level of education comparable to a bachelor's degree in the United States. 
Thus, regardless of whether the master's degree is obtained after a 3- year or a 4- year bachelor's degree program in India, EDGE is now equating both to a US bachelor's degree. This downgrade of Indian master of science degrees would impact those who would otherwise qualify under the EB-2 as the USCIS closely relies on EDGE. We do hope that EDGE realizes that it is wrong and reverts to its earlier assessment that a master's degree, following 6 years of education, is equivalent to a US master's degree and not a bachelor's degree. In addition, EDGE has also downgraded the Indian MBA, regardless of whether it was preceded by a 4-year engineering degree and the Indian master of science by research degree (which no longer appears in EDGE at present). While EDGE used to maintain that  2 years of coursework in business management leading to a post-graduate diploma from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, India, was  comparable to a master's degree in the United States, this degree to has been downgraded to equate to only a US bachelor's degree since only a three year bachelor's degree is required [Updated on 9/2/2013]. EDGE also still finds that an Indian master of technology or engineering degree, and master of computer applications degree, is  equivalent to a US master's degree. The same logic should hold true for other Indian master of science and MBA degrees, following a 4 year bachelor degree. It is therefore important to constantly check the foreign national's educational credentials with EDGE before embarking on an employment-based green card sponsorship.
Since USCIS follows EDGE, the beneficiary of an I-140 petition with an Indian master's in the above situations may be only able to qualify under the EB-2 if he or she can demonstrate a bachelor's degree (since this master's degree will still equate to a single source bachelor's degree) plus 5 years of progressive experience following this degree. If the beneficiary does not have the 5 years of post-baccalaureate experience, he or she will have no choice but to be classified under the EB-3, and if born in India, the green card will materialize after decades.
If EDGE does not revert to its original position with respect to Indian master of science degrees and the MBA, petitioners and their attorneys should still endeavor to convince the USCIS, or then litigate before the AAO and in federal court, that a 2-year Indian master of science degree following a 4- year bachelor's degree ought to be comparable to a US master's degree.   In a 2009 USCIS liaison meeting, the agency indicated that it would still be receptive to arguments notwithstanding a contrary EDGE finding:
USCIS considers all sources, including EDGE and AACRAO databases, and has received many evaluations where the evaluators list membership in AACRAO in their credentials and list AACRAO publications as their reference materials. USCIS adjudicators review all evidence in the record and make determinations based on the individual facts of each case. The AAO's decisions are available to the public and provide an extensive compilation of the results of its findings as to the equivalency of particular foreign degrees. 
The USCIS pursuant to its 2009 guidance ought to be receptive to arguments that an Indian master's degree following 6 years of post-secondary education is functionally equivalent to a US master's degree. Otherwise, the EDGE downgrade with Indian master of science and other degrees will strike another blow to Indians, who will then be endlessly mired in the EB-3 even though they qualify for a position that requires an advanced degree. It will also be another example of how the USCIS constantly shifts the goal posts concerning foreign equivalent degrees, adversely and unfairly impacting mostly skilled foreign nationals with Indian degrees. 

(The blog was amended on January 18, 2012 to clarify that the downgrade only applies to Indian master of science degrees and a few other degrees but not all Indian master degrees)


The author has learned today that EDGE has again reverted to its former position. It has deleted within the entry that a master of science degree beyond a 4 year degree is equivalent to a US bachelor's degree. It leaves intact within that entry that a master's degree following a 3 year bachelor's degree is equivalent to a US bachelor's degree. Does this mean that a master of science degree following a 4 year bachelor's degree is equivalent to a master's degree? We hope that the USCIS follows this logic and agrees. On the other hand EDGE now has an entry , and this is very strange, indicating that the master of engineering or master of technology degree following a 4 year bachelor of technology or bachelor of engineering degree is equivalent to a US bachelor's degree. This cannot be the case and must be an error!  In yet another entry, EDGE says that an Indian master of physiotherapy, master of science (nursing), master of science in engineering/technology, master of pharmacy and master of laws, following 4 or 5 year bachelor degree programs is equal to US master's degree. All this is completely inconsistent with the downgrade, and results in uncertainty for those who rely on EDGE in filing immigrant visa I-140 petitions to get classified under the EB-2. Perhaps, USCIS, given these flip flops and inconsistencies, should no longer treat EDGE as the gospel truth with respect to determining whether these degrees are equivalent to US degrees, and give more credence to justifications provided from other reliable sources determining the accurate equivalence of such degrees.  

January 6, 2012


By Cyrus D. Mehta and David A. Isaacson

In the raging immigration debate concerning the millions of undocumented immigrants in the US, one important issue has received scant attention. We have yet to meet a person who has roots in the US who desires to choose to remain undocumented. Most are forced to remain undocumented even though they have a pathway to a green card due to a perverse Catch 22 effect in our immigration law as a result of the 3 and 10 year bars imposed under INA § 212(a)(9)(B).

Those who have remained unlawfully present in the US for 1 year or more face a 10 year bar to reentry if they depart the US. Similarly, those who have remained unlawfully present for more than 180 days face a 3 year bar to reentry if they depart the US. It should be noted that the term “unlawfully present” is a complex legal term and a discussion of this term is beyond the scope of this blog. These individuals, if they are the beneficiaries of an approved immigrant visa petition filed by a US citizen spouse or parent or a US citizen child (who is over 21), may often be unable to adjust their status in the US. Under INA § 245(a) one has to be inspected or paroled in order to qualify to adjust status to permanent residence in the US. Thus, a non-citizen spouse of a US citizen who previously surreptitiously crossed the border from Mexico into the US would be ineligible to adjust status because she was not inspected under § 245(a). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule too, which is beyond the scope of this blog and an article discussing these exceptions can be found here. This spouse would need to leave the US and apply for an immigrant visa at the US consulate in her home country. However, if she was unlawfully present in the US for 1 year or more, it would result in her triggering the 10 year bar to reentry. Although, under the current regime, she can apply for a waiver under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(v), she can only do so after she has departed the US.

Obtaining the waiver is no small matter because she has to demonstrate extreme hardship to the US citizen spouse if the waiver is denied. The emotional angst resulting from the separation of two spouses is not enough. She will need to demonstrate, in addition to the emotional issue, financial, cultural, political and health conditions, among many others, as well as the balancing of ties within and outside the US. See Matter of Cervantes, 22 I&N Dec. 560 (BIA 1999), aff’d, Cervantes-Gonzales v. INS, 244 F.3d 1001 (9th Cir. 2001). Thus, this spouse will be rolling the dice if she departs the US to chance winning the waiver while outside the US. If the waiver is denied, she will be stuck outside the US and will be separated from her loved ones. Moreover, she can only demonstrate extreme hardship to a limited universe of qualifying relatives, which include a spouse or a parent. If she has US citizen children, under INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(v), she cannot demonstrate extreme hardship to them if she is separated.

It is not hard to see why there has been such a huge build up of the undocumented population in the US. Even while people may be eligible for permanent residence, they are unwilling to leave and chance a waiver from outside the US. While Congress enacted INA § 212(a)(9)(B) to deter overstays, it has had the exact opposite effect. People overstay, despite being approved for a green card, because of fear of facing the 3 or 10 year bars.

It is thus heartening that the Obama administration has proposed a rule that will be published in the Federal Register on January 9, 2012 in the form of a Notice of Intent to publish such a rule, which will permit intending immigrants to apply for a provisional waiver in the US prior to their departure from the US. This rule, if published, will remove the uncertainty in leaving the US and being barred for 3 or 10 years if the waiver application is denied. Under the proposed rule, the waiver can be applied for while in the US. With the waiver in hand, the individual departing the US can more readily hope to reenter the US without facing the 10 year bar. This move has received thunderous applause from the immigration advocacy community and rightly so. In a time when Congress is virtually paralyzed and cannot even make small tweaks to improve the immigration system, the proposing of a smart administrative rule such as this one is consistent with the intent of the law. People subject to the 3 or 10 year bars still need to apply for the waiver and meet the rigorous “extreme hardship” standard, except that they can apply for it in the US prior to their departure. If they obtain the waiver, they can at least be assured of not triggering the 3 or 10 year bars upon their departure.

Apparently, if and when the rule takes effect, which under the formal rule making process may take some time, it will be limited to immediate relatives of US citizens who are seeking a § 212(a)(9)(B)(v) waiver of unlawful presence based on hardship to a US citizen, although the petitioning US citizen and the one to whom extreme hardship exists need not be the same (so that, for example, it appears that the parent of a 21-year-old US citizen petitioned for by that son or daughter would qualify if seeking a waiver based on extreme hardship to a US citizen parent, the grandparent of the petitioning relative). It appears that the rule will not cover people who are not immediate relatives of a US citizen (such as the over-21-year-old son or daughter of a US citizen who is petitioned for by their parent and not protected by the Child Status Protection Act), or whose qualifying relative for the waiver is a lawful permanent resident. It also will not cover people who need some other sort of waiver in addition, such as a waiver under INA § 212(i) for fraud. It is not entirely clear whether the proposed rule would cover people who in addition to a waiver under § 212(a)(9)(B)(v) need to obtain permission to reapply for admission because their departure will execute an order of removal and create inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(9)(A), but it would seem that it should, since such applications for permission to reapply can already be filed in advance under existing regulations-- the actual proposed rule may clarify this when it comes out. We do urge the USCIS to at least include sons and daughters of US citizens who do not qualify as immediate relatives. A child who has turned 21, and who may not be protected under the Child Status Protection Act, still remains very much part of the nuclear family especially in hard economic times when their parents are still the lifeline. These adult children, technically referred to as sons and daughters, would otherwise qualify under DREAM Act legislation, and may at least be able to take advantage of this provisional waiver if the proposed rule is adjusted to allow them to do so.

Although this new proposed rule may be portrayed as some sort of radical innovation by immigration restrictionists, it is actually nothing of the sort. The governing regulations, specifically 8 C.F.R. § 212.2(j), have long provided that one who is consular processing an immigrant visa, and will need permission to reapply for admission because his or her departure will execute an order of deportation or removal and create inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(9)(A), can file the Form I-212 application for permission to reapply in advance of departing from the United States, and “shall receive a conditional approval depending on his or her satisfactory departure.” That is, people who will be subject to the 5- and 10-year bars based on executed removal and deportation orders (the length of the bar can vary depending on the circumstances of a removal order) have long been able to apply for advance waivers of those bars before they leave the US to consular-process an immigrant visa. This new proposed rule would simply update the regulations to create a similar procedure for the parallel 3- and 10-year bars created by IIRIRA (the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996”), for people who remove themselves from the United States after being unlawfully present even though there may have been no removal proceedings against them. It can therefore be seen as a long overdue technical fix. However, it remains to be seen how long the rule making process will take, which includes notice and comment. There is also bound to be opposition to the rule. The USCIS still has to publish rules from the enactment of IIRIRA provisions in 1996! Hopefully, the Obama administration will give this high priority as the promulgation of such a rule may even reduce the undocumented population in the US.

This technical fix could also reduce inefficiency in the era of Matter of Quilantan, 25 I&N Dec. 285 (BIA 2010), especially if accompanied by an additional change in the proposal relating to potential issues of fraud. Under Quilantan, entering the United States at a port of entry with the permission of an immigration officer is sufficient to create eligibility for adjustment of status as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, regardless of whether one’s entry was procedurally proper, as long as the entry did not involve a knowing false claim to U.S. citizenship. Many people who were waved through the border as passengers in a car or the like have little corroborating evidence of their manner of entry. Absent this regulation, if such a Quilantan entrant is married to a U.S. citizen and is denied adjustment because USCIS rejects their testimony regarding manner of entry, they will effectively be forced to request that removal proceedings be commenced against them so that they may testify before an Immigration Judge and seek to establish their manner of entry by credible testimony as Ms. Quilantan did in her case. Under the new procedure, some such Quilantan entrants may decide that it is simpler to seek an advance waiver of inadmissibility, as long as their qualifying relative’s particular form of extreme hardship is such that a brief trip abroad to pick up an immigrant visa will not be intolerable. If the advance waiver is approved, the already overcrowded immigration court system would then be spared the necessity of hearing testimony regarding the applicant’s manner of entry. One caveat, however, is that the current version of the proposal, which excludes waivers of fraud-related inadmissibility under INA § 212(i), could lead potential applicants and their attorneys to fear a potential finding of fraud inadmissibility by a consulate where the circumstances of the applicant’s prior entry into the United States are murky and difficult to prove (making it hard to refute an inaccurate consular suspicion that some fraud may have been committed). The potential efficiency would be much greater if the USCIS proposal were modified to allow either advance waivers under INA § 212(i), or at least an advance finding that no fraud was committed by an applicant. Otherwise, Quilantan­ entrants within the U.S. may be reluctant to give up their right to have an Immigration Judge (and if necessary the BIA) adjudicate their contention that they did not commit fraud in their entry, and to instead be at the mercy of an effectively unreviewable determination by a consular officer.