U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may find you inadmissible for immigration based on different factors. You may have violated U.S. immigration law or simply not met the eligibility requirements for the immigration status you’re applying for. However, waivers of inadmissibility may be available to you. A waiver of inadmissibility asks the U.S. government to forgive your grounds of inadmissibility and grant you the immigration benefit you’re applying for anyway. This article introduces Forms I-601 and I-601A, which are the forms you’ll file for the waiver. It explains the requirements for each document and their respective application processes.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written April 4, 2022
What Are Forms I-601 and I-601A?
If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finds you inadmissible to the United States, you should use Form I-601 to file your waiver request. Form I-601 is a waiver of grounds of inadmissibility or an application for USCIS to waive their ruling. USCIS may find you inadmissible for a variety of reasons, such as:
Having the potential to become a public charge
Having certain mental disorders or communicable diseases of public health significance
Previous “alien smuggling” (human trafficking) conviction
Insufficient vaccination record
Form I-601-A is often called the provisional waiver. It is for applicants in the United States who entered the United States illegally but have immediate family members who are U.S. citizens or green card holders. One example would be a lawful permanent resident spouse.
You are unlawfully present in the United States if you enter illegally and stay without a valid visa. Usually, you would have to return to your home country to apply for a green card from your local U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate. However, you would likely face a three- or 10-year ban from re-entering the United States because of your unlawful presence.
To avoid this ban, you will need to file a waiver application through Form I-601A. You will file this waiver while in the United States. If USCIS approves it, you will be eligible to attend a green card appointment in your home country. However, you must apply and qualify under specific criteria before leaving the United States.
What Requirements Must You Meet To File Form I-601 and Form I-601A?
Form I-601 and Form I-601A are waivers for very different circumstances. There are various requirements for each waiver, depending on you and your type of application.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), you may be only eligible to apply for a waiver depending on your visa type and grounds for inadmissibility. Typically, you can file the I-601 waiver application if:
You are applying for an immigrant visa (green card), K visa, or V visa. You are outside the United States, had a visa interview with a consular officer, and the officer found you inadmissible during the interview.
You are applying for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence. However, USCIS excludes specific adjustment categories, such as if:
You face inadmissibility because of fraud or misrepresentation. If you falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen, you are ineligible for a waiver.
You face inadmissibility because of previous criminal activity. Certain criminal grounds allow for a waiver, including crimes of moral turpitude or prostitution. Waivers are not eligible for murder, aggravated felonies, certain controlled substance violations, and other crimes.
If you are applying for an immigrant visa based on these qualifications or statuses, you are eligible for the I-601 waiver:
The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioner or the child of a VAWA self-petitioner
T nonimmigrant status
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) based on an approved Form I-360
Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
This form is an application to waive the ban you face from re-entering the United States based on your previous immigration violations. This applies if you overstayed a U.S. visa, including a nonimmigrant visa, or lived in the United States without a green card, valid visa, or U.S. citizenship. Typically, you can file the I-601A waiver application if:
You are physically present in the United States.
You are at least 17 years old when filing.
You have an immigrant visa case pending with the U.S. Department of State.
Check to make sure you qualify under the conditions listed in the Form I-601A instructions.
Many circumstances will lead to a Form I-106A denial, such as if you are already in deportation or removal proceedings. Read the instructions for more information.
How To Apply for a Waiver of Inadmissibility
There are two different processes for applying for a waiver of inadmissibility. It depends if you are using Form I-601 or Form I-601A. For each of these processes, it is extremely beneficial to do so with the help of a qualified immigration lawyer.
Using Form I-601
If a U.S. consular officer declared you ineligible for an immigrant visa or nonimmigrant K or V visa due to inadmissibility, you may be able to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility. If the consular officer says you are eligible for a waiver, you can file Form I-601 with USCIS. If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) previously deported or removed you, you will also file Form I-212 in addition to your Form I-601. You can do this by mail or online.
When you submit your form(s), you must include evidence and details for the record. Be sure that your information is accurate and complete. This process may take a while. The average processing time for Form I-601 is 31.5 to 34 months. USCIS will adjudicate your application. They will inform you and the consular officer of the decision.
If USCIS denies you, you may be able to appeal the decision or file to reopen or reconsider the decision with Form I-290B. You should get a lawyer’s help with this process. Most waivers are valid indefinitely, but only for the actions or events in your application. If you have other affairs to address, you must file a new waiver. Some waivers are conditional or temporary, so read the instructions for more information. You can speak with an independent attorney for just $24/month through our Ask an Attorney program.
Using Form I-601A
Form I-601A is a standalone application. You cannot file this form with any other applications, petitions, or requests for immigration benefits. Through this form, USCIS will determine whether you will have the three- or 10-year bar from returning to the United States waived if you leave the United States to apply for a green card.
When you file Form I-601A, you must be in the United States. You will appear for a biometrics appointment at a USCIS facility to provide fingerprints, photographs, or signatures. They will use this information to verify your identity, conduct background or security checks, and obtain additional information in an FBI criminal convictions record check.
Form I-601A instructions will give you detailed information about what to submit as evidence. You will have to prove that if USCIS denies your waiver, your immediate relative, a U.S. citizen or green card holder, will suffer extreme hardships. The qualifying relative does not need to be the one who filed the immigrant visa application. However, they must be your spouse or your parent if you are unmarried. No other relatives, such as a sibling, may qualify for this extreme hardship criterion.
After collecting all the evidence and required documentation, you can file this form online or by mail. USCIS will process your application, request biometrics, and may request an interview. The average processing time for this form is between 8.5 to 11.5 months.
You should read carefully through the instructions about your immigration status when applying for the waiver. Filing or getting an approved application for a provisional unlawful presence waiver does not affect your current immigration status in the United States. If USCIS approves your waiver, you may return to your country of origin and apply for a green card through consular processing. You need to submit the waiver with your green card application to prove the ban on re-entering the United States does not apply to you.
Applying for a waiver of inadmissibility for an immigrant visa is complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the waiver process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit or you just have immigration questions you need answered, you can speak with an independent attorney for just $24/month through our Ask an Attorney program.