Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness: FAQs for Legal Practitioners
What is Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness?
Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) is a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, enacted by Congress on Dec. 20, 2019. The law allows certain Liberians — and eligible family members — to apply to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status before Dec. 20, 2020.
Where can I find the legal authority on LRIF?
The law itself is found in Section 7611 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. There are no implementing regulations. Current agency guidance is posted on the USCIS website here. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has indicated that it will issue Policy Manual content on LRIF adjustment but the timing of publication is unknown.
Who is eligible to adjust status under LRIF?
Principal applicants: In order to adjust status under LRIF, a principal applicant must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Be a national of Liberia;
- Show continuous physical presence in the United States from Nov. 20, 2014 through the date the Form I-485 adjustment application is filed;
- Be admissible to the United States (or eligible for an inadmissibility waiver), with the exception of the following 4 inadmissibility grounds which do not apply:
- Public charge – INA § 212(a)(4); o Labor certification – INA § 212(a)(5);
- Present without admission or parole – INA § 212(a)(6)(A); and
- Documentation requirements – INA § 212(a)(7)(A);
- Not have an aggravated felony conviction; 2 or more convictions for a crime involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense); or have ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; and
- Be otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa.
While some Liberians eligible for LRIF adjustment may currently be covered by Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), having DED is not a requirement to adjust under LRIF.
Eligible Family Members: The spouse and unmarried children, sons, and daughters of a Liberian principal applicant may also apply to adjust status. These family members are subject to the same inadmissibility requirements and same bars pertaining to certain convictions and persecution of others. Unlike principal applicants, however, they do not need to be Liberian nationals and are not required to show continuous physical presence. However, they must be otherwise eligible to receive an immigrant visa and must apply no later than Dec. 20, 2020. A qualifying spouse or child of a principal LRIF applicant must also be in the United States to benefit from this adjustment program; there is no consular processing option at this time.
How can my client prove continuous physical presence since Nov. 20, 2014?
According to the LRIF statute, any absence(s) from the United States since Nov. 20, 2014, should not add up to more than 180 days in the aggregate. We anticipate guidance from USCIS in the coming weeks concerning LRIF applicants whose absences during the relevant period exceed 180 days in the aggregate and whether any exceptions will be recognized. Until then, CLINIC recommends providing a physical presence document for at least every 3-4 months during the relevant timeframe and documenting all absences from the United States during that time. It may also be helpful to look to guidance relevant to other immigration benefits with a continuous physical presence requirement as to the type and quantity of documentation that might be considered sufficient to meet the standard.
What does it mean that an applicant must be “otherwise eligible for an immigrant visa”?
USCIS has not yet offered any guidance or clarity on what this eligibility criterion means or how it is being interpreted by the agency.
Are LRIF adjustment applicants who entered without inspection eligible to adjust?
As explained above, LRIF adjustment applicants are exempt from inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(6)(A) (the ground that applies to noncitizens present without admission or parole). Thus, an applicant who entered without inspection may still qualify for LRIF adjustment and an inadmissibility waiver would not be needed. However, keep in mind that someone who entered without inspection and subsequently departed the United States may have triggered a separate ground of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(9)(B). Likewise, someone who entered without inspection following a removal order or after an aggregate period of more than one year of unlawful presence may be inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(9)(C). LRIF applicants are not exempt from those two grounds.
If a qualifying spouse or child enters the United States now as a visitor, could he or she then apply to adjust?
Noncitizens applying for a B-1 or B-2 visa or seeking admission in B nonimmigrant status are required to prove nonimmigrant intent. If the spouse or child of a principal LRIF applicant enters the United States as a visitor but actually intends to apply to adjust status, he or she is at risk of a finding of inadmissibility for material misrepresentation under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) based on post-admission conduct that is inconsistent with nonimmigrant status.
Can my client adjust if he or she has worked without authorization?
The bar to adjusting status in the United States based on having worked unlawfully comes from INA § 245(c) and only applies to individuals seeking to adjust under INA § 245(a) who are not immediate relatives. LRIF adjustment applicants are applying to adjust under an entirely separate statute that does not contain any reference to unauthorized employment as a disqualifying ground.
What is the application process for LRIF adjustment?
Principal adjustment applicants and qualifying family members should file Form I-485 indicating eligibility pursuant to “LRIF” and follow instructions provided by USCIS here. Principal applicants must include evidence of Liberian nationality and evidence of continuous presence from Nov. 20, 2014, to the date of filing. Eligible family members do not need to show Liberian nationality or continuous presence but should include proof of a qualifying relationship to the principal applicant (marriage certificate, birth certificate, etc.).
If an applicant is inadmissible under any applicable grounds, an application for a waiver of inadmissibility (if a waiver is available) should be included. LRIF applicants may indicate on page 14 of the I-485 that they are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility and no Form I-944 is required. They should also indicate that they are exempt from filing Form I-864 (although, since the I-485 does not contain a checkbox for noting exemption under LRIF, applicants will need to write this in by hand).
While a medical exam will be required for these adjustment applicants, the Form I-693 can be submitted later in the process in response to a Request for Evidence, for example. The I-485 should be filed with either the USCIS Phoenix or Dallas Lockbox, depending upon where the applicant lives. Filing addresses can be found here.
May LRIF applicants concurrently apply for work authorization and advance parole?
Yes. LRIF applicants seeking work authorization may include an I-765 application for employment authorization and/or I-131 application for advance parole travel document with the I-485 adjustment filing. Alternatively, they may file an I-765 and/or I-131 sometime later, along with the I-485 receipt notice indicating the adjustment application is pending. On the I-765, applicants should indicate eligibility under the “(c)(9)” category. While an eligible LRIF applicant may file an I-765 concurrently with his or her I-485, it is not clear how quickly USCIS will adjudicate the I-765 and issue an employment authorization document (EAD). The LRIF statute indicates that USCIS may authorize employment for someone with a pending adjustment application but shall authorize employment for someone whose adjustment has been pending for more than 180 days. It is not certain whether USCIS will adjudicate a LRIF-based EAD application that has been pending for less than 180 days or will hold the I-765 for processing until the related adjustment has been pending for more than 180 days.
What about Liberian DED clients whose current EAD will expire March 30, 2020?
USCIS may expedite I-765 processing for applicants with a pending LRIF adjustment application who currently have an EAD based on Liberian DED. In order to minimize any gap in employment authorization between the March 30, 2020, expiration of a DED-based EAD and the receipt of a new LRIF-based EAD, USCIS may expedite LRIF-based EAD processing. The I-765 should be filed as soon as possible but on or before March 30, 2020, and accompanied by a front and back copy of the DED-based EAD. Since USCIS did not indicate any special treatment for LRIF-related expedite requests, the I-765 application presumably should still include proof that the applicant meets one or more of the required criteria for expedite requests set forth here. While USCIS instructs applicants to request expedited processing by calling the USCIS Contact Center after receiving the I-765 receipt notice, practitioners may want to consider including a written expedite request in the initial I-765 application (in addition to making a subsequent request by phone after a receipt notice is issued).
May LRIF clients request fee waivers for the I-485 and related applications?
Because LRIF adjustment applicants are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility at INA § 212(a)(4), USCIS will accept fee waiver requests for the Form I-485. More information about such requests is available here. Applicants who also seek to waive the I-765 filing fee must request that it be waived as well. CLINIC’s understanding is that LRIF applicants may not seek to waive the filing fee of a related I-131.
A LRIF adjustment applicant who pays the appropriate I-485 filing fee is not required to also pay a filing fee for an I-765 or I-131 that is filed concurrently with the I-485 or submitted subsequently.
Will USCIS require an interview for LRIF adjustment applicants?
USCIS has not provided any guidance on whether interviews will be routinely required.
What about clients who are in removal proceedings or have a final order of removal?
USCIS has exclusive jurisdiction over LRIF adjustment applications. In other words, eligible LRIF applicants who are currently in removal proceedings or have an outstanding removal order may still apply to adjust with USCIS (rather than applying with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)).
Clients in proceedings: Respondents currently in exclusion, deportation, or removal proceedings cannot be ordered removed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if they have a pending LRIF adjustment application. This would also include applicants whose proceedings have been administratively closed. EOIR has indicated that it will expeditiously adjudicate any motions filed by either party following approval of a LRIF adjustment application.
Clients with final orders: LRIF-eligible applicants who are subject to a final order of exclusion, deportation, removal, or voluntary departure are not required to file a separate motion to reopen and vacate the order. The statute provides that DHS will promulgate regulations establishing a procedure for seeking a stay based on having filed for LRIF adjustment; For now, practitioners are encouraged to follow current procedures for requesting a stay. According to the statute, if the LRIF adjustment application is granted, DHS will cancel the outstanding order.
For further guidance on issues that may arise in immigration court, practitioners representing LRIF applicants in removal proceedings should consult the EOIR policy memo available here.
When will an LPR who has successfully adjusted under LRIF be eligible to apply for citizenship?
According to the statute, once a LRIF adjustment application has been approved, DHS “shall establish a record of admission for permanent residence for the [noncitizen] as of the date of the arrival of the [noncitizen] in the United States.” CLINIC’s interpretation of this provision is that LRIF LPR cards will be backdated, listing as the effective date of permanent residence the date the applicant entered the United States (similar to how LPR cards for refugee adjustment applicants are backdated to the date the person was first admitted to the United States as a refugee). However, USCIS has not yet issued guidance clarifying this aspect of the law.
The wording of the statute suggests that the qualifying family relationship must exist at the time the adjustment application is filed (as opposed to a requirement that the family member was a spouse or child on December 20, 2019, when the law was enacted). USCIS has not yet provided guidance on this issue.
 See Jan 13, 2020, EOIR Policy Memorandum 20-06: Management of cases related to Section 7611 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, available here.