Tucked in the massive National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 was a Christmas and New Year gift for Liberians in the United States: Section 7611, the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) allowing Liberian nationals, their spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old who meet eligibility requirements to apply for permanent residence. On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed it and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications on December 26, 2019. After living in anxiety for decades under Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), many Liberians can now breathe easier. Celebrations like this rang all across the country.
Who Qualifies: To be eligible for LRIF adjustment, an applicant must be:
- A national of Liberia;
- Continuously physically present in the United States from November. 20, 2014 to the date of application. This may be proved by such documents as tax returns, utility bills, leases, tax returns, invoices, correspondence, court records, school and medical records, bank statements and employment records. Even those who traveled outside the United States would be eligible if their absence from the country do not amount to more than 6 months in aggregate.
- Eligible for an immigrant visa; and
- Admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief. USCIS may only approve an application if the applicant has no grounds of inadmissibility under INA Section 212(a). Common grounds are aggravated felonies, crimes involving moral turpitude, serious offenses, fraud, willful misrepresentation and making false claims to U.S. citizenship. Because inadmissibility based on criminal or related grounds and waivers can be very complicated, applicants with any arrests or record are strongly advised to consult an experienced immigration attorney before filing any application.
Who May Not Qualify: Under LRIF Act, ineligible are persons:
- Who have been convicted of any aggravated felony;
- Who have been convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense); or
- Who 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. This is particularly important because of Liberia’s history of civil war.
- How to Go About it: If eligible, applicants must submit completed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status by December 20, 2020. Be sure to include:
- Evidence of Liberian nationality (only required for the principal applicant);
- Evidence of continuous physical presence from November. 20, 2014, to the date of filing the application (only required for principal applicants);
- If applicable, proof of a qualifying family relationship (e.g. spouse or unmarried child under 21);
- If applicable, an application for waiver of inadmissibility (this can be very complicated);
- If seeking a work permit, Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization;
- If seeking to travel abroad while the application is pending, Form I-131, Application for Advance Parole or Travel Document;
- Immigration medical examination, performed by USCIS-approved civil surgeon;
- Because the Public Charge ground of inadmissibility is inapplicable under LRIF, Form I-864, Affidavit of Support under the Act is not required.
- Applicable filing fees or request for a fee waiver.
Getting Started: Because the window of opportunity to file is short, applicants should be well prepared in advance of filing. We recommend:
- Obtain needed funds. Filing fees for an adult is now $1,225 and may increase. Be sure to confirm the fee before filing.
- Locate proof of your Liberian nationality. Your passport and certified birth certificate should suffice. USCIS will scrutinize any unofficial documents, so be sure that they are genuine.
- Gather proof of continuous physical presence in the U.S. as of November 20, 2014. See 1.b above.
- Make a list of addresses and employers from the last 5 years.
- Obtain up-to-date forms and instructions. Forms are free of charge and can be accessed at uscis.gov or from your immigration attorney.
What Next Steps: If you have questions about filing an accurate and timely application, or about eligibility, consult an experienced immigration lawyer. Private immigration lawyers charge a fee for their services. Free or low-cost help may be available in your local area. Do not rely on advice given to someone else, every situation is different. Avoid “notaries” or unauthorized “helpers” who promise a particular outcome or result. Only attorneys and BIA-accredited representatives can provide legal advice.
Mr. Ongeri is a principal attorney at Diaspora Lawyers, The Transatlantic Law Firm, PLLC, with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States of America. The Firm represents transnational clients seeking to achieve and protect their American Dream regardless of geographic location. Its practice focuses on Immigration and Nationality Law, Family Law, International Business, Estate Planning and Litigation. More information can be found at www.diasporalawyers.com