by Alan Lee, Esq.

It appears that persons applying under the Administration’s new I-601A program who have successfully gone through the I-130 relative petition, I-601A application for waiver of illegal presence, and consular processing face a final glitch when instructed to pay the $165 immigrant visa approval fee to the Department of Homeland Security electronically. As of May 19, 2013, successful immigrant visa applicants must pay the immigrant fee after receiving the immigrant visa package from the American consulate or embassy. The $165 fee is only payable online using U.S.C.I.S. ELIS (the U.S.C.I.S. Electronic Immigration System) and the consequence of not paying is that the applicant will not receive a permanent resident card until the fee is paid.

The difficulty with the ELIS system vis-à-vis I-601A applicants is that “A” numbers are assigned in the “A2” series here by U.S.C.I.S. when applications are made for the I-601A waiver and ELIS is only programmed to accept numbers beginning in the “A0” series. That reflects the traditional difference between “A” numbers issued for aliens in the States as opposed to those entering on immigrant visas. The ELIS $165 immigrant visa fee online acceptance was specifically designed for those entering with immigrant visas, but no thought was apparently given to those aliens who were assigned “A” numbers in the States before returning to their home countries for the required interview. In an explanation provided by the ELIS Service Desk to this firm on December 10, 2013, the temporary problem causes the system to reject any 9 digit “A” number that starts with “A2” with the result that customers having 9 digit “A” numbers beginning with “A2” have not been able to pay the immigrant fee. The Desk explained that the problem began on October 26, 2013, and U.S.C.I.S. expects to have it fixed on December 21, 2013. The Desk also included the note that until the fee is paid, the temporary I-551 permanent resident stamp in the applicant’s passport, which is valid for one year after the date of admission to the United States, would serve as proof of the applicant’s lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

Hopefully the problem will be fixed as promised on December 21, 2013, since we must express doubt on whether persons will be able to board transportation to enter the country without payment of the $165 fee beforehand. We have heard reports of individuals being refused boarding by airlines because they had not yet paid the fee. We note that U.S.C.I.S.’s instruction itself on May 20, 2013, stated that “You must pay the $165 fee online using U.S.C.I.S. ELIS after you receive your immigrant visa package from a U. S. Embassy or Consulate abroad (including Canada and Mexico) and before you depart for the United States.” So even if it is not a requirement to pay the $165 fee before boarding, that has not been the impression given to the public by the agency.

This article © 2013 Alan Lee, Esq.

About The Author

Alan Lee is a 30+ year practitioner of immigration law based in New York City holding an AV preeminent rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Director , registered in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers , on the New York Super Lawyers list (2011-12, 2013-14), and recognized as a New York Area Top Rated Lawyer in 2012. He was awarded the Sidney A. Levine prize for best legal writing at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1977 and has written extensively on immigration over the past years for Interpreter Releases, Immigration Daily , and the ethnic newspapers, World Journal, Sing Tao, Pakistan Calling, Muhasba and OCS . He has testified as an expert on immigration in civil court proceedings and was recognized by the Taiwan government in 1985 for his work protecting human rights. His article, "The Bush Temporary Worker Proposal and Comparative Pending Legislation: an Analysis" was Interpreter Releases ' cover display article at the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference in 2004, and his victory in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a case of first impression nationwide, Firstland International v. INS , successfully challenged INS' policy of over 40 years of revoking approved immigrant visa petitions under a nebulous standard of proof. Its value as precedent, however, was short-lived as it was specifically targeted by the Bush Administration in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004.

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