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Matter of Stockwell

On November 21, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had updated its Policy Manual (PM) in a policy alert titled “Adjustment on New Basis After Termination of Conditional Permanent Residence” [PDF version].

An alien who is admitted to the United States as a conditional permanent resident is barred from pursuing adjustment of status under section 245(a) while he or she is in conditional permanent resident status. See INA 245(d). The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held in 1991 that this bar does not apply to an alien who was admitted to the United States as a conditional permanent resident status but whose conditional permanent resident status was terminated. Matter of Stockwell, 20 I&N Dec. 309 (BIA 1991). The USCIS’s new guidance is designed to ensure uniformity in the USCIS’s handling of adjustment applications filed by aliens who were admitted as conditional permanent residents but whose conditional permanent resident status was subsequently terminated.

The Board began by noting that INA 245(d) was added to the INA as part of the Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986, part of what it described as “a comprehensive statutory scheme to deter immigration-related marriage fraud.” Section 216 itself, the Board explained, “was designed to check the validity of marriages and to ensure that aliens could not sidestep the immigration laws by entering into a fraudulent marriage.”

The INS codified regulations to implement the section 245(d) bar at 8 CFR 245.1(b)(12) (1991). The regulation, in the pertinent part, stated that “[a]ny alien who is already an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence on a conditional basis pursuant to section 216 of the Act” was barred from adjustment under INA 245(a).

The Board found that it was clear that Congress intended for any alien in conditional permanent resident status to be ineligible for adjustment of status. Regarding the open question of aliens whose conditional permanent resident status was terminated, the Board agreed with the Immigration Judge’s conclusion that the bar was only intended to apply “to aliens currently holding conditional permanent resident status.” The Board agreed with the Immigration Judge’s finding the regulatory language dispositive, and noted that the INS had omitted any mention of the regulation in its arguments.

The Board subsequently affirmed the Immigration Judge’s decision granting the respondent’s application for adjustment of status in the exercise of discretion.

Relevant Statutes

An alien who obtains permanent resident status on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and that alien’s derivative sons or daughters, is admitted to the United States as a permanent resident on a conditional basis. INA 216(a)(1). An alien who obtains status as an alien entrepreneur (employment-based fifth preference) and his or her derivative spouse and/or children is also admitted as a permanent resident on a conditional basis. INA 216A(a)(1).

Conditional permanent residents must subsequently petition to have the conditions on their status removed. The requirements for having conditions removed are different for spouses (see INA 216) and entrepreneurs (see INA 216A). A conditional permanent resident under INA 216 or INA 216A may not adjust status on an alternative basis under INA 245(a). See INA 245(d); 8 CFR 245.1(c)(5).

The statutes do not address the ability of an alien who was admitted as a conditional permanent resident, but whose status was subsequently terminated, to adjust status under INA 245(a). In the next section, we will examine how the BIA resolved this question.

New USCIS Guidance on Adjustment for Former Conditional Permanent Residents

The new USCIS guidance on adjustment cases involving aliens who were admitted as conditional permanent residents is found at 7 USCIS-PM B.7(G) [PDF version].

The PM notes that under statutes and regulations, an alien admitted in conditional permanent resident status is not permitted to adjust status under INA 245(a) while holding such status. Instead, the alien must comply with section 216 (family cases) or 216A (entrepreneur cases) to pursue the removal of conditions from his or her permanent resident status. However, in accord with Matter of Stockwell, the PM explains that this prohibition on adjustment only applies when the alien is currently in lawful conditional permanent resident status. Under Matter of Stockwell, “the bar no longer applies if USCIS terminates the alien’s [conditional permanent resident] status.”

The USCIS may terminate an alien’s conditional permanent resident status for any of the reasons stated in INA 216 (family cases) or 216A (entrepreneur cases). The USCIS generally issues a Notice to Appear upon terminating an alien’s conditional permanent resident status. The PM states that although an immigration judge may review the termination of conditional permanent resident status in an alien’s subsequent removal proceedings, the USCIS’s position is that the bar to adjustment of status found in 245(d) becomes ineffective upon the USCIS’s decision to terminate conditional permanent resident status. Therefore, “it is not necessary that an immigration judge have affirmed USCIS’ decision to terminate the alien’s [conditional permanent resident] status before the alien may file a new adjustment application.”

In accord with the statutes, regulations, Matter of Stockwell, and the USCIS’s interpretation of the foregoing, an alien whose conditional permanent resident status has been terminated may adjust status under INA 245(a) if:

The alien has a new basis for adjustment;The alien is otherwise eligible to adjust; andUSCIS has jurisdiction over the adjustment application.

The USCIS makes clear that an alien must have a new basis for adjustment of status. That is, “the alien may not reuse the immigrant petition associated with the previous [conditional permanent resident] adjustment or admission.”

An alien initially admitted as a K nonimmigrant fiancé(e) may only re-adjust status on the basis of an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, filed by the same U.S. citizen who filed the Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), on his or her behalf.

The PM adds that the alien must be otherwise eligible for adjustment of status, including by not being inadmissible or barred from adjustment under INA 245(c). In short, the alien must meet the generally applicable requirements for adjustment.

If the USCIS grants the former conditional permanent resident’s adjustment application, it “generally considers the date of admission to be the date USCIS approved the subsequent adjustment application.” Therefore, “[t]ime spent in the prior [conditional permanent resident] status does not count toward the residency requirement for naturalization purposes.”

If the USCIS denies the adjustment application, it will generally follow agency guidance on issuing a Notice to Appear, initiating removal proceedings, after denying the application.