Congress extends legalization program for Liberian nationals until December 20, 2021
In the waning days of 2020, Liberian immigrants seeking permanent resident status in the US received some very good news. As part of the year-end Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress extended the filing period to apply for adjustment of status under the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) program until December 20, 2021.
Enacted in December 2019 under the National Defense Authorization law, the LRIF allows certain Liberian nationals and eligible spouses and children to apply for green cards if they have been “continually physically present” in the U.S. since Nov. 20, 2014 and meet other eligibility criteria.
The LRIF is the first US legalization program we’ve seen in many years, clearing a pathway to lawful permanent residence (and eventually citizenship) for long-term US residents from Liberia, many of whom have held either Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) since the early 1990s due to in-country civil unrest as well as the Ebola epidemic.
According to a report by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, there are approximately 10,000 Liberians who are potentially eligible for relief under LRIF along with their 300 family members. And yet, many of these immigrant hopefuls have faced a one-two punch in their quest to apply under the LRIF program: the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the inflexible policies of the USCIS.
For example, a December 2020 article by ProPublica revealed that the USCIS has adopted a very strict and unyielding stance on the type of documentation that can be presented for the LRIF program. Jill Marie Bussey of the Catholic immigration-advocacy organization CLINIC is quoted in this article saying that the Liberian program has been “severely hamstrung.” Birth certificates were considered insufficient proof of Liberian nationality, and the agency was unwilling to accept expired Liberian passports (which are hard to renew during a raging global pandemic).
As of September 8, 2020, USCIS had received only 2,084 LRIF-based adjustment applications (a small percentage of the total number that may be eligible according to the CMS study above). But with the recent extension, there is once again some hope that eligible Liberian nationals may be able to take advantage of this program.
In order to be eligible for lawful permanent residence under LRIF, applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Complete and file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, by Dec. 20, 2021 (new deadline)
- Be a national of Liberia
- Have been continuously present in the United States since November 20, 2014
- Be admissible or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or another form of relief
- Have not been convicted of an aggravated felony or two or more crimes of moral turpitude
- Have not persecuted others on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Getting the Word Out
As mentioned in the ProPublica article above, the USCIS has done a less than stellar job in conducting outreach to potential LRIF applicants – partly due to the pandemic, but perhaps also as a result of conflicting agency priorities. Many lawyers pointed out to ProPublica that USCIS has the contact information of eligible LRIF immigrants from their latest filings for TPS, and could have sent them letters informing them of the new program.
The good news is that immigration aid organizations may be able to do this outreach as well, using the case management application they rely on to prepare and track immigration matters for potential beneficiaries. For example, a report could be generated from the system for screening LRIF eligibility based on existing data points, such as:
- FN’s nationality or birth country field indicates Liberia
- Existence of previous TPS or DED process
- Travel history (US entries and departures) since Nov 20, 2014
- Spouse and dependent information, including age and marital status to see if they are also eligible
Once the reports have been generated, practitioners can then conduct additional outreach and setup time to discuss the program with the individual. Most importantly, legal service providers can explain the entire application process, including the potential pitfalls that still exist in 2021.
Practitioners looking to help potential LRIF applicants can find a wealth of information on the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) LRIF resource page here.