What is Legalization Through Registry?
Contributor: Van T. Doan
There is a little-known provision in American immigration law known as “registry” that gives some non-citizens the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents (LPR) of the United States. Individuals who are eligible for registry are usually undocumented, or had a temporary immigration status.
The process for becoming a lawful permanent resident through registry is relatively straightforward. So why don’t more people know about this avenue to legal status, or pursue it? Unfortunately, one of the primary requirements for legalization through registry is that the non-citizen must have entered the United States before a certain date, known as the registry date.
The current registry date is January 1, 1972—more than fifty years ago. While most people interested in becoming an LPR will be disqualified by this requirement, there are individuals in their fifties and above who may finally have the opportunity to come out of the shadows and obtain a legal status.
How the Registry Provision Has Evolved Over Time
The registry was originally created in 1929 and applied to non-citizens who had entered the United States prior to June 3, 1921. Applicants under the original registry who did not have a record of lawful admission to the United States must:
- Have resided continuously in the country since entering;
- Have demonstrated “good moral character;” and
- Not have been subject to deportation under U.S. immigration laws.
The registry date has been advanced four times: in 1940 (to July 1, 1924); in 1958 (to June 28, 1940); in 1965 (to June 30, 1948); and most recently, in 1986, to the current registry date. In 1958, the requirement that the applicant not be subject to deportation was dropped. At that time, only non-citizens who were inadmissible to the country on criminal or national security grounds, or who had previously been granted LPR status, were excluded from legalization through registry. However, in the years since, a greater number of disqualifying offenses have been added to the law.
At this point, the number of applicants for legalization through registry has dwindled almost to nothing. In the first ten years after the registry date was last advanced, about 70,000 individuals had their immigration status adjusted through registry. Between 2015 and 2019, only 305 did. This is understandable, as with each passing year, fewer and fewer people have been present in the United States since the registry date.
Current Requirements for Legalization Through Registry
A non-citizen can begin the process of legalization by submitting Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). Unlike many other paths to a legal immigration status, non-citizens who seek a green card through registry are not required to have a U.S. citizen or LPR petition on their behalf. They also need not have a medical examination or someone who is willing to submit an affidavit of financial support. The absence of these requirements makes sense: after all, a person who is eligible to apply for legalization through registry has already been living in the country for decades.
In addition to having entered the United States prior to the registry date, a non-citizen may qualify for permanent residence if they:
- Do not have a record of lawful admission to the country;
- Have resided continuously in the United States since they entered the country;
- Are a person of good moral character;
- Is not inadmissible to the United States under certain grounds, such as conviction of a serious crime;
- Is not deportable or ineligible for citizenship under grounds related to terrorism;
- Merits the “favorable exercise of discretion.”
Legalization through registry is a discretionary adjustment of status. That means that even if an applicant meets all the technical requirements, their adjustment could still be denied. It is within the discretion of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A non-citizen who seeks LPR status through registry should be prepared to show why they deserve favorable consideration.
Factors that could support the favorable exercise of discretion might include a history of positive involvement in the community, family ties in the United States, and medical issues or other circumstances that would create a hardship for the non-citizen if their application for adjustment of status were to be denied.
Will the Registry Date Be Adjusted Again?
The U.S. Congress has the power to adjust the registry date, as it has done multiple times in the past. At this moment, no plans to do so are in progress, although legislation attempting to update the registry date was introduced earlier this year. However, should Congress decide to update the registry date, millions of undocumented immigrants could potentially have a path to LPR status.
If you or someone you know might be eligible for adjustment of status under the current registry rules, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation to discuss your options.
Categories: Immigration Law