Charting a New Path: Parole in Place for Undocumented Spouses of U.S. Citizens 

June, 2024 - Barbara W. Menefee, Nathan Hall

The federal government has announced a new policy that will grant a path to work authorization and legal status for the undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens.  The policy, which is known as “parole in place” or “PIP,” is expected to be similar to the existing PIP program in effect for family members of U.S. military personnel.  At its core, the program is designed to allow people who entered the country without documentation to remain, and work, in the United States as long as they are married to a United States citizen.  The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) anticipates this would provide options to approximately 500,000 noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens and 50,000 children of said spouses.

Who Qualifies?

To qualify for the new PIP program, an individual must be present in the United States without admission or parole.  This means that the individual must not be present in the United States in immigrant or nonimmigrant status such as EB-2 or HB-1.  Next, the individual must have lived in the United States for at least 10 years as of June 17, 2024, the day the policy was announced.  The DHS estimates that eligible noncitizen spouses have been present in the U.S. for an average of 23 years.  Proving presence in the United States will likely require the submission of evidence such as leases or other property documents, travel documents, medical records and other related documents that demonstrate physical presence.  The individual must also have a legally valid marriage to a U.S. citizen as of June 17, 2024, and not be found to be inadmissible for any reason outside of illegal entry into the U.S.  Lastly, the DHS noted that applicants who pose a threat to national security or public safety will be detained, removed or referred to other federal agencies for investigation and prosecution as appropriate. 

What Are the Benefits?

The major benefit of the PIP program will be that it affords a path to citizenship for spouses of U.S. citizens who did not previously have the ability to adjust status to legal permanent residency.  Paroled spouses will receive an I-94 travel record, which is necessary to adjust status.  Additionally, one of the grounds of inadmissibility that prevents undocumented individuals from become permanent residents is illegal entry into the United States.  While waivers are available for this inadmissibility ground, they are difficult to obtain, and processing times are currently over 40 months.

With the ability to adjust status to become permanent residents, paroled individuals will be able to obtain work authorization while their permanent residency is pending.  If the program reflects the military PIP program, then these individuals will also be able to obtain a travel document that would allow them to travel outside of the United States and legally reenter.  Both of these are major steps forward for a group of people who have been living in the United States for over a decade without the means to travel internationally or work legally.  Once U.S. citizen spouses become legal permanent residents and have held that status for two years and nine months, they can file for citizenship using the form N-400, provided that they meet the other requirements for citizenship.

What Happens Next?

The Department of Homeland Security announced they will be publishing further information regarding the application process soon, including a notice in the Federal Register.  The announcement will come later this summer, according to the DHS, and any requests or applications made prior to the formal announcement will be rejected.  The applications process will include a fee.  The full release from the DHS can be found here.  Those with questions about whether they qualify for this program or how to prepare for applying should contact their Dinsmore immigration attorney.


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