The Fat Lady, Stowaways, and Alien Smugglers

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“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings…”  The opera expression widely used in sports has taken on a whole new relevance in the immigration world.  No longer are government agencies approving applications and deferring to previously-approved applications or adjudications. Rather, they are reopening past applications – from 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago – searching for misrepresentations, inconsistencies, and loose ends to thwart applications for visas, changes to status, and adjustment of status. You are so close to getting that long-desired visa or green card, but the “fat lady” – in these cases, USCIS and the State Department consular posts – doesn’t want the “opera” to end.

The boundaries are unlimited. Even relatively obscure provisions of immigration law, such as the “stowaway” provision, are being invoked more and more.  A stowaway is someone who obtains transportation without consent and through concealment.  Anyone who enters the US by a commercial ship, for example, without a valid ticket or permission could be considered a stowaway.  This makes adjusting status in the United States after arrival as a stowaway very, very difficult.  If the stowaway brought others on the ship to the US – for example, his children – then USCIS may accuse him of being an alien smuggler, another inadmissibility provision. And any immigration-related application in which the individual does not admit to being a stowaway may be hit with another inadmissibility provision –  misrepresentation.

In short, the USCIS examiner and the consular officer have numerous arrows in their quivers:  any time a person files an application another opportunity is presented for them to re-open previously adjudicated applications. Even at the naturalization stage – 3, 5, or more years after receiving a green card – questions will be raised about how you obtained your green card. Through marriage? Then prove that it was a real marriage. Through a job offer? Then prove that it was a real job offer.  Questions may be raised about maintaining the permanent residency status. Why were you absent from the United States for 9 months? Why were you working outside the US while a US permanent resident? Questions may be raised about the immigrant visa process.  How did you get the visa if the consular officer recommended the revocation of your petition?

That is why it is imperative to save copies of previous applications. That is why it is imperative to know what representations were made in the application forms. That is why you need to refresh your memory before preparing and filing new applications or attending an interview. That is why it makes sense to consult with an immigration attorney before even submitting the application – to understand whether there are any risks of the “fat lady” revisiting your immigration history.