Path to Citizenship for Liberian Nationals

USCIS has announced that they will begin accepting green card applications for Liberians present in the US under the newly adopted “Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness” (LRIF) Act. The LRIF was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved by the Senate early last week. 

The LRIF officially went into effect on December 20, 2019 and states that USCIS will accept Adjustment of Status applications (Form I-485) from certain Liberian nationals for exactly one year — until December 20, 2020. Spouses and unmarried children of eligible Liberians may also apply for green cards.

The new Act will positively impact approximately 4,000 Liberians living in the US under temporary status programs created following Liberian civil wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. Most Liberians who fled the country during this time have remained in the US under the “Deferred Enforced Departure” (DED) and “Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs. These programs have both been at risk of being cancelled under the Trump administration, which has left thousands of people in limbo and fearful that they will need to depart the US with little notice.

In order to be eligible for a green card under the new policy, applicants much not be barred or inadmissible to immigrate to the US for any reason, and must have been physically present in the US since November 20, 2014. They also cannot have been convicted of an aggravated felony or other violent crime.

Liberian nationals who file under the LRIF are not subject to the following policies that may affect other Adjustment of Status applicants:

  • Public Charge
  • Labor Certification Requirements;
  • Aliens Present Without Admission or Parole; and
  • Documentation Requirements.

As with other Adjustment of Status applicants, eligible Liberian nationals may file applications for work authorization (Form I-765) and temporary travel authorization (Form I-131) concurrently with their petition. This will allow them to work in the US and re-enter the US after short-term travel while their green card application is pending.

Those who are eligible under the LRIF Act need to act fast, since USCIS is only accepting applications for one year. It will be particularly important for these individuals to file strong applications, respond quickly to any requests for additional evidence, and to make sure all family members who are eligible also apply before they run out of time. It is unclear if the program will be renewed or extended at any point. 

The LRIF is a very exciting (and unprecedented) development for the Liberian community in the US. It also outlines an example of the type of policy that could be enacted for other groups living in the US without a secure status or path to citizenship, including young DACA recipients and TPS recipients from Haiti, El Salvador, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Nicaragua and South Sudan.