What Will Happen at Your Master Calendar Hearing?

by Dagmar R. Myslinska

Learn how to prepare yourself for your preliminary immigration hearing.

A master calendar hearing (“MCH”) is a short, preliminary hearing on immigration matters -- the usual start to efforts to remove an immigrant from the United States. You will meet with the Judge and the government attorney to figure out how your case will proceed. The Judge will schedule dates for your submission of written documents, and for your individual merits hearing (at which the substance of your applications or claims and/or defenses will be addressed in detail). If you have an attorney, he or she will answer most of the Judge’s questions.

During a MCH, the Court will not address any legal claims or defenses of your case. You will not be questioned about your case or immigration applications, and will not present any witnesses. The Judge will not make any rulings regarding legal issues in your case.

How to Prepare for Your MCH

You will first receive a Notice to Appear (“NTA”), which will specify the date and place of your MCH. Note that you must personally attend your MCH, even if your lawyer attends as well.

You may bring family members with you to the court. Make sure that they have legal immigration status. Otherwise, they may be arrested. It is not a good idea to bring children. Dress appropriately – in clean, neat, conservative clothes.

Arrive on time at your MCH. If you are absent -- or even late -- you might be ordered deported “in absentia” (due to your absence) or the Judge might deny your legal claims or defenses. Arriving early is a particularly wise idea because going through a security check point can take a while.

Try to find out ahead of time how your local Court operates. Bring important documents with you: your identification documents (passports, a driving license), your NTA (or another “hearing notice” that directed you to come to court), and any original documents that might be helpful at this preliminary stage (based on your lawyer’s suggestion). Also, bring a calendar, because the Judge will schedule deadlines in your case.

During your MCH, you will most likely be before the Judge for about five to 20 minutes only, although you might be in Court for several hours (including time to check in and wait). Plan accordingly.

What Will Happen During Your MCH

1. You will not be the only one in court at the time of your MCH. Other people will have their MCHs scheduled in the same time block as yours. When the Judge is ready for your case, he or she will call you by your Alien Registration Number (“A-Number”) and your name. You (and your lawyer, if you have one) will then come forward to speak to the Judge.

2. If you do not feel comfortable using English, do not force yourself. By attempting to communicate in a language you do not fully understand, you can only hurt yourself, in the likely event that you misunderstand some aspect of the court proceedings. Tell the Judge that you need an interpreter, and the Judge will provide one for free, usually by phone. If you cannot understand the interpreter or he or she is not translating correctly, alert the Judge, who will then look for another interpreter or reschedule the MCH for another date (when another interpreter is available). If an interpreter is provided, make sure to listen until he or she finishes translating, and then answer in your native language. You cannot bring your own interpreter.

3. A Judge will start your MCH by asking you for brief identification information – your name, address, your native language, and any other languages in which you are fluent. If you bring an attorney with you, you will also have an opportunity to officially present him or her as your lawyer (enter his or her “notice of appearance”).

4. The Judge will also review the charges listed against you in your NTA, and you will have to admit or deny each charge. Therefore, make sure to read your NTA very carefully before your MCH. Tell the Judge if anything in the NTA is incorrect. If you are applying for asylum, for example, the charges against you will typically include the following: the date when you entered the U.S., your nationality, whether you entered without being inspected at the border by immigration officials, whether you overstayed your visa, whether you entered using false travel documents, and so forth. Always deny any charges of fraud.

5. You will then be able to tell the Judge what forms of relief you are seeking (for example, asylum, withdrawal of removal, voluntary departure, cancellation of removal, and adjustment of status). If you are seeking asylum, make sure to also apply for (1) withholding of removal, and (2) protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

6. If you are applying for asylum, the Judge will also ask you to designate a country of removal. Generally, do not designate any country. The basis of your asylum application is that you are too afraid to go back to your home country, so never designate your home country. The Judge will then typically designate your home country as a country of removal, as a formality.

7. The Judge will set important dates for your case: (1) when to submit any pertinent applications (or their amendments or additional information); (2) another MCH if necessary; and (3) your individual merits hearing.

8. If you are applying for asylum and accept an “expedited removal” schedule, your individual merits hearing will be scheduled for within 180 days of when you first submitted your asylum application. Realize that this might not give you sufficient time to prepare a detailed asylum application and strong supporting documents. If you waive expedited removal, however, you will not be eligible for employment authorization while your application is going through the Immigration Court process. (If you are detained, you will be placed in an expedited removal schedule, and will not be allowed to waive it.)

9. Note that you must meet all of the deadlines that the Judge sets. Therefore, ask for extensions of deadlines and/or for “continuances” (rescheduled hearings) if you think that the time proposed by the Judge does not give you sufficient time to present your arguments well. Be ready to explain why you need additional time. Also, remember to request a continuance (another MCH) if you need time to find an attorney or if you had just found one and he or she needs time to meet with you.

10. At the conclusion of your MCH, you will be given another Notice, specifying the date for your next MCH or for your individual merits hearing.

Who Is Eligible to Use the I-601A Provisional Waiver Application Process

Eligibility Requirements:

To be eligible for a provisional unlawful presence waiver you must fulfill ALL of the following conditions:

Be 17 years of age or older.

Be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (not a preference category immigrant who has a visa available). An immediate relative is an individual who is the spouse, child (unmarried and under 21), or parent of a U.S. citizen.

Have an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, or Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

Have a pending immigrant visa case with DOS for the approved immediate relative petition and have paid the DOS immigrant visa processing fee (IV Fee).

Be able to demonstrate that refusal of your admission to the United States will cause extreme hardship to your U.S. citizen spouse or parent.

Be physically present in the United States to file your application for a provisional unlawful presence waiver and provide biometrics.

DOS did not initially act before January 3, 2013 to schedule your Immigrant Visa interview for the approved immediate relative petition upon which your provisional unlawful presence waiver application is based.

Meet all other requirements for the provisional unlawful presence waiver, as detailed in 8 CFR 212.7(e) and the Form I-601A and its instructions

Returning Resident Visas

Overview - About Returning Resident Visas

A permanent resident (called lawful permanent resident or LPR) or conditional resident (CR) who has remained outside the United States for longer than one year, or beyond the validity period of a Re-entry Permit, will require a new immigrant visa to enter the United States and resume permanent residence. A provision exists under U.S. visa law for the issuance of a returning resident special immigrant visa to an LPR who remained outside the United States due to circumstances beyond his/her control. This webpage is about Returning Resident Visas. If you are an LPR unable to return to the United States within the travel validity period of the green card (1 year) or the validity of the Re-entry Permit (2 years), you may be eligible and can apply at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa..

If your application for returning resident status is approved, this eliminates the requirement that an immigrant visa petition be filed on your behalf with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will need to be interviewed for both your application for returning resident status, and usually later for the immigrant visa. An SB-1 applicant is required to establish eligibility for an immigrant visa and have a medical examination. Therefore, this involves paying both visa processing fees and medical fees..

Spouse or Child of a Member of the U.S. Armed Forces or Civilian Employee of the U.S. Government Stationed Abroad - If you are the spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or of a civilian employee of the U.S. government stationed abroad on official orders, you may use your Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551, to enter the United States even if it has expired. Therefore, you would not need a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa, as long as you:. Have not abandoned your LPR status; and Your spouse or parent is returning to the United States.

Step 1 - Qualifying for Returning Resident Status

Under provisions of immigration law, to qualify for returning resident status, you will need to prove to the Consular Officer that you:.

Had the status of a lawful permanent resident at the time of departure from the United States;

Departed from the United States with the intention of returning and have not abandoned this intention; and

Are returning to the United States from a temporary visit abroad and, if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible.

Applying for a Returning Resident Visa

If you wish to apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa, you should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in advance of your intended travel (at least three months in advance, if possible) to permit sufficient time for visa processing. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate is required. Review country-specific instructions and information by reviewing the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply. .

Required Documentation

When applying for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa, you should submit the following forms and documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply:.

A completed Application to Determine Returning Resident Status, Form DS-117

Your Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551

Your Re-entry Permit, if available

You must also submit supporting documents that show the following:.

Dates of travel outside of the United States (Examples: airline tickets, passport stamps, etc.)

Proof of your ties to the United States and your intention to return (Examples: tax returns, and evidence of economic, family, and social ties to the United States)

Proof that your protracted stay outside of the United States was for reasons beyond your control (Examples: medical incapacitation, employment with a U.S. company, etc.)

A consular officer will review your application and supporting documents to determine whether you meet the criteria for Returning Resident (SB-1) status. If you do, you must be eligible for the immigrant visa in all other respects in order to be issued a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa..

Required Fees

The following are the required fees:.

Application for Determining Returning Resident Status, Form DS-117. Select Fees for current Department of State fees.

Additionally, if you are approved for Returning Resident (SB-1) status, the following fees will be required based on the immigrant visa processing explained below:.

Form DS-260 application processing fee

Medical exam and vaccination fees

Step 2 - Immigrant Visa Application and Documentation

The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will provide you with specific instructions for the remainder of the processing for your Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa. While exact instructions may vary by embassy or consulate, these instructions will include:.

Before your interview:. Instructions for your medical examination, including a list of required vaccinations

Instructions for your interview, including the following documentation to bring:.

Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application. Preview a sample DS-260 (6.4MB).

Original passport;

Two photographs, meeting Photograph Requirements A list of civil documents to bring to your immigrant visa interview, as requested by the embassy or consulate

Review country-specific instructions and further information by reviewing the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply..

If Your Application to Determine Returning Resident Status is Not Approved

If, after reviewing your Application to Determine Returning Resident Status, Form DS-117, and supporting documents, the consular officer determines that you do not meet the criteria for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa on the grounds that you have abandoned or relinquished your residence in the United States, it may or may not be possible to obtain a nonimmigrant visa depending on whether you have established a residence abroad to which you will return. If you cannot submit convincing evidence of compelling ties abroad, you may have to apply for an immigrant visa on the same basis and under the same category by which you immigrated originally..

About International Travel and Permanent Residents

As a permanent resident, before you depart the United States for temporary travel abroad and then seek to return to the United States, you should review important information on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) websites. Learn about Travel Documents, including Re-Entry Permits and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, on the USCIS website. For information for permanent residents returning to the United States from travel abroad, review the CBP website..

Returning Legal Permanent Residents Who Obtained Such Status Based on Asylum Status - Asylum applicants, asylees, and lawful permanent residents who obtained such status based on their asylum status are subject to special rules with regard to traveling outside the United States. For more information on obtaining proper documentation before you depart the United States, see Benefits and Responsibilities of Asylees on the USCIS website..

The green card through marriage process


Once the marriage has taken place, the couple files the following with USCIS:

Petition for Alien Relative (USCIS Form I-130)

Application to Register Permanent Residence (USCIS Form I-485)

Biographic Information (USCIS Form G-325A)

Affidavit of Support (USCIS Form I-864)

Permission for Work Authorization (Optional) (USCIS Form I-765)

Medical Examination Results (USCIS Form I-693)

Request for Travel Documents (Optional) (USCIS Form I-131)

The appropriate supporting documents

The USCIS filing fees ($1,010 to $1,365).

The USCIS will first contact you first regarding the Biometrics Appointment.

The USCIS will then issue the work authorization and permission to travel approximately 90 days after filing.

The USCIS will contact you next to schedule an interview. This will be anywhere from 2 months to 4 months after filing the initial application.


Following a successful interview, the foreign national spouse will receive a stamp classifying him/her as a Conditional Permanent Resident.

USCIS will mail the Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) approx 4-8 weeks after the successful interview.

The Conditional Status may be dropped by applying for Removal of Conditional Status (USCIS Form I-751) within 90 days of the 2 year anniversary of the granting of Conditional Permanent Residency.


1. In general: What is the I-601A provisional waiver?

Many people who entered the United States illegally have established lives in the United States, and have married US citizens. Because of their unlawful entry, they are not eligible to get their green cards unless they leave the United States and return to their home countries. Once they leave the United States however, they are subject to a 3 or 10 year bar to returning to the United States, depending on their circumstances. The only way to avoid the bar is to obtain a “waiver” of their unlawful presence.

A “waiver” in this situation is basically a pardon from the United States government for their unlawful entry to the US. In order to obtain the waiver, a person must show that if they are not allowed to return to the United States, their US citizen’s spouse or parent will suffer “extreme hardship.” (See link above right.)

In the past, the procedure to obtain the waiver required immigrants to remain in their home country while the waiver application was being processed. This meant that a person would have to apply with USCIS to be classified as the family member of a US citizen, then return to their home country, attend their visa interview, be found ineligible to return to the US because of their “unlawful presence”, submit their waiver application, and wait for their waiver application to be decided. If the waiver was approved, they were finally able to return to the U.S. to be with their families. If not, they would be stuck in their home countries to wait out the 3 or 10 year bars, or to apply again.

This entire process took at the minimum several months, and often years. Immigrants were separated from their families in the United States for long periods of time, creating undue hardship because of the separation. Many, if not most eligible immigrants instead chose to remain in the United States without legal status, rather than risk being stuck in their home countries for up to 10 years because of this waiver process.

Happily, the process has now been changed for certain applicants. Eligible immigrants will now be able to file their relative petitions with USCIS, and beginning March, 2013, once the petitions are approved, they will be able to submit the waiver application through the National Visa Center, to have the waiver decided on a conditional basis prior to their leaving the United States for their visa interview. Upon approval of the conditional waiver, the case will be forwarded to the appropriate Embassy of United States in the immigrant’s home country, where it will be scheduled for the immigrant visa interview. However, because the waiver application will have already been approved, the person will immediately be eligible for the immigrant visa (no 3 or 10 year bar). This means that the person will only have to go to their home country for the amount of time necessary to attend their visa interview and obtain their immigrant visa, which should only be a matter of weeks, not months or years.

This is a very general explanation of the basic changes to the unlawful presence waiver process. The change is only a change in the process. There is no change to the laws themselves. As is typical with all Immigration issues, many restrictions do apply to this change in the regulation. For example, the new regulation only applies to “immediate relatives” of US citizens. Spouses of lawful permanent residence( green cardholders) are not eligible. USCIS has indicated that if the provisional waiver process works well for this initial group of immigrants, it may be expanded in the future to include family members of permanent residents. For now, however, they are not included.

In addition, the new waiver process is only available for those immigrants who only need a waiver for their illegal entry and unlawful presence in the US. They cannot be inadmissible to the United States for any other reason such as a prior deportation, prior criminal activity, medical reasons, or other grounds of inadmissibility.

This is a detailed and complicated process, yet the benefits of the new rule mean that many families will be able to legalize their status without having to endure years of separation. You should consult a competent immigration attorney to see whether you can take advantage of the new rule.

2. The Provisional I-601A Waiver Process vs. Traditional I-601 Waiver Filing Process

The standard I-601 waiver process: Traditionally, if an immigrant enters the US illegally and cannot prove legal entry, the immigrant cannot apply for a green card in the US through the adjustment of status process but must interview for their green card at a consulate abroad. The catch – once you leave the US, you can trigger the 10 year bar of re-entry and need to apply for a 10 year bar waiver. The consulate interview will happen, the immigrant is refused the visa but is usually informed that the immigrant can now apply for a waiver (which means their qualifying relative for the waiver in the US files the case in the US for the immigrant) but must stay outside of the US until the waiver is decided and approved. The immigrant is then contacted again by the consulate to either send in more documents to finish processing or attend a second interview to update the case and make sure the immigrant is eligible to enter the US now that the waiver has been obtained.

This process can typically take 6 months for the waiver to be decided in the US (the immigrant must stay outside the US during this time) plus another 1 -2 months until the consulate can finalize the Immigrant Visa, issue it, and allow the immigrant to enter the US and finally be reunited with their loved one(s). This is a long time to wait for a decision and a long time to be separated from family in the US, although this is much shorter than the waiting periods as recent as 1-2 years ago.

The provisional waiver: I-601a process: In March 2013, USCIS announced a new policy to help keep those married to US citizens avoid the longer waiting periods that the traditional I-601 waiver process creates that requires that the immigrant wait abroad for the waiver decision to be made. The provisional waiver process allows the immigrant to apply for the I-601 waiver for unlawful presence (whether 3 or 10 year bar) ahead of time, while still in the US and prior to the consulate interview abroad. The immigrant stays in the US with their spouse while the waiver is being decided, drastically reducing the time the immigrant has to be separated from their spouse. When the waiver is approved, the immigrant travels to their interview at the consulate abroad and if successfully interviews with the successful provisional waiver already approved and no other grounds of inadmissability are found by the consulate, the immigrant is abroad for merely days, not months. Their lives are not uprooted, long term family care does not have to be arranged and jobs are not lost. It is an ideal situation for many immigrants and their families.

The main problem with the provisional waiver program is that it is severely limited to who qualifies to take advantage of it.

Limits of the provisional waiver program:

* The provisional waiver or I-601a filing only covers unlawful presence. No criminal waivers, misrepresentation waivers (for lying to CIS or using fake documents to enter the US), prostitution waivers, etc.

* The Applicant for Waiver must currently be in the US. If the immigrant is already abroad, the immigrant cannot re-enter the US to file the waiver.

* An Immigrant Visa filed by an Immediate Relative (Spouse or Parent of a US citizen) must be approved first.

* The qualifying relative for the waiver, not only just the Immigrant Visa, must be a US citizen spouse or parent of the immigrant. Permanent resident spouses cannot be qualifying relatives for the I-601a, only for traditional I-601s.

* Immigrants who have been arrested or convicted of even a misdemeanor may be ineligible for a provisional waiver if CIS believes that this crime could be the basis for a criminal ground of inadmissability

* Immigrants with removal orders do not qualify.

These are just some of the main disqualifications from the provisional waiver program. There are others. Make sure you consult with a competent, licensed immigration attorney about whether you qualify for the I-601a vs the I-601 process before filing anything!

If the immigrant has to file a waiver case based on any other ground than unlawful presence, then the immigrant must go through the traditional I-601 waiver process. For example, did you use a fake green card or fake documents to get into the US? That’s misrepresentation and you would have to file a misrepresentation waiver as well as a 10 year bar waiver if you have stayed in the US for a year or more without valid immigration status (i.e., overstayed or been undocumented over a year in the US and then leaves the US – even if to interview for a green card at a consulate abroad).

Extreme Hardship

The key term in the provision is “extreme” and thus, only in cases of real actual or prospective injury to the United States national or lawful permanent resident parent or spouse will the bar be removed. Common results of the bar, such as separation, financial difficulties, etc., in themselves are insufficient to warrant approval of an application unless combined with much more extreme impacts. Applicants are encouraged to submit as much documentary evidence as possible proving that failure to receive the waiver requested would result in extreme hardship to your US citizen spouse or parent.

Consulates differ on what factors in a case are more persuasive than others. The largest consulate in the world with the most waiver applications is Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. As of 2005, the CIS office attached to this consulate, considered the following as types of factors that are relevant to deciding whether the US citizen parent or spouse will suffer “extreme hardship” (the consulate will also consider other factors, not listed here):


Ongoing or specialized treatment requirements for a physical or mental condition;availability and quality of such treatment in your country, anticipated duration of the treatment; whether a condition is chronic or acute, or long-or short-term.


Future employability; loss due to sale of home or business or termination of a professional practice;decline in standard of living; ability to recoup short-term losses;cost of extraordinary needs such as special education or training for children;cost of care for family members (i.e., elderly and infirm parents).


Loss of opportunity for higher education; lower quality or limited scope of education options; disruption of current program; requirement to be educated in a foreign language or culture with ensuing loss of time for grade; availability of special requirements, such as training programs or internships in specific fields.


Close relatives in the United States and /or your country; separation from spouse/children; ages of involved parties;length of residence and community ties in the United States.


Cultural, language, religious, and ethnic obstacles; valid fears of persecution, physical harm, or injury; social ostracism or stigma; access to social institutions or structures.

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