Chapter 2 - Extreme Hardship Policy

A. Overview

Waivers of inadmissibility generally authorize U.S. immigration authorities to balance competing policy considerations when determining whether a noncitizen should be admitted to the United States despite his or her inadmissibility. 

On the one hand, the noncitizen has engaged in conduct that Congress considers serious enough to render the individual inadmissible to the United States. On the other hand, Congress specifically authorized waivers of these grounds of inadmissibility for those cases in which the refusal of admission “would result in extreme hardship.” To meet this “extreme hardship” requirement, the applicant must show that refusal of admission would impose more than the usual level of hardship that commonly results from family separation or relocation. Congress clearly intended the waiver to be applied for purposes of family unity and with other humanitarian concerns in mind. [1] 

B. What is Extreme Hardship

The term “extreme hardship” is not expressly defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations, or in case law (although DHS regulations and certain Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions have provided some relevant guidance with respect to what may constitute extreme hardship in certain contexts). As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in INS v. Jong Ha Wang, “[t]hese words are not self-explanatory, and reasonable men could easily differ as to their construction. But the [INA] commits their definition in the first instance to the Attorney General [and the Secretary of Homeland Security] and [their] delegates.” [2] 

Therefore, “[t]he Attorney General [and the Secretary of Homeland Security] and [their] delegates have the authority to construe ‘extreme hardship’ narrowly should they deem it wise to do so.” [3] Conversely, “[a] restrictive view of extreme hardship is not mandated either by the Supreme Court or by [the BIA] case law.” [4] 

USCIS recognizes that at least some degree of hardship to qualifying relatives exists in most, if not all, cases in which individuals with the requisite relationships are denied admission. Importantly, to be considered “extreme,” the hardship must exceed that which is usual or expected. [5] But extreme hardship need not be unique, [6] nor is the standard as demanding as the statutory “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” standard that is generally applicable to non-lawful permanent resident cancellation of removal. [7] 


[^ 1] For example, see Matter of Lopez-Monzon (PDF), 17 I&N Dec. 280, 281 (BIA 1979) (“The intent of Congress in adding [the INA 212(i) waiver], which is evident from its language, was to provide for the unification of families, thereby avoiding the hardship of separation.”).

[^ 2] See 450 U.S. 139, 144 (1981) (per curiam).

[^ 3] See INS v. Jong Ha Wang, 450 U.S. 139, 145 (1981) (per curiam).

[^ 4] See Matter of Pilch (PDF), 21 I&N Dec. 627, 630 (BIA 1996). See Matter of L-O-G- (PDF), 21 I&N Dec. 413, 418 (BIA 1996).

[^ 5] See 8 CFR 1240.58(b) (hardship must go “beyond that typically associated with deportation”) (former suspension of deportation). The federal courts and the BIA have frequently relied on cases involving the former suspension of deportation statute when interpreting extreme hardship waiver statutes, as these statutes employed the same language. See Hassan v. INS, 927 F.2d 465, 467 (9th Cir. 1991). See Matter of Cervantes-Gonzalez (PDF), 22 I&N Dec. 560, 565 (BIA 1999), aff’d, Cervantes-Gonzales v. INS, 244 F.3d 1001 (9th Cir. 2001).

[^ 6] See Matter of L-O-G- (PDF), 21 I&N Dec. 413, 418 (BIA 1996).

[^ 7] See INA 240A(b). See Matter of Andazola-Rivas (PDF), 23 I&N Dec. 319, 322, 324 (BIA 2002) (holding the “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” standard to be “significantly more burdensome than the ‘extreme hardship’ standard” and intimating that the applicant “might well” have prevailed under the latter standard even though she failed under the former). See Matter of Monreal-Aguinaga (PDF), 23 I&N Dec. 56, 59-64 (BIA 2001) (same).

Current as of January 26, 2022