Immigration 101: Cancellation of Removal

If you have been placed in removal proceedings and you are not eligible for asylumwithholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture, you may still be able to avoid removal by establishing eligibility for cancellation of removal. This form of relief is available to aliens who don’t have lawful status in the US, and to those who are lawful permanent residents. The requirements for cancellation of removal are very different depending on your status in the US. Cancellation is a discretionary grant, so to receive cancellation of removal, you must show that you meet certain statutory requirements, and you must convince the immigration judge in your case that you deserve to be granted the privilege of remaining in the United States.

Cancellation for Lawful Permanent Residents

If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must meet four requirements to show that you are eligible for cancellation of removal.

  1. You must show that you have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for the last five years or more.
  2. You must show that you have been continually physically present in the US for the last seven years, regardless of your immigration status. A few brief trips abroad won’t keep you from meeting this requirement, but you won’t be eligible for cancellation if your trip lasted longer than 90 days, or if you’ve been outside the US for more than 180 days total during the last seven years.
  3. You must establish that your seven years of continuous presence occurred after you were “admitted” to the US in any status. “Admitted” means that someone in the government gave you official authorization to enter or remain in the country. For example, you were “admitted” if you were allowed to enter the US on an immigrant or travel visa, or if you were granted asylum or adjustment of status while in the US.
  4. You must establish that you have never been convicted of an aggravated felony. Because of some quirky legal rules in this area, some of the most serious crimes don’t qualify as aggravated felonies. If you have been convicted of any crime, you should speak to an experienced immigration attorney to find out if your conviction bars you from cancellation of removal.

Cancellation for Non-Lawful Permanent Residents

If you do not have lawful permanent resident status in the US, you may still qualify for cancellation of removal. However, the requirements you must satisfy are more difficult than the requirements for lawful permanent residents.

  1. You must have been continuously physically present in the United States for the last ten years. Again, an occasional trip abroad lasting fewer than 90 days would generally be ok, as long as you didn’t spend more than a total of 180 days outside the US during the last ten years.
  2. You must show that you have been a person of good moral character during the last ten years. Immigration judges have a lot of leeway in determining what “good moral character” means, but generally, it means avoiding any involvement in activities that would be considered fraudulent or dishonest. Criminal convictions for minor offenses don’t always mean that you’re not a person of good moral character, but they can hurt your chances.
  3. You must show that you have not been convicted of certain disqualifying criminal offenses. The list of offenses is lengthy, and includes crimes relating to controlled substances, crimes of moral turpitude (for example, sexual assault, murder, human trafficking), aggravated felonies, and others. However, there are various exceptions or waivers that may apply for certain crimes, so don’t assume that your criminal record makes you ineligible for cancellation without first speaking to an experienced immigration attorney. The law in this area is very complicated and requires careful consideration by a professional.
  4. You must show that your removal from the United States would cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to one of your relatives. This requirement is usually the most difficult to meet. The relative must be a member of your immediate family (your spouse, parent, or child). The relative must also be a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. The hardship must also be truly “exceptional,” which means that it goes far beyond the hardships that a family would ordinarily experience if one of its members were removed from the US. For example, having a child with a serious medical condition that could not be adequately treated in your home country could potentially be enough to establish that the hardship would be exceptional.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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