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  • Writer's pictureJoel Coxander

A Badly-Phrased Question on Form I-821 Is Driving Me Crazy and Making TPS for Venezuelans Harder

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela was announced earlier this month, which was great news. As I have been working on these cases, I have discovered another ridiculous USCIS issue. This time the problem is in the Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status.

Form I-821 has plenty of confusing parts to it, but I am going to focus on question 1.c. of Part 7. Questions 1.a. and 1.b. ask about the applicant’s nationality and then the most recent U.S. entry. Then Question 1.c. states:

Have you EVER traveled to and entered another country, other than the one listed in Item Number 1.a. before you last entered the United States?

The bolding is in the form.

Read literally, that means “have you been to any country other than the U.S. and your country of nationality.” The clause “before you last entered the United States” does no work, unless the applicant happens to be, at this moment, in another country.

But that would be a ridiculous question! That would be asking a person to list every country they have ever traveled to in their entire life. For Venezuelans, coming from an historically relatively wealthy country with a good education system, that could mean dozens of trips on vacations to Colombia, Brazil, the U.S., Mexico, Spain, and more. Someone who is in their 60s might be hard pressed to list every trip she took since she was a baby.

The question probably is not intended the way it was written. The subsequent Questions 2 and 3 ask — if the person did answer Yes to Question 1.c. — for a list of the countries and the date from when and the date till when the person was in these other countries, respectively. This one date to/from set implies that there can only be one trip in question. That makes sense if the question really means “since you last left your country of nationality, did you enter, rather than just transit through, any other countries.”

This interpretation is bolstered by the next questions, which ask about whether the person was granted any sort of status in the countries listed in Question 2. The concern would seem to be whether the applicant who left their home country was offered any sort of permanent or protective status in another country on the way to the United States. That would make sense, since firm resettlement — inadequately summarized as having the option of long-term legal status in a country other than your home country while on your way to the U.S. — prevents someone from being eligible for TPS.

Question 1.c. seems to be intended to mean “since you last left your country of nationality, did you enter, rather than just transit through, any other countries.” But that is not what the actual words mean. Applicants do not want to get into trouble for not listing every trip they have ever taken. Perhaps the best path is to be extra careful and for applicants list every country they have ever visited, but I have heard from other attorneys who are treating this question as just countries on the way to the U.S.

It is too much to ask USCIS to explain what Question 1.c. is asking. Hopefully, the agency will be reasonable, but we will not be entirely relying on that.

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