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Can Crew Members Become Permanent Residents?


“My wife came to the U.S. 11 years ago. She was an international flight attendant who got tired of traveling and decided to live here. Her parents moved to San Diego a long time ago. They filed papers for her when she was young but dropped them. We got married 18 months ago. We were told she cannot become a legal resident because she entered as a crew member. Is there anything we can do to stay together?”

(Submitted by David Z., Lemon Grove, CA)


This is a tough, tough situation.

On the surface, this does not seem like a good case. But let me explore a few things that might help you and your family.

To begin, the general rule is that if your wife entered the U.S. as a crew member, you cannot help her become a lawful permanent resident.

As a crew member, she was probably given a C1-D visa to enter and leave the country. These types of visas are confusing for most people, including government agents and lawyers. Just because she may have used a C1-D visa does not mean she was really a crew member.

A “D” visa is the crew member visa. A “C-1” visa is a transit visa used for persons who are passing through the U.S. to another country. Not all transit visa holders are crew members.

As a result, this is the first issue you should discuss in detail with your wife.

Reading your comments, it is not clear to me that she was a flight attendant when she entered the U.S. to stay.

But before you give up, it’s important to know when she entered the U.S., did she actually travel as an employee crew member?

In other words, was she working aboard the plane or coming to the U.S. to join the crew of another plane to begin work? Or did she enter as a tourist, perhaps to visit her parents, and then she decided to stay?

The information you provided does not answer these questions.

For immigration officers, the type of visa, alone, is not supposed to determine if a person entered as a crew member. What really counts is the entire set of circumstances surrounding your wife’s entry, not simply a C1-D visa classification.

Here is a second possibility to help your wife, based on what you wrote.

Assuming the paperwork filed by your wife’s parents, on your wife’s behalf, was some type of immigration petition, she might qualify for an exception to the crew member limitation.

It is critical to obtain copies. In case they cannot locate these copies, her parents should order a copy of all their immigration records from the government. They may the assistance of a permanent residency attorney who handles tough green card issues.

The key facts are (a) whether the petition was approved, and, (b) if so, was it filed by April 30, 2001. It does not matter if her parents did not follow up after receiving the approval, unless they withdrew the petition.

Given the facts you laid out, it seems feasible the date of an approved petition listing your wife took place by the April 30, 2001 cut-off date.

This could be the game-saver because such an approval would provide her with the basis to qualify for the exception to the crew member bar to adjusting residency status.

Naturally, if she can use either of these approaches to file for lawful permanent resident status, there are other requirements she will need to address.

As I said at the outset, your wife has a tough case. Even if she has evidence to overcome the crew member limitations, this type of matter is not something which should be minimized.

Most immigration officers will not skimpy evidence, and instead push you to prove she qualifies to become a green card holder.

Hence, if you think your wife can put up a good fight, I strongly encourage you to discuss your wife’s situation in depth with an experienced green card lawyer.

If you have an ongoing case right now, and you have immediate case-specific questions, you may want to visit our Green Cards And Permanent Residence Attorney Services page for more information.

Or you might want to schedule a 1-On-1 Personalized Strategy And Planning Session to discuss the ins and outs of your case in depth.