Difference Between Visa and Parole

September 15, 2016

People walking through an airport gate
The recent announcement by USCIS for International Entrepreneurs spotlighted a nuanced concept that is relatively unknown to most: Parole.  The proposed rule for International Entrepreneurs would allow foreign nationals to enter and stay in the U.S. for an initial 2-year period (with the possibility of renewing for an additional 3 years).Under formal admission rules, in order to temporarily work in the U.S., foreign nationals must satisfy the eligibility requirements outlined in immigration regulations.  Once the eligibility has been met, and if they are outside the U.S., the foreign national may then apply for a visa at a local consulate or embassy.  The visa allows the foreign national to enter the U.S.   S/he is then issued an immigration status upon entry to the U.S. that is consistent with the type of visa that was issued in their passport.  (Example: if the visa was H-1B then upon entry, the foreign national's official immigration status is "H-1B" and would be reflected on her/his I-94 arrival departure record.)  This process constitutes a "formal" admission into the U.S.The proposed rule to grant foreign entrepreneurs parole, rather a separate temporary visa status, is based on the fact that USCIS has a lot of discretionary powers. While the grant of parole to enter the U.S. is legal, it does not constitute a formal admission into to the U.S.  Furthermore, unlike what we normally associate in layman's terms with a criminal being released from prison early, USCIS granting parole has nothing to do with criminal matters.  In practical terms, parolees are allowed to enter the U.S. under a completely different set of rules outlined by USCIS.  It's legal because Congress gave USCIS discretionary powers.  There is a downside to parole though.  You are at the complete mercy of USCIS.  Any violation or failure to satisfy the eligibility requirements upon renewal and you're required to leave the U.S.As an entrepreneur paroled into the U.S., the "PE-1" designation indicates you're a parolee, it is not immigration status.  Absent specific changes to immigration laws, once the parole period is exhausted, you won't be able to "change" your status because technically, you were never admitted to the U.S. with status.  To acquire status, one would have to depart the U.S. and be formally admitted under a valid status type.This is USCIS' roundabout way of acknowledging that foreign entrepreneurs can play a critical role in promoting job creation in the U.S., but realizing that it can't change the laws on its own, not without Congress working together.
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