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What is LRIF (Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness)?
5 Things to Know

Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) provides Liberians in the United States and their families an opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residence (a green card), regardless of immigration status. Unfortunately, the application window closes December 20, 2021, and, so far, application and adjudication rates have been low. Congress and the Biden Administration can do more to ensure that the program is a success.

1| What is Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)?

Liberian Refugee International Fairness (LRIF) is a program established by Congress that provides Liberian nationals who have lived in the United States for many years an opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, receive a green card, and eventually to naturalize as U.S. citizens.1

The legislation follows more than three decades of the U.S. government’s providing temporary protections for Liberians living in the U.S. through policies like Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Since 1990, each Presidential administration has provided some relief and protection for Liberians, repeatedly determining that it would be unsafe to force them to return as Liberia struggled with civil war, political instability, and a deadly viral outbreak. A brief timeline of protections is included at the bottom of this post.

Thirty years later, Congress has provided these longtime U.S. residents a chance to apply for permanent status and an opportunity to pursue citizenship.

2| How do I apply for LRIF? Who is eligible?

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides full application instructions on its website, and Informed Immigrant has a guide for applicants. To apply for a green card, LRIF applicants must file an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form 1-485), which must be received by USCIS on or before December 20, 2021.

Generally, individuals can apply for adjustment under LRIF if they are a Liberian national and have been continuously present in the U.S. since at least November 20, 2014,2 and have not committed certain crimes. Spouses and unmarried children of LRIF-eligible Liberian nationals can also apply for a green card under LRIF.3

Applicants must generally be admissible under immigration law, or have a waiver of inadmissibility. However, some admissibility requirements do not apply for LRIF adjustment, including public charge, labor certification, being present in the country without being formally admitted or paroled, and certain documentation requirements.

The Center for Migration Studies estimates that up to 10,000 Liberians now in the U.S. could qualify for adjustment under LRIF, approximately 7,900 of whom are deemed essential workers. CMS also estimates that 100 spouses and 200 children of potential LRIF beneficiaries are potentially eligible.

3| Why did Congress create LRIF?

On December 20, 2019, Congress reached a bipartisan consensus to pass LRIF, a law that established a pathway to permanent status and ultimately citizenship for Liberians living in the U.S. This achievement came after many years of advocacy from activists and organizations including African Communities Together and the UndocuBlack Network, along with leadership from Members of Congress like Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative David Cicilline (D-RI).

For three decades, many Liberians in the U.S. have been protected from deportation and authorized to work, as conditions in Liberia remained unsafe for return. These protections provided critical humanitarian relief for Liberians living in the U.S., and also provided support for Liberia as a valued U.S. ally. When President Trump determined that these protections were no longer warranted, Congress passed LRIF to ensure that Liberians who were previously protected, and those who were never able to enroll, would have an opportunity to apply to stay in the U.S.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, explained:

“These individuals came to America seeking safety from devastating wars and disaster. They’ve made a home here, built their lives, and strengthened our communities. America is their home and they shouldn’t be evicted. Forcing them back to Liberia now would create real hardships both here and in Liberia. By extending their legal status, we are providing much needed certainty and a measure of security for individuals while helping foster Liberia’s post-war recovery.”

4| How many people have applied for LRIF so far?

USCIS reports that it has received 3,398 LRIF-based adjustment of status applications as of April 2021, representing only about one-third of the 10,000 Liberians estimated to be eligible to apply.4 Applications were highest in December 2020, when the application window was originally scheduled to close.

Even though the deadline has been extended, application counts have remained remarkably low since, with USCIS reporting only 37 applications received from January through March 2021. The number of applications filed each month will need to increase significantly for all eligible applicants to file in time.

While application rates are low, adjudication rates are even lower. Only 778 applications—23% of the total—have actually been processed, and of those, only 666 have been approved.5

5| What can Congress and the Biden Administration do to help Liberians access LRIF?

While Congress has acted to provide this opportunity to eligible Liberians, there’s more that can be done to ensure that the program is used to its full potential. This is particularly urgent, as DED for Liberians expires on June 30, 2022; individuals who do not apply for LRIF and lose their protection under DED will be left without status and in unlawful presence.

The Biden Administration6 and members of Congress, particularly those representing states and districts with sizable Liberian populations (including Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas) should work with local and state elected officials and nonprofit organizations to provide information, resources, and support in applying to relevant communities.

Advocates and community members have urged USCIS to clarify and revise its application requirements. Advocates claim these requirements contradict the spirit of the law and diverge from past practice and requirements for similar programs.7 The agency has responded in part to this feedback; for example, USCIS issued new policy guidance in June with additional options for evidence that applicants can use to establish nationality. The Biden Administration should continue to review feedback from community experts and consider additional flexibility and reasonable accommodations for applicants.

For more on LRIF and ways to support the Liberian community in the U.S., visit UndocuBlack, CLINIC, and Informed Immigrant.


Timeline

30 Years of Bipartisan Action to Protect Liberians in the U.S.

The Bush Administration formally designated Liberia for TPS, following the outbreak of civil war. This designation was extended through 1997.

In the wake of renewed conflict, the Clinton Administration redesignated Liberia for TPS, allowing more recent arrivals to apply for protections.

As armed conflict continued, the Clinton Administration again redesignated Liberia for TPS, allowing more recent arrivals to apply and extending protections for another year.

The Clinton Administration terminated Liberia’s TPS designation, determining it was no longer necessary, but subsequently provided DED for Liberians still in the U.S.

As the terminated TPS protections wind down, the Clinton Administration granted DED for most Liberians still present in the U.S. for foreign policy reasons.

In response to renewed armed conflict in Liberia, the Bush Administration extended DED, and issued a new designation of TPS.

The Bush Administration redesignated Liberia for TPS, noting that, although the war had ended, the country was still struggling to recover and stabilize.

President Obama designated Liberia for TPS in 2014 in response to the Ebola virus outbreak in the region.

President Trump terminated TPS for Liberia in 2016 while allowing for a 6 month extension of benefits to wind the program down.

President Trump announced the termination of DED for Liberian nationals in the U.S. However, President Trump also established a wind-down period, which was extended many times, allowing individuals to retain protections and work authorization.

The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) Act was enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. This established a pathway to permanent status for certain Liberians present in the U.S. since at least November 20, 2014.

As part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the application window for eligible Liberians to apply for adjustment under the LRIF Act was extended from one to two years, with a deadline of December 20, 2021.

President Biden reinstated DED for Liberians through June 30, 2022, in part to allow more time for Liberian nationals present in the U.S. to apply for LRIF if they qualified. DED is currently in effect for Liberia.

Get in touch with us:

Andrew Moriarty

Deputy Director of Federal Policy

Notes:

  1. The date of lawful permanent residence is recorded as either the earliest date an applicant can prove continuous presence or November 20, 2014, whichever is earliest. That means that individuals who receive a green card under LRIF will have already met thecontinuous residence requirement for naturalization, and would be eligible to apply for citizenship upon being granted permanent residence.
  2. Travel abroad is permitted so long as it doesn’t amount to 180 days in the aggregate since November 2014.
  3. Spouses and children need not be Liberian nationals nor have resided in the U.S. since 2014, but must be in the U.S., as consular processing is not available. Current DED status is not necessary to apply for LRIF-based adjustment of status.
  4. The small share of eligible applicants who have managed to file their paperwork could be attributed in part to COVID-19, as could the slow pace of adjudications from USCIS (the agency faced enormous challenges resulting from economic woes, policy changes, and the pandemic, resulting in office closures, reduced capacity, and growing backlogs). Considering eligibility requirements, many potential applicants likely skew older and could be less likely to learn about the program through the internet, might struggle to pay required fees, and may need additional support applying. One >local news story reports that some potential applicants “were so weary of anti-immigration actions from Trump that they didn’t apply at all.”
  5. Without knowing exactly how and at what stage in the adjudications process USCIS catalogs LRIF filings, it is possible that there are more LRIF filings than reflected in the most recent available USCIS data, especially considering possible >COVID-related delays.
  6. USCIS could fully utilize its own district and field offices to raise awareness of the program, work with members of Congress to share information with their constituents, and partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ensure access to information about LRIF.
  7. For example, USCIS requires an unexpired passport or certificate of nationality, even though consulates have been closed for most of the application period because of COVID-19, and most potential applicants have lived in the U.S. for many years and probably have not renewed their Liberian passports.
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