U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals

The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is the highest administrative body in the U.S. government dealing with immigration issues. The BIA is made up of 15 board members who are responsible for administering and applying the nation's immigration laws. The board is part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Much of the BIA's responsibility involves hearing appeals of cases initially heard by immigration judges and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). An appeal occurs when you ask a higher court to review the decision of a lower court in hopes that the higher court will decide that the lower court made a mistake in its decision.

At the BIA, most of these appeals involve a review of the paperwork - including the original application or petition, briefs, motions and the decision - associated with the case. Unlike an appeal heard in a traditional courtroom, oral arguments are seldom permitted, and the parties to a case are notified of the BIA's decision via mail.

Once the Board of Immigration Appeals makes a decision, then all immigration judges and DHS officers in the country must follow the decision unless it is overturned by the U.S. Attorney General or federal courts.

Types of Cases Heard by the BIA

The Board of Immigration Appeals mainly reviews cases involving orders of removal (deportation) and applications for relief from removal.

Most cases are reviewed by a single board member, but certain types of cases are reviewed by 3 board members. These reviews occur:

  • When there are inconsistencies in rulings between two or more immigration judges
  • When it's necessary to establish a precedent that helps clarify the meaning of a law or procedure, which will be followed in other cases
  • When an immigration judge or DHS officer's decision is inconsistent with the law or other decisions
  • When there's a controversial case or a case of national importance
  • When an immigration judge makes a factual error

Types of Cases Not Heard by the BIA

The BIA does not hear certain types of immigration cases. Those would include:

  • Appeals from people who were deported in absentia, meaning they were not present at the deportation proceedings
  • Applications for adjustment of status that have been already denied by the Department of Homeland Security
  • Appeals of Department of Homeland Security fines and penalties
  • Employment-based immigrant visa petitions
  • Waivers of the 2-year foreign residence requirement for J-1 exchange visitors
  • H and L nonimmigrant visa petitions
  • K-1 fiancĂ© / fiancĂ©e petitions
  • Appeals to adjust the amount of time allowed for voluntary departure if set by an immigration judge

Backlog at the BIA

The Board of Immigration Appeals has, in the past, experienced significant backlogs in the number of cases it has to review. In 2002, the BIA announced that it had a backlog of 56,000 cases. The BIA now has a goal of reviewing cases within 90 days if the case is reviewed by a single board member, or 180 days if the case is reviewed by 3 board members.

Questions for Your Attorney

If your immigration application or petition has been denied, consider talking to your attorney to decide whether you could appeal the decision or ask the judge to reconsider or reopen your case.

Among the questions to consider asking your lawyer:

  • Do you have prior experience handling immigration appeals?
  • What agency or department would handle my appeal?
  • Have you successfully appealed to that agency or department for other clients?
  • How much do you charge for your services?
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