Psychologists can provide a needed service to attorneys and their clients who are involved in the process of immigration. The immigration process presents many challenges to both foreign nationals who seek to settle permanently in the United States and to their loved ones.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) allows applicants to plead emotional and psychological arguments for 3 conditions. The first is the existence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or other mental illness. The most frequently occurring circumstance is the female foreign national who has been married to an American citizen. The woman has been subjected to verbal, physical, or emotional abuse by the American spouse or partner. She has been living in the United States, and she seeks permanent residency or citizenship. INS will accept and review a psychological evaluation that supports that the woman meets criteria for PTSD or another mental illness as a component of the grounds for allowing her to proceed with her application. This falls under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The second circumstance arises when the married couple is forced to live in separate countries. Usually, the American husband has married a foreign national and they have lived together in the United States. The foreign national has petitioned for permanent residency or citizenship; she has had to move back to her country of origin to accommodate INS rules. The American continues to reside in the United States for employment reasons, usually keeping the school-age children, while the foreign national cares for the infants and toddlers. This creates a hardship on all the family members. INS will allow a psychological evaluation supporting a claim that the American suffers extreme and unusual hardship secondary to the split household. This can include the psychological impact on the children brought on by separation from a primary caregiver, along with the emotional consequences to the spouses as a result of the forced separation. This use falls under the INS I-601 “hardship” Waiver.
The third circumstance arises when a mental illness presents during the process of applying for permanent residency or citizenship. INS will allow a psychological evaluation arguing that the very process of pursuing legal status has produced the mental illness. This is a complicated aspect of the INS process and must be developed individually by the attorney case by case.
These evaluations are forensic due to the INS involvement, the need to address the immigration law, and the potential public policy impact of the recommendations the psychologist must make. Rather than relying on clinical impressions, the INS reviewers attribute greater decisional weight to carefully drawn conclusions based on strong psychometrics and standardized evaluation approaches. INS administrative judges like to see data, and psychological test results have been noted in an increasing number of decisions as persuasive elements in final determinations. Immigration attorneys are just beginning to use psychologists for these specialized evaluations. Informational newsletters, presentations at professional immigration seminars, and directed mailings all help to make the use of these evaluations more prevalent. This is an emerging role for psychologists who want to contribute to relief for a needy population.