As many as 1 million illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens will find it easier to get legal permanent resident status thanks to new rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
The new rule, published in the Federal Register on Jan. 3, is intended to reduce the length of time illegal immigrants are separated from their U.S. citizen families while going through the legal steps required for them to obtain legal permanent resident or "green card holder" status.
Currently, illegal immigrants seeking legal permanent resident status must leave the United States before applying for an immigrant visa. In many cases, this requirement results in long periods of separation between illegal immigrants and their U.S. citizen families.
Effective March 4, 2013, illegal immigrants who can prove to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the length time they would have to spend separated from their U.S. citizen spouse, children or parents while seeking a visa would create an "extreme hardship" may be allowed to apply for a visa without leaving the United States. If approved, the illegal immigrants would be required to return briefly to their native country in order to pick up their visa.
Applicants approved under the rule will be issued a provisional unlawful presence waiver allowing them to remain in the U.S. until they need to attend immigrant visa interviews in their native countries.
Yes, "extreme hardship" is not very specific and, no, the USCIS rule does not offer a clear definition. The rule merely states that in determining cases of "extreme hardship," the USCIS "looks at the totality of the applicant's circumstances and any supporting evidence."
"The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anticipates that these changes will significantly reduce the length of time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who engage in consular processing abroad," states the rule. "DHS also believes that this new process will reduce the degree of interchange between the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and USCIS and create greater efficiencies for both the U.S. Government and most provisional unlawful presence waiver applicants."
"The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves," USCIS Director Mayorkas said in a press release. "The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon."
The unlawful presence waiver rule comes just six months after the Obama administration announced a policy providing a two-year deferral from deportation for young illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. their parents or other adults and met other requirements.
What this Rule Does Not Do: The Department of Homeland Security stresses that applying for or granting a provisional unlawful presence waiver under the new rule will not, in any way, amount to amnesty for illegal immigrants or provide a "fast-track" to U.S. citizenship.
The rule itself states that it does not: "Confer any legal status, protect against the accrual of additional periods of unlawful presence, authorize an alien to enter the United States without securing a visa or other appropriate entry document, convey any interim benefits (e.g., employment authorization, parole, or advance parole), or protect an alien from being placed in removal proceedings or removed from the United States in accordance with current DHS policies governing initiation of removal proceedings and the use of prosecutorial discretion."