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Government official says family immigration rule change is coming

The Obama Administration is reportedly considering a change in the waiver rules to allow undocumented immigrant spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are in the U.S. to spend more time with their citizen relatives while seeking legal status. The news about the new rule spread Thursday after a senior government official commented about the proposal. The official has not been identified in the media.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants must leave the United States before requesting a family visa waiver. The current law involves a snag that automatically bars the immigrant from returning to the country for three to 10 years, even if the immigrant is fully eligible to become a legal resident under the family visa program.

Currently, immigrants who do not have a criminal record can apply for a waiver from the ban on re-entry to the United States upon a showing that their absence from the country would cause an "extreme hardship" the citizen spouse or parent of the immigrant. Obtaining the waiver itself under the current rules can be a complex and time-consuming process. The government official says that in 2011, immigration officials approved more than 70 percent of the roughly 23,000 hardship applications received under the current rules.

The new rule reportedly would allow undocumented spouses and children of citizens to apply for the waiver before leaving the country. The immigrant would still be required to return to his or her home country to complete the family visa application process. The effect of the rule change, however, would allow the immigrant to remain in the country while seeking a waiver, significantly reducing the amount of time the family is separated by the snag in the family green card application process.

In addition to allowing the immigrant to stay in the country while seeking a family visa waiver, the government official says the new rule will reduce the processing time for a waiver. It can often take six months or more for the government to even act upon a waiver under the current process. The senior government official said Thursday that the new immigration rule would streamline that process. The official says waiver could be processed in just days or weeks under the proposed new rule.

The proposal is expected to be published Friday in the Federal Register. Publication in the Federal Register is just one step in the rule-making process. Florida immigration attorneys understand that administrative rule making can itself be a lengthy process. Obama administration officials hope the rule change will be made later this year.

Source: AP via Time, "Admin. Plans Change in Immigration Rule," Luis Alonso Lugo and Alicia A. Caldwell, Jan. 6, 2011

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