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New family immigration waiver rule could reduce time away from family

The Obama administration announced Wednesday a new change to the rules governing family immigration. The new rule applies to immigrants who are close family members of a U.S. citizen and wish to apply for an immigration law waiver. Current U.S. family immigration law requires undocumented immigrants to apply for the waiver in their home country and wait for a decision, which can take a long period of time, separating the family during the waiting period.

Federal officials say that beginning March 4, undocumented immigrants will be allowed to apply for an immigration waiver in the United States. The new rule does not eliminate travel altogether, an undocumented immigrant must still return to their home country for a family visa interview, but the immigrant will not be required to spend as much time away from their family-and job-during the entire process as has been the case under the current immigration law.

The immigration rule change was not made through congressional hearings, and does not indicate what may happen during the expected immigration reform debate in the coming months. U.S. immigration officials do not know how many undocumented immigrants may be affected under the recent policy change.

However, officials say that in March 2012, roughly 17,000 family immigration waiver cases were pending, had been decided, or were received during that month, the latest month for which immigration officials have tabulated the numbers.

Many immigrants have avoided or delayed seeking legal residency due to the cumbersome process involved under the current waiver rule. After the government announced the immigration waiver change. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas issued a statement saying that the immigration family waiver process was "designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves," according to the Press-Enterprise.

Commentators say that the new rule will help to keep families together, and may encourage many undocumented immigrants to seek legal status in the U.S.

Source: The Press Enterprise, "IMMIGRATION: New rule means less time away from families," David Olson, Jan. 2, 2013

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