New Rules Help Keep Immigrant Families Together
The road to a green card is now less burdensome for some spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens.
An executive order signed by President Barack Obama allows some undocumented immigrants who are applying for green cards to remain in the United States during most of this process. The new rules went into effect March 4, 2013.
Old Requirements Forced Separation
Previously, immigration law required undocumented immigrants seeking a green card to leave the country and seek a visa from their country of origin. Once that person left the United States, however, he or she could be barred from re-entering for either three or 10 years, depending on how long the immigrant had been in the United States without authorization.
This ban created hardship for families who depended on the undocumented family member for things like paying bills, raising children or providing sick care. The risk of leaving was so great that countless families decided that living here illegally was preferable to applying for a green card.
Family Unity Waiver
The bar to re-entry could be lifted if an applicant obtained a family unity waiver. This application, too, required that an immigrant return to his or her native country. Eighty-eight percent of such waivers were granted. However, the process still meant separation from family members for up to a year. If the application was denied, the person could be stuck abroad for a decade or, in some cases, permanently.
New Rules Avoid Separation
Under the new rules, a U.S. citizen can petition for a “provisional unlawful presence waiver” for a spouse, minor child or parent. This allows the non-citizen to remain in the United States during most of the process. The applicant must return to his or her county of origin to pick up the visa, but the amount of time spent there is limited to just a few weeks. The previous bars to re-entry are removed.
There is a $585 application fee for the provisional unlawful presence waiver.
The amended process is available only to undocumented immigrants who can prove that their immediate family members would suffer “extreme hardship” in their absence. Applicants must be immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, have a clean criminal record and demonstrate exactly how their American relatives would suffer if the application is denied.
The new rules could apply to as many as one million of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. The rules do not give legal status to illegal immigrants or shortcut the underlying application. They simply allow family members to wait out the process in the United States, where they can be part of their families, instead of abroad.