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Obama administration announces immigrant visa waiver change

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The Obama administration announced it intends to change the process some illegal immigrants undergo when applying for a permanent residency visa by granting inside the United States a provisional waiver putting aside the fact of their illegal presence--but only in cases when prolonged separation would cause "extreme hardship" to a spouse or parent already lawfully resident in the United States.

In a notice of intent published Jan. 9 in the Federal Register by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, administration officials note that the proposed changes would not alter the requirement for an undocumented alien to leave the United States when applying for an immigrant visa. The change would, under limited circumstances, reduce the amount of time an undocumented alien must spend outside the United States.

Currently, an illegal immigrant over the age of 18 wishing to apply for an immigrant visa on grounds of family reunification must spend 3 years outside the United States if he was unlawfully present within the United States for between 180 days and less than one year--unless USCIS approves a waiver. For illegals that were a year or more unlawfully inside the United States, the waiting period climbs to 10 years--again, unless USCIS approves a waiver.

Under the proposed changes, some undocumented aliens would be able to apply for the USCIS waiver while still in the United States and directly to USCIS, rather having to do so once already out of the country and via the State Department. Applying for a waiver through a U.S. consulate can be a time consuming affair.

The Obama administration says it would grant in-country waivers to aliens who are already officially classified as immediate relatives of U.S citizens or lawful residents and who have a legally-resident parent or spouse who would suffer extreme hardship in the event of prolonged separation. The notice does not define what extreme hardship would constitute.

The in-country waivers would also only go to undocumented aliens whose only grounds for denial of an immigrant visa is unlawful presence, the notice says. Aliens who have complicating factors such as willful misrepresentation or certain criminal offenses could still apply for a waiver, but under the current rules--i.e., only from outside the United States.  

Aliens granted an in-country waiver would still have to apply for an immigration visa from outside the United States, too. But, once USCIS approves the waiver, the process of attaining such a visa would be considerably shortened.

For more:
- go to the notice in the Federal Register   

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