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USCIS rule to ease separation of U.S. citizens from illegal immigrant relatives

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U.S. citizens' immediate relatives who are in the country unlawfully will soon have to wait less time when they return to their countries of origin to obtain permanent residency, under a new rule the Homeland Security Department finalized Jan. 3.

Currently, immediate relatives who are in the country unlawfully can't apply for waivers of their inadmissibility until after their immigrant visa interviews abroad. DHS says that in some cases, waiver processing can take more than a year.

The new rule, which will go into effect March 4, lets immediate relatives apply for inadmissibility waivers before they leave the United States to attend visa interviews in their countries of origin.

"The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon," U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in a Jan. 2 statement. Spouses, children and parents count as immediate relatives.

Because departure from the United States itself triggers inadmissibility status for those in the country unlawfully, many immediate relatives who would qualify for a visa are reluctant to make the trip to their country of origin.

Approval of a waiver does not confer legal status or other benefits, nor does it protect immigrants from deportation.

The new rule will reduce the amount of interaction needed between USCIS and the State Department, making the process more efficient for the government as well as applicants, DHS says.

The department also says it expects additional fees from form processing to offset the cost to the government of the waiver process.

For more:
- read the final rule in the Federal Register
- read the Jan. 2 DHS announcement

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