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Rule change allows residency applicants to stay in U.S.

A new federal immigration law was announced yesterday that will allow many undocumented immigrants who are spouses, parents or children of U.S. citizens to stay in the United States while they apply for residency, instead of being forced to return to their home countries.

The rule change will begin on March 4 and is aimed at preventing families from being torn apart and left without financial support during the waiver wait times. However, the applicants will still be required to travel back to their home countries for their visa interviews.

The policy change will override the current federal law that prohibits illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for a year or more from returning to the country until 10 years has passed since the time they voluntarily left. For those who lived in the U.S. for six to 12 months, the ban is three years.

"The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves," the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a statement.

At this point, it is unknown how many families will be affected by the rule change, but the most recent data available reveals that in March 2012, more than 17,000 people were either awaiting waivers or their waiver cases had been decided or received that month.

While many immigrant advocates sing high praise for the change in policy, others say that the new rule doesn't go far enough in protecting families because it only applies to immigrants whose family members are U.S. citizens, leaving out non-citizen legal residents.

Even so, this rule change provides family members of U.S. citizens great incentive to apply for lawful residency in the United States.

Source: The Press-Enterprise, "IMMIGRATION: New rule means less time away from families," David Olson, Jan. 2, 2012

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