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Alicia A. Caldwell, AP, Jan. 6, 2012: "The Obama administration plans a rule change to help reduce the time [unauthorized] immigrant spouses and children are separated from citizen
relatives while they try to win legal status in the United States, a
senior administration official said. Currently, [unauthorized] immigrants
must leave the country before they can ask the government to waive a
three- to 10-year ban on legally coming back to the U.S. The length of
the ban depends on how long they have lived in the U.S. without
permission. The official said Thursday the new rule would let
children and spouses of citizens ask the government to decide on the
waiver request before the [unauthorized] immigrant heads to his or her home
country to apply for a visa. The [unauthorized] immigrants still must go home
to finish the visa process to come back to the U.S., but getting the
waiver ahead of time could reduce the time an [unauthorized] immigrant is out
of the country."
Julia Preston, NYT, Jan. 6, 2012: "The immigration agency can provide a waiver from those tough measures,
if the immigrants can show that their absence would cause “extreme
hardship” to a United States citizen. But until now, obtaining the
waiver was almost as hard and time-consuming as obtaining a green card. Immigrants had to leave the United States and return to their countries
of birth to wait for at least three months and sometimes much longer
while the waiver was approved. And sometimes the waivers were not
approved, and the immigrants were permanently stranded, separated from
their American families. The journey toward the green card to which they were entitled was so
fraught with risks for the illegal immigrants that many families simply
decided to live in hiding and not apply. Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the
immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before
they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver
in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost
certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking
to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas
to a few weeks at most."
Here's a link to an advance copy of a USCIS Notice of Intent, to appear in the Federal Register on Jan. 9, 2012.