New Hardship Waiver Rules Ease Decade-Long Separation of U.S. Citizens and Undocumented Family Members
On January 2, the Obama administration adopted new rules that will allow the immediate family members of U.S. citizens to remain inside the country while awaiting approval of their permanent residency applications, a break from earlier policy that required such individuals to wait for adjudication abroad and often barred re-entry for up to 10 years. The new rules, which take effect on March 4, will allow eligible beneficiaries to obtain “extreme hardship” waivers that typically preclude the bars to re-entry for undocumented immigrants and apply for “green cards” without leaving the U.S., a change the government expects will lessen family separations to “a matter of weeks” instead of the usual three or ten-year absence.
Under current law, undocumented immigrants eligible for adjustment of status on the basis of a qualifying family relationship must leave the U.S. in order to receive visas at U.S. consulates abroad but cannot re-enter the U.S. for as long as ten years due to their first illegal entry. Under the new guidelines, however, such individuals may obtain waivers to permit re-entry as soon as the visa is obtained abroad, a change that is expected to eliminate much of the fear discouraging such applicants from pursuing a change of status.