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New rule on residency applications for family members

Federal authorities announced a new immigration rule last week that will affect many families. It concerns whether spouses or other close family members of U.S. citizens may file their applications for immigration waivers in the U.S. or are required to return to their home countries to do so.

Up until now, immigration authorities have required undocumented family members of U.S. citizens to make their applications for legal U.S. residency in their countries of origin – and then wait there for a decision. This requirement has kept many spouses, children and parents apart for months at a time awaiting the application results.

The challenges of being apart are hard enough emotionally. But the practical consequences are also very challenging, as many immigrants have had to give up jobs in the U.S. This has left many families struggling to find financial support.

On January 2, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials announced that, as of March 4, family members of U.S. citizens will now be able to apply for legal residency in the U.S. without having to go back to their home country.

Under the new rule, applicants will still have to travel back to their home country for visa interviews. But it should no longer be necessary to spend months apart from a spouse or another close family member who is applying for legal residency.

In the past, many immigrants have not applied for legal residency precisely because the prospect of separation from loved ones for an extended period of time was so daunting. The new policy is intended to remove that hardship.

It remains unclear how many people will be affected by the rule change. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said that as of March 2012, there were more than 17,000 waiver cases that were either pending or had been decided during the previous month.

Source: “IMMIGRATION: New rule means less time away from families,” The Press-Enterprise, David Olson, 1-2-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Minnesota family immigration page.

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