Undocumented  immediate relatives of American citizens seeking permanent resident status in the U.S. will find the legalization process less onerous thanks to a new rule announced by the Department of Homeland Security this week that will allow them to apply for a necessary inadmissibility waiver while still in the U.S. instead of abroad.

The waiver can take many months to be approved, and up until now the prospective immigrantwould have to wait for approval while outside the U.S, away from the U.S. citizen sponsor.  While the green card candidate will still have to travel to a U.S. consular post abroad for a final interview, having the waiver cleared while still here will save time and help to keep families together.

“This final rule facilitates the legal immigration process and reduces the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives who are in the process of obtaining an immigrant visa,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” added Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

“The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon.”

Those who will benefit from the new rule are immediate family members of U.S. citizens - spouses, parents and minor children under 21. Those who are not eligible to utilize a process known as adjustment of status, which allows for waiver application and interview in the U.S, will now be able to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while in the U.S.

USCIS says the applicant must be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, inadmissible only on account of unlawful presence, and demonstrate the denial of the waiver would result in extreme hardship to his or her U.S. citizen spouse or parent. 

Individuals who have accrued more than six months of unlawful presence while in the U.S. must obtain a waiver to overcome the unlawful presence inadmissibility bar before they can return to the U.S. after departing to obtain an immigrant visa.

The new rules come into effect on March 4.

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