One of the most challenging things for many immigrants when moving to the US is separation from family members. In many cases, immigrants move to the US either alone or with only their immediate family. This can be very lonely and can make it harder to keep a close link to family back home. The US government does many things to allow families to be reunited. For example, people who immigrate to the US and get a green can usually leave and re-enter the US more freely, allowing them to visit family more often. However, if a permanent resident wants to become a US citizen, he or she cannot be outside of the US too often as this will affect residency requirements.
The US government also makes it possible for US green card holders and US citizens to sponsor family members to immigrate to the US, allowing families to be reunited in the US. Unfortunately, however, the process can take some time. This is because the US sets a limit on the number of immigrant applications accepted in most family priority categories every year. Depending on the country where the family members are immigrating from and depending on the priority category of the family members, it can take many years from the time an application is filed until a green card is received. Until the green card is received, family members have to stay apart.
Recently, to help address this problem, the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) posted in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to start regulatory changes. According to the USCIS, these changes would shorten the time that families need to wait to be together while the immigration process is ongoing.
According to the USCIS blog, one of the current problems that the USCIS wants to address is unlawful US presence. Under current regulations, immediate family members of US citizens who are unlawfully in the US for a certain period of time and want to become legal residents of the US must leave the US and must apply for legal status outside the US, in some cases waiting three or even ten years before being reunited with their families. In some cases, families can apply for a waiver for this waiting period if they can prove that the separation can cause a hardship for the US citizen. However, since the process can take a long time many who do qualify never apply for the waiver, according to the USCIS.
The USCIS is suggesting that immediate family members of US citizens in this situation be allowed “provisional waivers” related to their unlawful presence. This would allow the family members to leave the US with this waiver and start on consular processing. According to the USCIS, having this waiver in hand would reduce the amount of time that families would need to be separated.
This spring, it is expected that the USCIS will detail this proposed change in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, allowing the public to make comments and to ask questions about the changes.