In January, President Obama announced new immigration legislation that gives hope to thousands of immigrants in the U.S. Under the new proposed rule, the process for applying for a visa will become easier for undocumented immigrants.
The current immigration law states that a child, relative, or spouse of a U.S. citizen is eligible for U.S. residence. However, certain rules make it almost impossible for families to stay together while a member applies for a visa. Under current laws, applying and being granted a visa usually takes 3-10 years, and you can only apply for a visa in the country where you are currently a citizen. For many families in America, this means that you may be separated from your loved ones: while your family remains in the U.S., you may be going through the visa application process alone in countries like Mexico, China, or India.
Sometimes, undocumented immigrants are put on “immigration hold” or deported and not allowed to re-enter the U.S. for several years. If you are here illegally for 6 months, you can be banned from returning for 3 years. If you live in the U.S. for more than a year, you will be banned for up to 10 years.
If your family is facing what the U.S. Citizenship Services calls “extreme hardship”, you can apply for a waiver that will let you apply for a visa even though you came to America illegally. For struggling immigrant families, this waiver is the only hope of keeping families together while applicants legally find a way to live in the U.S. permanently.
Unfortunately, you have to apply for the waiver in your country of origin. For example, if you are a citizen of Mexico, you must return there, prove that your family is going through extreme hardship, and then apply for a waiver. Some applicants do not hear back for over 6 months. In the meantime, their families struggle to make ends meet in the U.S.
Thankfully, President Obama has announced a legal path for families to stay together while applicants request a waiver. Under the proposed law, illegal immigrants will be allowed to apply for a waiver while living in the U.S. For financially struggling families or people who cannot return to their native country for extreme reasons, the new legislation will open the door to citizenship while keeping families together.
There are a few drawbacks in the proposal. First off, it might take a few months for the proposal to be applied as a law. Secondly, the proposal does not adjust the current immigration law. So unfortunately, applying for a visa or green card is still a lengthy process (although, once you are granted a waiver, you might be given a green card sooner than those without a waiver).
Despite these setbacks, the proposal is still a huge step in the right direction. It does not require congressional approval so it is highly likely that the proposal will be passed. And because it has increased hope in the hearts of thousands of immigrants, the proposal can already be seen as a success.
For more information about Obama’s immigration policy, contact Attorney Phillip Kim.