In the Year of the Snake, and beyond 2013, it will be easier for Asians and others who are undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency.
However, the applicant must show that the separation will create "extreme hardship" on the part of the American family member.
The San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, an advocate for Asian-Americans, said it's a welcomed development.
"Obama's new path to permanent residency for some undocumented immigrants is a step in the right direction to keep families together," ALC said in a statement. " But comprehensive reform is still needed."
The civil-rights group has decried the Obama administration's deportation policies that have separated families, including those who have U.S. citizen children.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a non-profit group working for immigrant and labor rights, among others, said that the new rule is about "keeping families together."
According to the new rule, once the application for legal status is approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa.
The new procedures could reduce a family's time apart to one week in some cases, officials said. In recent years a few relatives of U.S. citizens have been killed in foreign countries while waiting for their applications to be resolved.
“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a statement. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” he said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that many immigrants who might seek legal status do not pursue it out of fear they will be deported.
An illegal immigrant who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years.
The new rule allows those relatives to apply for the waiver without first leaving the U.S.
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