WASHINGTON, D.C. - Under a rules change set to take effect on March 4, the Obama Administration will for the first time allow certain spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens to remain in the country while a portion of the paperwork for their green cards is processed. To qualify, the U.S. citizen must show "extreme hardship" if forced to remain separated from a spouse or child. Typical examples include U.S. citizens who are sick or disabled and are being cared for or supported by their immigrant spouse or parent.
The decision makes a small but significant change and removes a bureaucratic hurdle that has deeply hurt citizens facing hardships. Under the new rule, spouses and children of U.S. citizens can apply for a hardship waiver from inside the U.S. instead of facing the risk of returning to their home countries to apply and being denied reentry into the U.S. for as long as 10 years. The risks, uncertainties and delays that come with applying for the visa from abroad create unnecessary burdens on families in hardship cases.
The new rule requires the family members to briefly return to their country of origin to finalize the process once the waiver has been approved.
SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina welcomed the rule change, which was first announced a year ago.
"Outdated laws and procedures should not keep families apart. The new process will lessen the burden on U.S. citizens, whose spouses are afraid or unable to leave the country specifically because of the hardships they face. For example, a wife who is taking care of her citizen husband, a permanently disabled war veteran, will not have to choose between providing for her husband or leaving the country to apply for a green card, which carries the risk of being denied reentry for up to 10 years.
"The administration deserves credit for moving ahead in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform from Congress.
"However, we are disappointed that the rules change does not apply to spouses of legal permanent residents and adult children of U.S citizens, as they often are caregivers. We hope that as the changes are implemented, the administration will see the wisdom in expanding the hardship waivers to these critical family members."