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Government shortens time unauthorized immigrants are away from family

Families will be able to reunite much sooner with a new policy set to go in place in March.

The Department of Homeland Security recently made an announcement that will likely serve as music to the ears of undocumented immigrants who are working in the U.S. to send money overseas to their family.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, indicated that a final rule has been posted in the Federal Register, which grants certain privileges to unauthorized immigrants that they didn't have before. Starting on March 4, the amount of time in which immigrants are away from their families will shorten significantly.

Napolitano stated that this will no doubt come as welcome news to immigrants who have been away from their families for a long period of time.

"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," said Napolitano.

Prior to this ruling, undocumented immigrants who were immediate relatives to a U.S. citizen could not stay with their loved ones for a long period of time. In the course of seeking to obtain permanent residency, they had to leave the U.S. at some point in the process and return to their home country. They would then have to live in their former country for anywhere from three to 10 years before they could return to the U.S., pending approval.

Separation will now be weeks, not years
The new law still requires unauthorized immigrants to return to their home country, but shortens the period in which they have to stay there. They can re-enter the U.S. a short time later, so long as they're approved for the waiver and depending on how long they were in the U.S. unauthorized.

"The family unity waiver eliminates unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and focuses on what is important: keeping families together," Kica Matos, director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice for the Center for Community Change, told Fox News Latino. "We are pleased the rule will finally be implemented very soon."

She added that she's hopeful there will be more positive developments from President Barack Obama's administration as it pertains to immigration in the days and months ahead.

There are several requirements, however, that need to be satisfied for relatives to be granted these waivers. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, these include being an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen – such as a sibling, child or parent – and establishing evidence of immediate or "extreme hardship" that being away from their relative for a long period of time will be burdensome. In 2011, the U.S. government received 23,000 hardship applications from immigrants, reports say. Of these 70 percent were approved.

In order to file a provisional unlawful presence waiver, immigrants need to obtain a I-601 form, or an Application for Waiver on Grounds of Inadmissibility. USCIS says it will make a new form available soon, which will be known as an I-601A form. This will have details on what the new process and rules entail.

The Department of Homeland Security's decision to lessen the restrictions of citizenship comes after a considerable number of polls have shown that Americans are in favor of more relaxed immigration policies. It may also derive from the thousands of comments sent to USCIS as government officials were preparing for the rule change. Approximately 4,000 comments were received when USCIS made their first announcement regarding the possible rule change in April 2012.

Helpful links:

Form I-601

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