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USCIS Proposes Regulatory Change to Decrease the Time U.S. Citizens are Separated from Family Members who are Legally Immigrating to the U.S.

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Posted by Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (en español/Spanish version)

Underscoring the Obama Administration’s commitment to family unity and administrative efficiency, this morning U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services posted a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to begin a regulatory change that would reduce the amount of time that U.S. citizens are separated from their families while their family members go through the process of becoming legal residents of the United States.

Currently, children and spouses of U.S. citizens who have accrued a certain period of unlawful presence in the U.S., and have to leave the country in order to become a legal permanent resident of the U.S., are barred from returning to their families for as long as 3 or 10 years.  They can receive a waiver to allow them to return to their families before that period by showing that their U.S. citizen family member would face extreme hardship as a result of the separation.  But under current procedures, in order to obtain the waiver, these individuals must apply from outside the United States after they have been found inadmissible by a Department of State consular officer. This process can be lengthy and discourages individuals who are currently eligible for this waiver from applying.  To address this problem, the USCIS proposal would allow eligible immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for and receive "provisional waivers" of unlawful presence before they leave the United States for consular processing of their immigrant visa applications, significantly reducing the time U.S. citizens are separated from their spouses, or children.

Not only will this proposal further the Administration’s commitment to family unity, but the change would improve government efficiency by increasing the predictability and consistency of the application process.

More details regarding the proposed process change will be outlined in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, tentatively scheduled to be published this spring and, which will be open for public comment. While we’re still in the beginning stages of the rulemaking process, we’ve posted some initial questions and answers on to provide additional information. USCIS has also scheduled a teleconference listening session on January 10th at 2PM.  To RSVP for the teleconference, please visit

To learn more about the federal rulemaking process, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Rulemaking 101. For more information, see our fact sheet and this Federal Register notice of intent.