LOS ANGELES (Jan. 6, 2012) — The Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, applauds the Obama Administration for adopting a new process – which will be implemented in the coming months – that will direct certain visa applicants to file their applications for family unity waivers in the United States.
The Administration has decided to process waiver applications for close family members of U.S. citizens here in the U.S. before the applicant has departed for their visa interview. With an approved waiver in hand, these family members can then complete their travel and visa appointment in a short time, and avoid spending additional time and expense in their home countries.
This new procedure does not change the legal standard for the family unity waiver and it does not create any new benefit or right for applicants. The applicant will still have to meet the difficult burden of showing that a three or ten year bar from the U.S. would cause their U.S. citizen spouse or parent “extreme hardship.”
APALC applauds the federal government for initiating this common sense processing change, and encourages the Administration to also permit spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to apply for waivers from within the U.S. and to make other changes to further enable family members to obtain green cards for which they are otherwise eligible.
“While this is a positive change to allow U.S. citizen families to remain together, we urge the Administration to permit spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to also apply for waivers from within the U.S., and to make other rule changes to further enable family members to obtain green cards for which they are otherwise eligible,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Under current immigration law, U.S. citizens and LPRs can apply for lawful permanent resident status (a green card) for their spouse or child. The numbers of green cards issued each year are limited, so many of these close family members are forced to wait in lengthy lines until they can apply for their green card.
Asian Americans are the most likely group to have family members caught in the visa backlogs. While Asian Americans are only six percent of the U.S. population, they sponsor more than one third of all family-based immigrants. As of November 2011, there were about 4.5 million people in the family backlog and almost 2 million of them come from Asian countries. After Mexico, close family members from the Philippines, India, Vietnam and China experience the longest wait times.
Currently, U.S. citizens and LPRs face unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining lawful permanent resident status for their spouse or child. They have to file a visa petition, and once the petition is approved and the visa appointment scheduled, the spouse or child has to travel to a U.S. consulate in their home country to be interviewed. Departure itself triggers a three or ten year bar to re-entry into the U.S. for family members who are undocumented and have been living in the U.S. for more than six months. The necessary waiver of the bar must be applied for while the applicant is waiting in the home country. The decision on the waiver often takes weeks, months or even over a year to complete. Meanwhile, families are separated and spouses and children are forced to wait in potentially dangerous situations until a waiver decision is made and the visa process can be completed.