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Obama eases immigration requirements; hundreds could be affected locally

Modified: Thursday, Jan 3rd, 2013

President Barack Obama on Wednesday approved a new policy designed to reduce the time certain immigrants are separated from their families when applying to become permanent U.S. residents.

Under current law, immigrants in the country illegally must return to their countries of origin to apply for an immigrant visa, but those who leave face a penalty that bars them from applying for 10 years.

Those immigrants had the option of applying for an unlawful presence waiver allowing them to stay, but under the previous rule those immigrants could only apply for the waiver after they left the U.S., a process that can take up to a year, said Watsonville immigration attorney Doug Keegan.

The new rule allows them to apply for the waiver before they leave the U.S. Immigrants must still return to their home countries after they apply for the waiver, but the process might now take about two weeks, Keegan said.

“It’s kind of a safety valve for people facing this 10-year penalty,” he said.

The new rule applies to immigrants already in the country illegally.

Applicants must not have a criminal record, be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen and show that denial of the waiver would be a burden on his or her U.S. citizen spouse or parent, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves,” USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said. “The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon.”

Keegan said that the new rule will affect hundreds of people in Santa Cruz County and “thousands” in the Central Coast.

The process will be effective on March 4, 2013. For information about the filing process, visit www.uscis.gov.

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