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A bit of good news arrived for undocumented immigrants on Thursday: applying for legal status will be faster and less painful for some. Under a new rule, certain unmarried children under 21 and spouses of legal permanent residents can apply for a provisional waiver to adjust their immigration status without staying outside the country for years.
The rule, which goes into effect Aug. 29, still requires undocumented immigrants to apply for a visa from their country of origin. But without the waiver, undocumented immigrants who leave the country face a three or 10 year-ban from re-entering the United States, even if they're applying for legal status. Previously, only spouses and children of citizens qualified for the waiver.
Under the new rule, immigrants must leave the United States to apply to change their status, but can get the waiver by asking for forgiveness for their status and ensure they can return more quickly to reunite with their loved ones. To qualify for the waiver, applicants must prove that their family members with legal status would experience "extreme hardship" if they were separated for a long period of time.
"The rule is intended to encourage eligible individuals to complete the immigrant visa process abroad, promote family unity, and improve administrative efficiency," reads the document published by the Department of Homeland Security Thursday.
Ezequiel Hernández, a Phoenix-based immigration lawyer, told Univision News that some undocumented immigrants with deportation orders may even qualify, as long as they're married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and don't have criminal records.
The rule isn't exactly new. President Barack Obama announced the change in November 2014, when he unveiled the executive action programs that were subsequently blocked by the courts. But the new rule was pending public input and official publication in the Federal Register, and comes into force next month.
DAPA and expanded DACA would benefit some five million people, including undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The programs allow immigrants to apply for temporary work authorization and deportation relief without leaving the United States. But the programs were blocked by an injunction resulting from a 26-state lawsuit in 2014. And in June, the Supreme Court deadlocked on the case, sending it back to the Fifth Circuit.