Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published their much-anticipated “family unity rule” — “Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver of Inadmissibility for Certain Immediate Relatives” — which will go into effect on March 4, 2013. While the rule has its limitations, it is a giant step forward for South Asian families and will help keep them many of them together for longer periods of time.
Previously, immigrants who entered the country “without inspection” by immigration authorities had to return to their countries of origin before pursuing an immigrant visa and unlawful presence waiver. This process can result in individuals waiting years to be reunited with their families. However, under the new USCIS rule, the time apart for many families will be greatly reduced. After March 4, 2013, many individuals, including those in the South Asian community, will be able to file and have their unlawful presence waivers provisionally approved before they have to leave the country. Once a waiver is provisionally approved, the individual will have to leave the U.S. and attend his or her visa interview abroad, but this change eliminates the months, and sometimes even years, that individuals previously had to wait outside the U.S. for adjudication of their waiver.
It is still important to remember the limitations of the new rule. First, it only applies to immediate relatives (spouses, children, and parents) of U.S. citizens. This restriction is important to note because many advocates had argued for the rule to apply to a broader population. Second, applicants must still prove that their U.S. citizen, immediate family member would suffer extreme hardship if the applicant was denied admission. While this is no different from the previous requirement, it’s important to remember. Third, the waiver only applies to unlawful presence, not other grounds of inadmissibility. As with any rule, there are other limitations, some of which can be found in various articles online.
Despite the narrow scope of this rule, it is an important step forward in the movement towards keeping families together. It will keep some families united for significantly more time than before, and that’s a big win for however many it impacts. These are the successes that we must remember as we fight for comprehensive immigration reform in the upcoming months, one step at a time.