Stateside Processing for Family Unity Waivers
The government announced this week that it will begin a new process in the coming months that will direct certain visa applicants to file their applications for family unity waivers in the U.S.
Currently, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face unnecessary and dangerous 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 3-or-10 year bar to re-entry to the U.S. for many applicants (those who are undocumented and who have been living in the U.S. for more than 6 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 be completed. Meanwhile, families are separated and spouses and children are forced to wait in potentially dangerous situations until a waiver decision is made and then can complete their visa processing and return to the U.S. with their lawful permanent resident document (“green card”).
• This week’s announcement is a limited, common sense processing change: The new procedure will allow husbands, wives and children of U.S. citizens to remain united with their family members while their waiver application is being adjudicated. They will then have to spend only a short time in Ciudad Juarez or at another U.S. consulate abroad, where they will still have to go to have their final visa interview and obtain their lawful permanent resident status.
• In-country processing should be extended to lawful permanent resident family members: While the government announcement indicates that the new procedures will apply only to spouses anda children of U.S. citizens when they go into effect, there is no valid reason not to extend the same processing to immediate family members of lawful permanent residents whose spouses and children face the same obstacles and dangers when required to wait abroad for their waiver adjudications.
• Government bureaucracy shouldn’t stand in the way of keeping families together: The American people understand the importance and value of family unity. That’s why our immigration laws provide that U.S. citizens and lawful residents can apply for “green cards” for their foreign-born spouses and children and unite their families. But government bureaucracy has created decades-long backlogs and put up other obstacles that keep husbands, wives and children separated for years. One of these bureaucratic obstacles is the current waiver process that requires husbands, wives and children to wait outside the U.S. for weeks, months, or even years before getting a decision on their waiver application.
• Stateside waiver processing is a rational solution to a simple problem: Waiver applications are often referred by U.S. consulates abroad back to DHS offices in the U.S. for adjudication. Processing these applications “stateside” in the first place will save consular resources abroad, allow U.S. consulates to focus staff resources on their core mission of serving U.S. citizens in foreign lands, and will allow a professional cadre of DHS staff in the U.S. develop the expertise to adjudicate cases and apply uniform legal standards to those adjudications.
• Husbands, wives and children should not have to risk their lives to get their lawful visa: There is no rational reason to make a husband, wife or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident wait for months in a dangerous place for lawful status for which they qualify. Tragic cases of family members being assaulted or killed as they await their waiver decision should never happen in our legal immigration system.