Big News for Central Americans Looking to be Reunited with U.S. Family
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Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new program allowing certain Central American relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to enter the U.S. in the immediate future and to complete their resident processing here in the U.S. To be considered for entry under this program, the foreign national must: 1) be from (and currently residing in) Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, 2) be the subject of an approved I-130 Alien Relative Petition and 3) meet other humanitarian criteria and security/financial support standards.
Under current U.S. immigration law, an adult U.S. citizen is already eligible to file an I-130 Alien Relative Petition for various categories of foreign national family members, including a spouse, child of any age (and regardless of marital status), parent or sibling. An adult U.S. lawful permanent resident, aka “green card holder”, is eligible to petition a spouse or unmarried child of any age. Certain of these family members, such as a U.S. citizen’s spouse, parent or under 21 year old child theoretically face relatively short processing timelines, but severe delays at play with various bureaucracies, including at U.S. consular posts overseas, have led to a doubling or tripling of wait times, sometimes now totaling 2 years or more. Other categories of family members face much longer wait times, like a decade or more, due to statutory annual caps on visa availability and the backlogs they cause for their visa classes (aka Family Preferences).
With its new initiative, the DHS creates an avenue for overseas family with approved I-130 petitions to arrive and be reunited with their U.S. family sooner rather than later and wait out the final stages of the green card process in the U.S. The initial period of entry granted under this program is 3 years and will likely be extendable. Moreover, during their period of entry, these Central American applicants will be eligible to apply for employment authorization.
As stated above, only immigrants who demonstrate extenuating “humanitarian” circumstances, pass medical and security screenings and have an invitation and financial guarantee from their petitioning U.S. family member will be approved for entry.
According to DHS, various circumstances are prompting the implementation of this program, including the large number of immigrants from this region seeking entry into the U.S. to flee “(e)conomic insecurity and high levels of poverty, food insecurity, gang violence, corruption, and sexual and gender-based violence” along with the immigrants’ “desire to reunite with family members already in the United States”.
At present, there are 17,400 Colombians, 32,600 Salvadorans, 12,800 Guatemalans and 10,700 Hondurans with approved I-130 petitions who potentially are eligible for consideration under this program. To initiate the process, applicants along with their petitioning U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members will need to take various steps, with all details accessible by way of the recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security press release.