The Obama administration plans a rule change to help reduce the time illegal immigrant spouses and children are separated from citizen relatives while they try to win legal status in the US, a senior administration official has said.
Currently, illegal immigrants must leave the country before they can ask the government to waive a three-to 10-year ban on legally coming back to the US.
The length of the ban depends on how long they have lived in the US without permission.
The official on Thursday said the new rule would let children and spouses of citizens to ask the government to decide on the waiver request before the illegal immigrant heads
to his or her home country to apply for a visa.
The illegal immigrants still must go home to finish the visa process to come back to the US, but getting the waiver ahead of time could reduce the time an illegal immigrant is out of the country.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposed policy change had not been made public.
The waiver shift is the latest move by President Barack Obama to make changes to immigration policy
without congressional action.
Congressional Republicans repeatedly have criticised the administration for policy changes they describe as providing "backdoor amnesty" to illegal immigrants.
Immigrants who do not have criminal records and who have only violated immigration laws can win a waiver if they can prove that their absence would cause an "extreme hardship" for their citizen spouse or parent. The government received about 23,000 hardship applications in 2011 and more than 70 per cent were approved, the official said.
Applications for the waiver can take as long as six months to be acted upon, the official said. The new rule is expected to reduce that processing time to just days or weeks, the official added.
"This would streamline the process (and) reduce the time of separation between family members," the official said.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register on Friday. The official said the administration hopes to change the rule later this year.
Immigration has become a difficult issue for Obama ahead of the November election. As a presidential candidate, he pledged to change what many consider to be a broken immigration system. To that end, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitan announced plans last year to review some 300,000 pending deportation cases in an effort to target criminal illegal immigrants, repeat immigration law violators and those who pose a national security or public safety threat.