By Jean-Paul Salamanca ( | First Posted: Jan 03, 2013 01:55 PM EST

Thanks to a new change in immigration laws, immigrants with family members in the U.S. may not have to wait long to be reunited with their families. (Photo : Reuters)

Immigrants with spouses, children and parents in the U.S. may not have to wait much longer to get their much sought-after green cards, thanks to a new change in immigration policy.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday the posting of a final rule in the Federal Register that reduces the time U.S. citizens are separated from their spouses, children and parents on waiting lists for permanent citizenship under certain circumstances.

Starting this March, under the final rule change, those family members of U.S. citizens looking to live in the United States can apply for provisional waivers prior to heading into the country to attend immigrant visa interviews that would help legalize their status.

The waiver helps applying immigrants avoid any serious penalties for being in the U.S. without documentation during their application process, according to Secretary Napolitano.

However, the principal idea behind the new rule is to help ease the pain of long separations that face U.S. citizens waiting for loved ones on the other side to be accepted into the country and be reunified.

"The law is designed to avoid extreme hardship to U.S. citizens, which is precisely what this rule achieves," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Mayorkas said in a statement. "The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon."

The current law forced undocumented immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to leave the country and get an immigrant visa abroad as part of the green card process. Under that same law, those who have been in the country unauthorized for more than six months must obtain a waiver before leaving the country in order to obtain an immigrant visa.

Immigrants who have been found to come back to the country illegally could be barred from re-entering the country for several years.

By adjusting the current regulations, which is available only to undocumented immigrants who can prove that their family members would suffer extreme hardships without them, immediate relatives must still leave the as part of the application process; however, they can apply for a provisional waiver before they depart for their immigrant visa interview abroad.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicate that roughly 25,000 immigrants apply for family unity waivers each year; 88 percent of which they approved in 2012 and 84 percent in 2011.

Immigration reform has been at the forefront of the national debate since the November election, with President Obama promising to make good on previous pledges to make changes to the process surrounding immigration and Republicans indicating a more willing stance to work for such changes.

Some advocates were in support of the change.

"(We) are pleased that the Obama administration is using its authority to keep families together and we look forward to more leadership as we embark on the long term solution of immigration reform," Kica Matos, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice for the Center for Community Change, told Fox News.

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