White House announces executive actions to speed visas

The White House is rolling out changes to the nation's visa system, including a provision easing the way for family members of aging Filipino veterans to visit the U.S.

The moves, part of President Obama's executive actions on immigration, are designed to “modernize and streamline” the legal immigration process, White House officials said Wednesday.

In addition to the provision affecting Filipinos, the moves include increased protections against fraud in programs that allow overseas investors to get U.S. visas and an overhaul of the visa application process aimed at reducing paperwork and improving the experience of people applying at U.S. consulates.

The changes are based on recommendations of a White House task force that Obama created in November, when he announced that he would do everything within his power to fix what he called a "broken" immigration system.

Under rules dating back decades, Filipinos are allowed to enlist in the American military, and thousands of veterans of conflicts dating back to World War II now live in the U.S. Those who are citizens can petition for family members to come here, but in many cases, approval can take years or even decades because of annual caps on the number of visas.

The new rules will allow certain family members of Filipino veterans of U.S. wars to seek parole so they can come to the U.S. on a temporary basis.

That change was cheered by immigrant advocates, including Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

"This is a day to celebrate,” Moua said in a statement Wednesday.. "Until now, the inhumanely long visa backlog has separated [veterans] from their children and denied them the opportunity to live together in the United States."

Another change announced Wednesday adds protections against fraud to the EB-5 visa program, which gives foreigners who invest large amounts of money in projects in the U.S. the chance to apply for citizenship. The leaders of U.S.-based projects will now be subject to enhanced background checks and conflict-of-interest and public disclosure requirements.

White House officials said they are also changing the application process itself, reducing the amount of paperwork that changes hands among federal agencies and making the language on application forms more understandable.

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