The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new measure that will smooth the road to legal residence for undocumented immigrants with close relatives who are U.S. citizens, a move that could affect about a million people.

DHS said that foreigners without papers who have relatives who are U.S. citizens and are trying to regularize their immigration situation will be able to do so in - and will have to remain outside the United States for - a much shorter time than before.

People requesting an adjustment in their immigration situation will have to verify that spending a long time apart from their spouse, their parents or their children would entail "extreme hardship" for the family, after which they will be allowed to begin regularization procedures without having to leave the country, contrary to the situation up to now.

In the final stages of the process, however, they will still have to return to their country of origin, where they will personally take possession of the papers and, later, they will be able to enter the United States in a completely legal manner.

The measure will enter into force on March 4.

The length of the process to obtain permanent U.S. residence is between six and 18 months, a period during which, up to now, the applicant had to remain in their country of origin.

With the new measure, authorities calculate that the time undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen relatives will have to remain abroad will be reduced, in some cases, to just a week. EFE