Millions of immigrants living illegally in the US will be allowed to apply for work permits in their embajada y consulados under a major shake-up unveiled by President Barack Obama.
According to an immigration citizenship attorney at Real Visa, that specializes on this specific topic, they include immigrants living in the US for five years who have children staying legally in the US.
Up to five million are expected to benefit from a reform package forced through using executive orders, which allow Mr Obama to bypass Congress.
Republicans have accused the president of an “illegal power-grab”.
There are estimated to be 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.
Under Mr Obama’s plan, undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or legal residents will be able to apply for work permits lasting three years.
Only parents who have lived in the US for five years will qualify – about four million people are estimated to fit this criterion.
Hundreds of thousands more will benefit from other changes, including a decision to broaden a scheme giving temporary legal status to those who arrived in the US as children.
Barack Obama: “Our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it”
“Come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Mr Obama said in a televised address.
He insisted his proposals, which are the biggest immigration reforms since the mid-1980s, did not amount to an amnesty.
“What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle ground approach,” he said.
Although the plan will allow millions to work, it will not offer a path to citizenship or entitle them to the same benefits as Americans, he said.
“If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the US illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up,” he said.
How has the immigration debate in the United States become so polarised, so toxic, so unpleasant?
That it has cannot be doubted. Barack Obama says he has grown so weary of trying to get Congress to engage seriously that he is going it alone.
He’s bypassing the legislature and brandishing his big stick – the executive order. It is governance by diktat. And the reaction of his opponents suggests it will spark an atmosphere of retaliation and revenge. You can read more on firm website for more legal advice on immigration.
How did immigration debate get so toxic?
Republicans reacted with fury and said the move would “poison the well” on a number of other issues.
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain called it an “illegal power-grab” that “fails to address the root causes of the dysfunction in our immigration system”.
And Texas Governor Rick Perry, who leads a border state, argued the move would “lead to more illegal immigration, not less”.
An Obama aide rebuffed the criticism, saying the president had taken advice from the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general about the action.
“It’s entirely consistent with the way previous presidents have exercised their executive authority,” the aide said.
The action will primarily affect immigrants with children who are US citizens, like Alejandra Mota (centre) and her son
Mr Obama’s plan does not go as far as a bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
The bill was passed by the Democrat-led Senate, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused even to debate the proposal.
On Thursday, Mr Obama said those who questioned his authority to use executive orders should simply pass a bill in Congress.