Foreign banks with branches or offices here can open representative offices without filing an application, the Federal Reserve Board said.

The foreign bank only needs to notify the Fed of its plans. However, this easing only applies to banks that have filed an application since 1991, when Congress approved the Foreign Bank Supervision Enhancement Act limiting how foreign banks may expand here.

Banks that haven't filed an application since 1991 still must file a full application.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Steven Lucas, a partner at the Washington law firm of Winston & Strawn. The Fed is acknowledging that the 1991 statute gives it flexibility to decide when an application is warranted, he said.

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