New Immigration Bill Awaits President’s Signature The Legal Immigration Family Equity Act and It’s N

On December 15, 2000, Congress passed the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 which also contains the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act). The bill was submitted to the President, who has until midnight, December 21, 2000 to sign it into law. The LIFE Act attempts to address several areas of injustices in current law that have harshly affected many immigrant families.

The first area is restoration of 245(i), a provision which allows for anyone eligible for an immigrant visa and for whom a visa is currently available, to adjust his or her status to that of lawful permanent residence in the U.S. by paying a $1000 penalty. Those eligible for 245(i) include aliens who entered the United States without inspection, alien crewmen, an immigrant who is a former or retired officer or employee, and certain family members, of certain international organizations, an immigrant who has been declared dependent on a juvenile court located in the United States, and certain immigrants who have served honorably on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States after October 15, 1978. In 1996, 245(i) was dramatically changed to cover only individuals who were beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions or labor certification applications filed by January 14, 1998. The LIFE amendments move the date by which such petitions or applications must be filed forward in time to April 30, 2001.

Individuals who wish to file under the new grandfather date must have an immigrant visa petition, or a labor certification application, on file with the INS or Department of Labor by April 30, 2001. They must also show that they were physically present in the United States on the day the bill is signed by the President. Spouses, children, parents and siblings of permanent residents or U.S. citizens will now be able to adjust their status in the U.S. and avoid needless separation from their loved ones. Similarly, persons who benefit from employer-based petitions will also be helped by the restoration of section 245(i). In either instance, 245(i) will do away with potential 3 and 10 year bars that would arise from consular processing.

The LIFE Act also attempts to unite families by addressing the problem created by the long backlog of immigrant visa applications for spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents (family 2nd preference), who are currently having to wait many years for a visa to become available to them. Currently, many of these people are precluded from visiting their spouse or parent in the United States on account of an administrative interpretation that the filing of their immigrant petition casts doubt on the bona fides of their applications for visitors visas, indicating instead they are intending immigrants.

The LIFE Act attempts to remedy this by introducing a new temporary “V” visa under which these spouses (and their children) can come to the United States and apply for adjustment of status in the United States, if their immigrant visa petitions have been pending for more than three years. In order to qualify for the V visa, the spouse or child must have already had an I-130 petition filed on their behalf on or before the enactment of the law. Individuals already in the United States will be able to change status to the new V category, even if they are in the United States unlawfully. The “V” visa will also allow one to work in the United States. Family members who were in the United States in unauthorized status at some prior point will not be prevented from obtaining a V visa. The reinstatement of 245(i) allows V visa holders to be eligible for adjusting their status to legal permanent residents.

The new act also creates a new temporary status for spouses of U.S. citizens awaiting an immigrant visa. The K visa, normally reserved for fiancées of U.S. citizens, has been expanded to include spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. This expansion allows the spouses of a U.S. citizens to enter the United States and obtain work authorization while waiting for their permanent residency petitions to be approved. Eligibility is limited to those individuals for whom an immigrant visa petition has previously been filed, are outside the U.S., whose K visa petition was filed in the United States, and have a valid non-immigrant visa issued at the consulate where the marriage occurred (for those married to U.S. citizens). K status will now be available to future green card applicants.

The LIFE act will benefit many of the “late amnesty” class members who have been in legal limbo for close to 15 years. Their spouses and children will be able to remain in the United States until they become eligible for permanent residence.

If you, a family member or someone you know appears to be eligible for any of the new provisions above, you should seek reputable and qualified legal counsel immediately.