There is again a small window of opportunity for those immigrants living in the United States illegally to become permanent residents of the United States without having to step outside of the country. In a move deemed as an unexpected holiday gift to immigrants, the United States Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law “the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act of 2000” (“LIFE Act”). The LIFE Act is a result of intense and relentless effort by immigrants and their families to bring back some fairness to our immigration laws. The most notable aspects of the LIFE act are the return of Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the creation of a new temporary visa category for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents awaiting an immigrant visa.
The LIFE Act reinstates and extends section 245(i) from its old cut off date of January 14, 1998 to April 30, 2001. This is of special significance because this section of law allows for certain immigrants, including out of status immigrants, illegal immigrants, crewmen, and immigrant visitors admitted without a visa that are otherwise ineligible, to adjust their status to a lawful permanent resident here in the United States. However, to qualify for this tremendous benefit the immigrant must be the beneficiary of a bona fide immigrant visa petition or labor certification application filed on or before April 30, 2001. Given that there is essentially only a four-month window of eligibility, we urge everyone to immediately consult an immigration attorney.
The other significant provision of the LIFE Act creates a new temporary visa category for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents awaiting an immigrant visa. Under current law, spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents must wait as long as 5 years for their immigrant visa to become current. This backlog has caused severe hardships to permanent residents who are separated from their spouses and children. Accordingly, the LIFE Act, subject to some conditions, provides for a new visa and temporary status category for the spouses and minor children of permanent residents allowing them to enter and work in the United States while their petition or application for adjustment of status is pending. This provision is expected to benefit hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are currently separated from their family or unauthorized to work essentially due to the long delays experienced by visa and adjustment applicants.
The passage of the LIFE Act is unquestionably a holiday gift for all immigrants. Although, some will argue that it is only a small step towards the immigration reform needed, it certainly is an important beginning. In this season of giving and forgiveness, it is encouraging to see Congress, at the behest of President Clinton, promote family unity, fairness in treatment of the needy, and compassion. We encourage all our readers to take advantage of this limited opportunity by consulting an immigration attorney as soon as possible.