THE LEGAL IMMIGRATION AND FAMILY EQUITY ACT (LIFE Act)
WASHINGTON, D.C - On December 21, 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (the LIFE Act). Among the many changes to existing immigration law, the LIFE Act contains a provision which extends Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act until April 30, 2001 - thus making hundreds of thousands of "illegal" immigrants eligible to legalize their status and get their green cards in the U.S. In addition, the LIFE Act created a new non-immigrant V visa category that allows certain spouses and children of permanent residents to live and work in the U.S. while their immigration cases are pending. The LIFE Act also extends
K visa benefits to the spouse and unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens. Provision was also made to allow certain late legalization class members to adjust their status in the U.S.
The major provisions of the LIFE Act can be summarized as follows:
1. REAUTHORIZATION OF SECTION 245(i) UNTIL APRIL 30, 2001. Under the LIFE Act, the "grandfather" clause of
Section 245(i) - which previously expired on January 14, 1998 - was extended to
April 30, 2001. This is a major change in the law which will allow eligible aliens to legalize their status and excuse immigration law violations (ie. aliens who overstayed their visa, entered without inspection, or worked without authorization) by paying a $1,000 fine to the INS when they file their applications for permanent residence. Without this new provision of the law, these aliens would have to leave the U.S. and return home for as long as 10 years before they would even be eligible to get their green card. In order to qualify under this new provision, an alien must be a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition
OR labor certification application that is filed before April 30, 2001. Applicants must also prove they were physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000 - the date of enactment of the LIFE Act.
It is also important to note that the new Section 245(i) provisions of the LIFE Act:
DO NOT give a person permission to work in the U.S.
DO NOT give a person permission to travel outside of the U.S.
DO NOT provide any protection from deportation
Section 245(i) ONLY allows qualified applicants to adjust status and get their green card in the U.S. - when they otherwise would not be able to and would be forced to return home for consular processing, thereby triggering a law which would prevent them from returning to the U.S. for as long as 10 years. See
also the "INS Foreign Travel Advisory" on our
Advance Parole page.
The LIFE Act is NOT an "Amnesty" for immigrants, nor does it create a new way of getting a green card. It does, however, offer a way for hundreds of thousands of immigrants to legalize their immigration status and cure previous immigration law violations.
2. TEMPORARY "V" VISA CATEGORY CREATED. The new V visa category is available to the spouses and unmarried minor children (under 21) of legal permanent residents (green card holders) who are the beneficiaries of second preference family-based petitions which have been pending with the INS for 3 or more years. In order to qualify, applicants will have to show that a permanent resident sponsor already filed an immigrant petition for them before December 21, 2000. Also, their applications must either have been pending with the INS for three or more years
OR if their application has been approved, they must have been waiting for 3 or more years for their "priority date" to become current. Holders of V visas can live and work in the U.S. and cannot be deported as long as their immigrant petitions are pending with the INS. Even applicants who are out of status or who have otherwise violated the terms of their visa may be eligible to obtain a V visa. Immigrants already in the U.S. may apply for adjustment of status to the new V category, even if they are unlawfully in the U.S. At the present time, however, the INS and the U.S. Department of State are in the process of issuing instructions and interim regulations concerning the processing of the new V visas. No applications for V visas will be accepted until these instructions and regulations are issued.
3. TEMPORARY "K" VISA CATEGORY ADDED. The new K visa provision allows immigrants who married U.S. citizens abroad (and their minor children under 21), and are awaiting approval of their green card applications, to enter and stay in the U.S. while the INS makes a decision on their applications. Under the old law, immigrant spouses who married U.S. citizens abroad could not enter the U.S. until their immigrant visas were approved, because they were considered "intending immigrants". Unlike V visa applicants, K visa applicants do not have to have filed applications by December 21, 2000 and they are not required to show that they have been waiting any particular amount of time to get their visa. In order to qualify for a K visa, a prospective applicant need only have his or her U.S. citizen spouse file a K visa petition on their behalf. K visa holders can also obtain work authorization. This extended category is a great benefit to unmarried children between 18 and 21 years of age (whose parents married U.S. citizens abroad), as they were required to have separate immigrant petitions filed on their behalf - which took many years to be approved. Now, these unmarried children who accompany or follow a parent to the U.S. with a new K visa are able to obtain their immigrant visa in the U.S. by adjusting their status under the immigrant petition that was filed for their parent. Like the new V visa category, neither INS nor DOS have issued any rules or regulations concerning the processing of these K visas and therefore they are not yet accepting petitions for these new benefits.
4. BENEFITS TO LEGALIZATION CLASS MEMBERS. Qualified members of theCSS v. Meese,
LULAC v. Reno, and
INS v. Zambrano "late amnesty" class action suits who filed for class membership before October 1, 2000
AND are eligible under the LIFE Act's amended legalization provisions may apply to adjust status in the U.S. during a 12-month period that begins once final regulations are issued. In addition, spouses and children of these qualifying applicants can obtain work permits and will be protected from certain categories of removal (deportation) while their application is pending with the INS - provided that they entered and resided in the U.S. before December 1, 1988.
For more information on the LIFE Act and to find out whether you can benefit from it, call South Florida Immigration Lawyer Sean D. Hummel at (954) 385-3111.