On December 21, 2000, (then) President Bill Clinton signed an immigration legislation package called the "Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act" (LIFE). The purpose of this article is to provide some background and context to the provisions of the LIFE legislation, and to list some of the benefits available under the LIFE law.
As background, in 1994 Congress enacted section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which allowed for the "adjustment of status" (application for a "green card") for individuals who had entered the United States illegally or had overstayed their legally permitted status in the U.S.A. That provision in the law allowed for permanent residency to be approved upon payment of a penalty of $1,000.00 to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The provision permitted many thousands of otherwise illegal aliens to "declare" their existence, and thereby avail of all of the benefits and rights available to them as legal residents of the United States. Unfortunately, due to anti-immigrant sentiment in Congress, the adjustment of status provision under §245 (i) of the INA was terminated on January 14, 1998. The new LIFE law reinstates § 245(i) of the INA upto and including April 30, 2001.
The implications of the extension of §245(i) are tremendous. §245 now acts as an "amnesty" of sorts to individuals who were unable for whatever reason to meet the January 14, 1998 deadline for filing applications for adjustment of status. In order to be eligible, an applicant must have been physically present in the United States — whether legally or illegally — on the date of enactment of the LIFE Act, December 21, 2000. Further, an alien must be the beneficiary of an immigrant petition which is family based or employment based, or an application for alien labor certification filed on or before April 30, 2001.
This does not mean that an alien will remain "in status" during the pendency of his or her application. What this means is that if and when the application for adjustment of status or labor certification is approved, the alien can then apply for permanent residency under the provisions of the LIFE act. It does not exempt an alien from removal (previously known as "deportation"), nor will it include illegal aliens and overstays who entered the United States after December 21, 2000.
Therefore, aliens that may have thought that there was no hope for them due to the "sunset" of the INA §245(i) provision should realize that there is indeed another ray of hope. Under the LIFE provisions, they can file an application for adjustment of status or for alien labor certification, which may result in the legalization of their stay in the United States.
The LIFE Act favorably impacts the very substantial backlogs for immigrant visas for spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents and U.S. Citizens who are outside the United States. Under the current immigration regime, visas for spouses and children of legal permanent residents are issued under a quota set in the INA. Demand for these visas far outstrips the allotted quota. Therefore, permanent residents who live in the United States and who may have spouses and children still residing overseas have to wait for many years before their spouses and children are permitted to join them in the United States. Obviously, this creates incredible hardship for these families. Under the LIFE Act, any application for the immigration of a spouse or child which was filed prior to the enactment of the Act, and which has been pending for three years or more is favorably affected. Immigrants waiting for visas can now enter the United States under a temporary non-immigrant "V" status and may remain legally in the United States until the approval of the immigrant visa petition. This will serve to reunite families that have been separated for three years or more. Individuals with the V non-immigrant status would also be eligible to receive employment authorization from the INS and would therefore be able to support themselves and their families.
Likewise, United States citizens who were married abroad often faced severe hardship in attempting to bring their spouses and the spouses’ minor children, if any, back to the United States within a reasonable time. Under the new law, a new temporary "K" visa status will now be available to the spouses (and their minor children) of United States citizens. This expanded "K" non-immigrant status supplements the currently existing K fiancé visa. Under the current K fiancé visa, a fiancé of a U.S. citizen may enter the United States for the purpose of marriage to the U.S. Citizen and such marriage must take place within 90 days for the fiancés entry to the United States. The expanded "K" visa provisions will, like the "V" non-immigrant visa permit families of US citizens to be reunited and remain together in the United States while the immigrant visa applications are pending review and decision by the INS. Like the non-immigrant "V" status, the expanded "K" visa permits employment with INS authorization.
Details about alien labor certification, the adjustment of status, INA §245(i), immigrant and non-immigrant visas and fiancé visas can also be found on this website.
Finally, in attempting to bring closure to a messy chapter of immigration history, the LIFE Act provides for the adjustment of status (green card) for individuals who may have applied for membership through one of the INS amnesty programs. Spouses and unmarried children of these legalization beneficiaries will likewise be eligible for adjustment of status and work authorization. The LIFE legislation will therefore affect many thousands of legalization applicants who were either improperly advised by the INS, whose applications were summarily rejected by the INS, or who were prevented from applying for immigration benefits by the INS.
Unfortunately, another proposed act (the Latino Immigrant and Fairness Act, or LIFA) which would have provided much needed relief from the harsh provisions of the IIRIRA of 1996 did not pass. Therefore, there is no relief in sight for criminal or otherwise deportable aliens. However, the LIFE Act is at least a start toward a more realistic and benign benefits process.
At least three provisions of the LIFE Act will require implementing regulations. Obviously, it would behoove the INS to develop these regulations quickly in order to permit reunification of families through the V and K non-immigrant visa programs. Likewise, it will permit the adjustment of status of many thousands of legalization applicants whose cases have been dragging on for several years.
Other than reinstating earlier regulation, no additional regulations need to be implemented in order to reintroduce §245(i). The prior regulations are well known. Indeed, the LIFE Act does not make any substantive changes to §245 (i) other than to impose a cut-off date for physical presence – whether legal or illegal – in the United States (December 21, 2000), in order to be eligible for adjustment of status. The critical deadline for applications is April 30, 2001.
President Clinton has breathed new life into the Immigration Law. The Act provides for adjustment of status for many thousands of individuals who may be in illegal status in the United States. These individuals must commence the process for legalization of their status either through a family relationship or employment on or before April 30, 2001 in order to take advantage of the provisions under the LIFE Act. Some common examples of illegal aliens who may be able to benefit from the LIFE Act are the following:
- An individual who entered the United States without a visa and is now married to an U.S. Citizen or permanent resident;
- An individual who entered the United States legally with a visa, but who subsequently overstayed his or her visa and has a qualifying family relationship, either with an U.S. Citizen or a legal permanent resident;
- An individual who may have entered the United States illegally or legally, with a visa and has obtained employment with an employer willing to file a petition for alien labor certification on the employees’ behalf; and
- Aliens who may already have had a immigrant petition filed on their behalf, but have not applied for adjustment of status due to the expiration of INA §245 (i) on January 14, 1998.
Obviously, this list is not meant to be exhaustive; it will illustrate, however, the tremendous change in the law, which will favorably effect cases that may have once been considered a "lost cause".