On December 21, 2000 President Clinton signed the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (“LIFE”) bill into law. LIFE extends the “grandfathering deadline” of Section 245(i) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (“INA”) until April 30, 2001. Section 245(i), which allowed many otherwise ineligible applicants for adjustment of status to apply for and receive green cards in the United States by paying a fine, lapsed on January 14, 1998. Now, applicants who failed to make that deadline will have a second opportunity to file an Immigrant Visa Petition or Labor Certification before April 30, 2001, and still be approved for green cards in the United States.
Congress initially enacted INA 245(i) in 1994, but with an expiration date of November 1997. The section allows people who entered without inspection, overstayed their visas, or otherwise fell out of lawful nonimmigrant status, to apply for their green cards in the United States upon the payment of a $1000.00 fine. The law was extended briefly amidst much controversy in late 1997, with a resulting compromise to “grandfather” individuals whose immigrant visa petitions of labor certifications were filed on or before January 14, 1998, allowing them to file for adjustment of status under INA Section 245(i) once their priority dates become current.
Most lobbyists and members of the Immigration bar were dissatisfied with this so-called compromise, and pushed for a permanent extension of 245(i). The battle has been raging since that time. Following intensive negotiations, the Clinton administration and Republican leaders in Congress reached an agreement on 245(i) and other immigration issues that will be included in the final budget package for the year. Congress will vote on the 245(i) provision shortly and President Clinton is expected to sign the bill into law without delay.
The main provision of the new law is that Section 245(i) applicants will be “grandfathered” until April 30, 2001. That means that applicants who were physically present in the U.S. on the date the new law is enacted and who have an immigrant visa petition or labor certification filed on their behalf prior to April 30, 2001, will be eligible to receive green cards in the United States when their priority dates become current. As with the previous “grandfathered petitions,” any person who is “grandfathered” under 245(i) may transfer eligibility later, if a faster avenue to the green card becomes available.
LIFE also created a temporary “V” visa for the spouses and minor children of green card holders, if the backlog for a green card is three years or more. Beneficiaries under the V Visa Program will not be subject to deportation, and will be granted work authorization. Also, the law will give certain “late amnesty” class members, i.e. CSS, LULAC and Zembrano applicants, a chance to apply for adjustment of status and will protect their spouses and minor children from deportation while granting work authorization.