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Legislation: Our House Is A Very, Very, Very Nice House
by Carl Shusterman

Between 1994 and 2000, the House Subcommittee on Immigration, under the leadership (sic) of former Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was the graveyard to many a bill which would have benefitted immigrants, their U.S. employers and their families.

Earlier this year, Mr. Smith's Chairmanship "termed-out", and Rep. George Gekas (R-PA) became the new Chairman. During the past few months, a steady stream of pro-immigrant legislation has emerged from the Subcommittee.

For example, consider H.R.1892, the Family Sponsor Immigration Act of 2001, which passed the Subcommittee unanimously on June 26.

This bill would allow immigrants to use another sponsor on their affidavit of support if their original U.S. sponsor dies while they are waiting for a green card. This bipartisan measure would allow another family member to stand in for the deceased sponsor and sign the affidavit. The legislation is necessary to fix a problem created by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA). Under that law, an applicant for permanent residency must have an affidavit of support signed by the family member who petitioned for them. If the petitioner dies during the process, the Attorney General can allow an immigrant to go forward with their application for humanitarian or family unification reasons. However, the requirement that the original sponsor sign financial support affidavits has rendered this authority meaningless. Applicants who have been given permission to continue their application after the death of the petitioner have routinely had those applications denied for failure to obtain the signature of the deceased petitioner. Under the bill, family members allowed to step-in and sign the affidavit of support include spouses, parents, children, siblings, and legal guardians. The bill also broadens the definition of family member to include in-laws, allowing them to petition as well. During a previous subcommittee meeting, panel members adopted a substitute amendment clarifying that the bill would apply retroactively, and that sponsors as young as 18 will be allowed to sign financial support affidavits. The substitute also clarified that the Attorney General will re-examine cases involving immigrants who abandoned green-card applications after their sponsors died. During the June 26 hearing of the full Judiciary committee, the panel adopted another amendment that added grandparents and grandchildren to the list of family members who can sign the affidavit of support. The bill now proceeds to the floor of the House for a vote, where it is expected to pass.

Then, on the very next day (June 27), the House Subcommittee approved two bills that would grant work authorization to spouses of foreign executives transferred to the U.S. by their companies, and that would make it easier for companies to transfer executives, managers or employees with special skills to offices in the United States. The bills, H.R. 2277 and H.R. 2278, were introduced by Chairman Gekas (R-PA) and have bipartisan support.

These bills focus on two types of visas, the E and L visas. E visas are granted to certain traders and investors from countries that have a trade treaty with the United States. L visas allow international companies to temporarily transfer executives, managers, or employees with specialized knowledge to subsidiary or branch offices in the United States. Under current law, E or L visa holders are entitled to bring their spouse with them for the duration of their stay in the United States, but the spouse is not entitled to work while they are here. In a world where more and more households have two working spouses, this limitation often forces the spouses of visa holders to choose between giving up their careers and separating the family. For other families, a dual income is necessary to pay the bills. In 1995, Global Relocation Trends Survey reported that 74% of human resources managers labeled finding candidates as their "top global challenge", and over 50% stated that spousal career issues are a major obstacle. H.R. 2277 would allow the spouses of E visa holders to work in the U.S. while accompanying their spouse. H.R. 2278 would provide the same benefit to spouses of L visas holders. Together, the two bills would benefit about 15,000 foreign spouses of E and L visa holders. In addition, H.R. 2278 also would reduce the amount of time that an employee must be employed by a company before being eligible for an L visa. Under current law, an employee is required to have worked for the overseas company for one of the last three years before they are eligible to apply for an L visa. This legislation would reduce that time restriction to six months. This change would have a positive impact on business by allowing them more flexibility in moving certain very valuable employees to offices in the United States.

More recently, I have been approached by members of the Subcommittee who wish to sponsor legislation that would create a temporary visa category for registered nurses.

So, hats off to Chairman Gekas! He is working for bipartisan solutions to immigration problems which have gone unresolved for too long.

About The Author

Carl Shusterman is a certified Specialist in Immigration Law, State Bar of California
Former U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service Attorney (1976-82)
Board of Governors, American Immigration Lawyers Association (1988-97)
Phone: (213) 623-4592 Fax: (213) 623-3720
Law Offices of Carl Shusterman, 624 So. Grand Ave., Suite 1608
Los Angeles, California 90017