ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Immigrant Alaskans who are in the United States legally may be entitled to an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend if they plan to remain here indefinitely and meet all the other requirements for the annual payout.
In an unanimous decision issued Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court said legal aliens do not need a so-called ''green card'' to get a dividend if their visas do not specifically bar them from staying in the United States indefinitely.
The ruling affects hundreds of immigrants waiting for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service to process their applications for permanent residency, political asylum and refugee status. The applications can take five or six years to wind their way through the bureaucracy, said Anchorage immigration lawyer Margaret Stock.
All illegal aliens and their children remain ineligible for dividends, Stock said.
Some of the immigrant categories affected by the decision are those in Alaska on a ''fiance visa,'' meaning people from another country to marry an American citizen. The decision also extends dividend eligibility to people here on several kinds of professional and business related visas, largely in the teaching, tourism, airline and oil businesses, Stock said.
It means the American-born children of legal immigrants who do not have a green card will be eligible, Stock said.
Although the state disputed some legal details of the 1998 class action lawsuit that led to the ruling Friday, it issued an emergency regulation back then opening the door to qualified legal aliens. But the state let the regulation expire, awaiting final word from the Supreme Court.
The focus of the lawsuit was a dividend eligibility requirement that says an applicant must be a citizen of the United States or ''an alien, lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States.'' For years the state defined this as only people with green cards. People whose applications had not yet been acted on could not legally form the intent required to remain in Alaska indefinitely, the state said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.