Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘LGBT fiance visa’

18th September 2013

Reportedly, Thai human rights officials and Parliament members are poised to bring forth a bill to legalize same sex marriage in the Kingdom of Thailand. Apparently, these moves are being made in attempt to equalize the discrepancy between marital benefits enjoyed by different-sex couples when compared to their same-sex counterparts. Similar to the recent United States Supreme Court decision which compelled the United States Federal government to recognize same sex marriages which were duly legalized in the states allowing such unions, the proposed bill would provide marriage equality to same sex couples in Thailand and also equalize tax and pension benefits for those same sex couples who register their marriage in Thailand. Other parliament members were reportedly called upon to add their signatures to the bill in an effort to show broad based support for such legislation. For further information on this recent report please see the official website of The Nation.

There are a few lingering issues that remain to be answered regarding this subject as the prospect of same sex registered marriage in Thailand could be deemed a “civil union”. As civil unions in the USA are not currently accorded the same legal status as marriages the prospect of Thai same sex civil unions (although, from a legal standpoint, very advantageous for those living in Thailand) may not accord the same United States Immigration benefits as Thai same sex marriages, if the two are considered mutually exclusive under Thai law. That stated, currently Thailand has no other type of state sanctioned domestic union other than registered marriage, in a sense, all registered marriages in Thailand could be deemed “civil unions” since it is the civil registrar who registers them. The marriage ceremony is performed in Thailand with no legal effect. Therefore, many couples undertake a marriage ceremony with no legal effect and do not register their marriages, in such cases such couples are still eligible for a US fiance visa. The recent report notes that the bill would provide complete equality between same sex and different sex unions. As a result, it could be inferred that future same sex unions will be viewed in exactly the same light as different sex unions under Thai law. Should this prove to be the case, then it may be possible for future same sex couples with a registered marriage in the Kingdom of Thailand to apply for United States Immigration benefits such as the CR-1 visa and the IR-1 visa in the same manner as Thai-American different-sex married couples. In any event, the recent announcement is a significant positive signal that Thailand may become the first nation in Asia to legalize same sex unions.

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17th September 2013

Since the relatively recent decision from the United States Supreme Court known colloquially as the Windsor decision, there have been a few lingering questions from members of the LGBT community regarding the United States immigration options now available for same sex couples.

Due to section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the past it was not possible for same sex married couples (even those with a valid marriage in one of those American jurisdictions permitting same sex marriage) to receive federal benefits based upon their marriages. This lack of federal recognition precluded the possibility of a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident sponsoring a foreign spouse or fiance for a US marriage visa or a US fiance visa. With the high Court’s pronouncement that same sex marriage should be accorded the same recognition as different sex marriage this all changed.

Section 3 of DOMA reads as follows:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

From the moment the Supreme Court ruled this section unConstitutional, the Federal government was instantly required to allot the same benefits to lawfully married same sex and LGBT couples as would be allotted to different sex couples in similar circumstances. What does this mean from an immigration standpoint? LGBT and same sex couples are now permitted to petition and apply for the same types of visas as their different sex counterparts. Therefore, a couple of the same sex who is already married in the U.S. or a foreign jurisdiction recognizing such unions may now apply for a U.S. marriage visa such as the CR1 visa, the IR1 visa, or the K3 visa. Furthermore, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has made it clear that they will also adjudicate K1 Visa petitions (petitions for immigration benefits for foreign fiances of U.S. Citizens) for same sex couples in the same way that such petitions are adjudicated for different sex couples.

The Catch Section 2

One issue that has been of concern for experts studying this issue is the practical impact of the Court’s seeming unwillingness to speak to the issue of the Constitutionality of Section 2 of DOMA. Section 2 of DOMA reads as follows:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

The fact that Section 2 of DOMA has not been overturned means that same sex couples may NOT receive the same STATE benefits as their different sex counterparts depending upon the local laws of the couples’ State of residence and notwithstanding the fact that the couple may have a perfectly legal marriage in one of those U.S. jurisdictions allowing such marriages. An example of how this could work in a practical sense would be a situation where the same sex couple is married legally in one state, but resides in a state which forbids same sex unions, a spouse having state retirement benefits may not be able to fully pass on their retirement benefits to their same sex spouse. How would this work in an immigration context? USCIS and the Department of State have already issued answers to a series of frequently asked questions regarding LGBT immigration. On the question of US fiance visas, the USCIS as well as the State Department have noted that so long as the couple has a bona fide intention to celebrate their marriage in one of those states which permit such unions then the immigration petition and application will be adjudicated no differently than a similarly situation petition or application for a different-sex couple.

One issue which may be concerning for same sex partners in the Kingdom of Thailand arises from the fact that, at present, same sex marriage is not legal under Thai law and therefore authorities in Thailand will not register a marriage to two people of the same sex. That stated, there is currently legislation being drafted to allow same sex marriage in Thailand. However, as of the time of this writing it is not clear whether the Thai government will ultimately pass said legislation. As there is not another jurisdiction in the region which recognizes same sex unions, it may not be feasible for same sex partners to marry prior to submitting a US marriage visa petition. This leaves many same sex Thai-American couples in a position where their only option is to apply for a K-1 fiance visa and marry in the United States.

For related information, please see: K1 Visa Thailand.

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5th August 2013

In a previous posting on this blog, the recently released answers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to frequently asked questions regarding same sex immigration petitions were analyzed. It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the American State Department has released a similar set of answers to FAQs regarding this topic.  To quote directly from the official website of the U.S. State Separtment:

Q: How does the Supreme Court’s Windsor v. United States decision impact immigration law?

A: The Supreme Court has found section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Effective immediately, U.S. embassies and consulates will adjudicate visa applications that are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses.   This means that the same sex spouse of a visa applicant coming to the U.S. for any purpose – including work, study, international exchange or as a legal immigrant – will be eligible for a derivative visa.  Likewise, stepchildren acquired through same sex marriages can also qualify as beneficiaries or for derivative status. [italics added]

As previously discussed on this blog, the fact that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been found unConstitutional by the United States Supreme Court means that an American Citizen, or lawful permant resident, can now petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for imigration benefits for a same sex spouse (or fiance, so long as the petitioner is an American Citizen). However, the US State Department, which is responsible for Consular Processing of visa applications, had yet to make specific comments regarding adjudication of visa application based upon a same sex marriage (or fiance) immigration petition. As can be seen from above, the Department of State has brought their procedures into line with the recent Supreme Court decision.

Of interest to many same sex couples is the issue of jurisdiction as same sex marriages are only recognized by a limited number of US States. The following portion of the aforementioned FAQ focuses on this point:

Q: Do we have to live or intend to live in a state in which same sex marriage is legal in order to qualify for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa?

A: No. If your marriage is valid in the jurisdiction (U.S. state or foreign country) where it took place, it is valid for immigration purposes.  For more information, please review the following page on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) website. [italics added]

As there are a limited umber of U.S. jurisdictions which recognize and solemnize same sex marriage as well as a number of States in which such marriages are forbade, there have been questions among legal professionals as well as same sex couples regarding whether the U.S. Immigration officers and Consular Officers at various U.S. posts abroad would fail to approve visa applications and immigration petitions based upon the fact that an LGBT couple may be married in one State and residing in another. In a previous posting on this blog, the USCIS’s answer to this question rested on the “law of the place where the marriage took place“. Basically, USCIS appears willing to approve an otherwise valid immigration petition based upon a same sex marriage if the same sex marriage is performed in a State which allows such unions. Apparently, the Department of State has set a similar policy, thereby allowing an otherwise valid same sex marriage visa application, based upon an USCIS-approved immigration petition, to be approved. However, there are some jurisdictions around the world which may recognize same-sex unions, but do not necessarily categorize them as “marriages”. In those circumstances the Department of State had the following to say:

Q: I am in a civil union or domestic partnership; will this be treated the same as a marriage?

A: At this time, only a relationship legally considered to be a marriage in the jurisdiction where it took place establishes eligibility as a spouse for  immigration purposes. [italics added]

Although the above answer appears to be rather straightforward, there is one question, of possibly more significance, that many unmarried same sex couples may be pondering:

Q: I am a U.S. citizen who is engaged to be married to a foreign national of the same sex.  We cannot marry in my fiancé’s country. What are our options? Can we apply for a fiancé K visa?

A: You may file a Form I-129F and apply for a fiancé(e) (K) visa.  As long as all other immigration requirements are met, a same-sex engagement may allow your fiancé to enter the United States for the purpose of marriage.  For information on adjusting status, please review the following page on USCIS’s website:

Since same sex unmarried couples are now permitted to apply for a K-1 visa, it would now appear possible for the LGBT fiance of an American Citizen to apply for a US fiance visa with the intention of marrying in one of those jurisdictions in the United States which recognize same sex marriages.

Another issue which may arise in the context of same sex marriage is the issue of non-immigrant visas (also known as NIVs). These are visa categories which do not confer immigrant status upon those who use them. The Department of State website posted the following information regarding NIVs for same sex married couples:

Q: Can same sex couples now apply for visas in the same classification?

A: Yes. Starting immediately, same-sex spouses and their children are equally eligible for NIV derivative visas.  Same-sex spouses and their children (stepchildren of the primary applicant when the marriage takes place before the child turns 18) can qualify as derivatives where the law permits issuance of the visa to a spouse or stepchild.  In cases where additional documentation has always been required of a spouse applying with a principal applicant, such documentation will also be required in the case of a same-sex spouse… [italics added]

Finally, a point to note for those LGBT couples who are in a situation in which the foreign spouse has children:  

Q: My foreign national spouse has children. Can they also be included with my spouse’s case?

A: Yes, the children of foreign national spouses can be considered “step-children” of the U.S. citizens and can therefore benefit from a petition filed on their behalf in the IR2 category.    In other categories, stepchildren acquired through same sex marriage can qualify as beneficiaries (F2A) or for derivative status (F3, F4, E1-E4, or DV).  You and your spouse must have married before the child turned 18. [itlaics added]

Clearly, the Department of State allows for step-children of Americans or lawful permanent residents to immigrate where the LGBT couple was married prior to the step-child’s 18th birthday. From the information posted on the State Department’s website regarding non-immigrant visas one could infer that an American Citizen’s prospective step-children (i.e. the children of a foreign fiance) may also be eligible to obtain a K-2 visa based upon the bona fide intention of the American Citizen and his or her foreign fiance to marry in the United States.

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