Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘same sex spouse’

26th July 2013

It has come to this blogger’s attention that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has issued a new set of answers to frequently asked questions stemming from the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court which overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In previous postings on this blog the fact that lawful permanent residents and American Citizens with same-sex spouses can now file for immigration benefits for their same sex spouse has been discussed at length. That said, USCIS discussed this issue in their recently issued FAQ release, to quote directly from the USCIS website:

Q1: I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national. Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?
A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage. [italics added]

As previously pointed out on this blog, the ability of American Citizens to file for immigration benefits for a same-sex foreign spouse is a fairly clear cut result of the recent Supreme Court decision finding Section 3 of DOMA unConstituional. It should be noted that the USCIS seems to also imply that a K3 visa would also now be a possibility for same sex couples as it could be construed to be an “applicable accompanying application”. However, an issue that was not so clearly dealt with by the Supreme Court’s decision pertains to the K-1 visa (US fiance visa). As Fiance visas are, by  definition, not based upon a marriage, but an intended marriage; further clarification from USCIS on these types of visas post-DOMA is considered by some to be quite helpful. To quote further from the aforementioned USCIS FAQ section:

Q2. I am a U.S. citizen who is engaged to be married to a foreign national of the same sex.  Can I file a fiancé or fiancée petition for him or her?
A2. Yes.  You may file a Form I-129F.  As long as all other immigration requirements are met, a same-sex engagement may allow your fiancé to enter the United States for marriage. [italics added]

This clarification from USCIS regarding the fiance visa in the context of same sex marriage, while helpful, is slightly qualified by the next section of the same FAQ page:

Q3: My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not. Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?
A3: Yes, you can file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward. [italics added]

Clearly, the US fiance visa is now a viable option for same sex couples with a bona fide intention to marry in those jurisdictions of the United States which recognize same sex marriage. Since the jurisdiction of the celebration of the intended marriage is USCIS’s primary concern it would appear that a K1 visa itself will be a possibility for same sex couples in the future. However, it would appear that some ancillary immigration benefits may or may not be available at this time for some same sex bi-national couples depending upon the unique residency circumstances of those couples.

Of further interest to some same sex couples will likely be the fact that there are benefits for the foreign same sex spouse of an American Citizen with respect to naturalization:

Q8. Can same-sex marriages, like opposite-sex marriages, reduce the residence period required for naturalization?
A8. Yes.  As a general matter, naturalization requires five years of residence in the United States following admission as a lawful permanent resident.  But, according to the immigration laws, naturalization is available after a required residence period of three years, if during that three year period you have been living in “marital union” with a U.S. citizen “spouse” and your spouse has been a United States citizen.  For this purpose, same-sex marriages will be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages. [italics added]

Therefore, the same sex spouse of an American Citizen will be treated the same way as the opposite sex spouse of an American for purposes of obtaining US Citizenship based upon the couple’s marriage and lawful permanent residence obtained thereby. Finally, of further note in this recently issued USCIS FAQ page relates to the I-601 waiver process:

Q9. I know that the immigration laws allow discretionary waivers of certain inadmissibility grounds under certain circumstances.  For some of those waivers, the person has to be the “spouse” or other family member of a U.S. citizen or of a lawful permanent resident.  In cases where the required family relationship depends on whether the individual or the individual’s parents meet the definition of “spouse,” will same-sex marriages count for that purpose?
A9.Yes.   Whenever the immigration laws condition eligibility for a waiver on the existence of a “marriage” or status as a “spouse,” same-sex marriages will be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex marriages. [italics added]

Waivers of inadmissibility can be difficult to obtain under certain circumstances as they are, by definition, a discretionary waiver. However, one major hurdle for many same-sex bi-national couples in the US immigration sphere has been cast aside by the comendable decision of the United States Supreme Court. USCIS deserves comendation as well for their efforts to quickly and decisively implement policies which bring immigration regulations in line with changes in the law.

Readers are encouraged to read the USCIS website and the FAQ section quoted above to find out further details regarding immigration regulations pertaining to same sex couples.

For related information please see: US Visa Thailand.

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2nd July 2013

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a statement regarding the implementation of policies regarding adjudication of immigration petitions for same-sex bi-national married couples. To quote directly from the official website of DHS:

“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly.  To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

This statement is a significant moment in the long fight for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. In order to provide further information regarding these developments the DHS has posted some frequently asked questions on the same page as the aforementioned quotation. These FAQ’s are quoted below:

Q1:  I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national.  Can I now sponsor my spouse for a family-based immigrant visa?

A1: Yes, you can file the petition. You may file a Form I-130 (and any applicable accompanying application). Your eligibility to petition for your spouse, and your spouse’s admissibility as an immigrant at the immigration visa application or adjustment of status stage, will be determined according to applicable immigration law and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of your marriage.

Clearly, the United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident same sex spouse of a foreign national can now submit an I-130 petition for Lawful Permanent Residence (also known as “Green Card” status) for their husband or wife. In fact, it would appear that a same-sex couple in Florida was recently granted immigration benefits for the same-sex spouse. This would especially be true in a case where the couple not only was married in State recognizing same-sex marriage, but also resides in that same State or another of the 13 States which recognize such unions. An issue which is, as of yet, not so clearly delineated hinges upon a situation in which a same-sex married couple has married in a State which recognizes same-sex marriage (and performs them), but resides in a State which does not recognize such unions. To shed further light upon this issue it is necessary to quote again from the same DHS webpage, quoted above, regarding this issue:

Q2:  My spouse and I were married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but we live in a state that does not.  Can I file an immigrant visa petition for my spouse?

A2: Yes, you can file the petition.  In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, we may provide further guidance on this question going forward.

For those wishing to visit the official website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to learn more please click HERE.

For those unfamiliar with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) it should be pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision did not impact section 2 of DOMA which 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.

Therefore, notwithstanding the fact that there are some who argue that section 2 of DOMA violates the provisions of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, no Court ruling nor Act of Congress has repealed section 2 of DOMA and, in the words of the DHS website itself, in those “fact-specific” situations in which Section 2 of DOMA may be relevant the provisions of Section 2 could prove detrimental to a same-sex bi-national couple. That being said, according to the DHS website, a petition could still be filed and it would be adjudicated accordingly.

One final point to ponder on this issue is the K-1 visa. Under current United States Immigration law it is possible for an American Citizen to apply for a Fiance Visa, also known as the K-1 visa, for a foreign fiance residing abroad, so long as the couple intends to marry in the United States within 90 days of the foreign fiance’s arrival (other regulations apply to K-1 visa holders, but for the purposes of this analysis they are not necessarily relevant). If a same-sex couple, who are not yet legally married, wishes to obtain a K-1 visa based upon their intention to wed in the United States, then it could be inferred from the DHS Secretary’s statement that they might be adjudicated in the same manner as the same petition for a different-sex couple. However, this should not be viewed as a foregone conclusion because the statements quoted above only pertain specifically to couples who are already married. Neither the Court, nor the DHS, have specifically dealt with the question of those same-sex couples who wish to seek a K1 visa based upon an intention to marry in the USA. It could be inferred from the Court’s opinion in United States v. Windsor that those same-sex couples with the intention to marry in a jurisdiction where same-sex unions are recognized should be granted the same treatment as those different-sex couples in similar circumstances; but the issue has yet to be clearly adjudicated and therefore no completely clear answer arises.

Meanwhile, one significant question remains: based upon the above information how will USCIS adjudicate K-1 visa applications for same-sex couples who wish to travel to the United States to marry in a State which recognizes same-sex marriage, but reside in a State which does not? Hopefully the answer to this question will come soon. Until then it would appear that although DHS clearly intends to adjudicate same-sex married couples’ petitions for immigration benefits in the same way as different-sex couples; it remains to be seen how same sex fiances will be treated in the eyes of U.S. Immigration law.

For information on immigrant visas please see: CR-1 Visa or  IR-1 Visa.

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26th June 2013

In a landmark case, UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF SPYER, ET AL., the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision has ruled that Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. For those unfamiliar with this issue, 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.

The upshot of this legislation is that up until the Supreme Court handed down this ruling same sex couples have not been able to receive the same federal benefits as different-sex couples. In the case at hand, a widow of a same sex spouse who was legally married and residing in the State of New York (one of 12 States which recognize same sex marriage) was barred from receiving an estate tax refund because the federal government, citing section 3 of DOMA, did not recognize the couple’s marriage. To quote directly from the majority opinion of the Supreme Court:

DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment…By history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States. Congress has enacted discrete statutes to regulate the meaning of marriage in order to further federal policy, but DOMA, with a directive applicable to over 1,000 federal statues and the whole realm of federal regulations, has a far greater reach. Its operation is also directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York, and of 11 other States, have sought to protect…By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles. Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages.

In order to shed further light upon this decision it is necessary to quote the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

As the majority of the Court held that “DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government” pursuant to the Fifth Amendment it appears that from this point on those same sex couples legally married in a State which recognizes same sex marriage (or possibly in international jurisdictions which legalize same sex marriage as the parties in the Windsor case were actually married in Canada) will receive federal recognition of those marriages and be able to enjoy federal benefits arising from their marital status. The question of interstate recognition of same sex marriage remains a bit murky as there has yet to be a decisive ruling regarding this issue, but the issue of federal recognition of a same sex marriage would appear to be fully resolved.

How Might This Decision Impact The United States Immigration Process?

In the past, same sex bi-national couples were unable to receive immigration benefits such as a Green Card or a K-1 visa (fiance visa) because The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) precluded federal recognition of same sex marriage. This preclusion even applied to those same sex bi-national couples who were married in one of the 12 States which recognize same sex marriage (some could argue that there are now 13 States which recognize same sex marriage since the Supreme Court in another decision handed down at roughly the same time as the Windsor decision effectively leaves the door open for California to legalize same sex marriages). As a result of the federal government failing to recognize same sex marriage agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) could not grant immigration benefits such as lawful permanent residence (Green Card status) to the same sex spouse of an American Citizen or lawful permanent resident solely based upon the couple’s marrriage. Now, that would appear to no longer be the case, although the Court did not explicitly rule upon the issue of immigration benefits for same sex couples the fact that the Court struck down section 3 of DOMA means that a same sex marriage must be accorded the same federal recognition as a different-sex marriage. Therefore, it is logical to surmise that the Court’s decision should allow same sex couples to undergo adjudication for immigration benefits such as visas and Green Cards in a manner similar to different-sex couples. There are likely to be complications as federal regulators implement policies which comport with the Court’s decision, but one thing is clear: the Windsor decision is a major victory for same sex bi-national couples.

For related information please see: Equal Protection or same sex marriage.

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