Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Section 3 DOMA’

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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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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6th May 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention, via the website MetroWeekly.com, that the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, has vacated a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals which applied controversial section 3 of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) in a recent case. To quote directly from a PDF copy of AG Holder’s order as posted to the aforementioned website:

Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

Those reading this posting are encouraged to read the article on Metroweekly.com posted by Chris Geidner regarding these issues as this blogger found that posting to be very insightful.

For those who are not familiar with this issue it should be noted that the current provisions of DOMA preclude accordance of federal benefits to those who have entered into a same sex relationship. This preclusion even overrides State prerogatives regarding marriage as, in an immigration context, the language of DOMA precludes recognition of even a same sex marriage solemnized and/or legalized in a sovereign American State. Currently, there is some legislation, such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) or the Respect for Marriage Act, pending before the American Federal legislature which would seek to remove the current restrictions being imposed upon the LGBT community.

It remains to be seen whether same sex visa benefits will be accorded the same sex partners engaged in a bi-national relationship, but one thing is clear: there is momentum gathering behind the cause of LGBT equal rights as American authorities would seem to be taking notice of the legitimate grievances of those who have, for too long, been denied their rights to equal protection under the law. Meanwhile, this blogger finds it likely that there will eventually be some sort of decision regarding the accordance of Full Faith and Credit to those legal marriages solemnized and/or legalized by those States which currently license such unions. As of the time of this writing, however, such remedies remain to be seen and the assurances that they will manifest themselves sometime in the future is likely cold comfort to those who are separated from their loved ones now.

For related information please see: Full Faith and Credit Clause.

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