Integrity Legal

4th October 2009

A happily uncommon issue that can arise in United States Immigration law is known as the “widows penalty.” The Widow’s penalty becomes an issue when the American Citizen Petitioner dies before the adjudication of a foreign spouse’s pending Immigration matter. For example, a widow of a United States Citizen could be penalized if her American spouse dies before the I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence is adjudicated (also known as a “lift of conditions”). The logic underpinning the penalty is based upon the notion that the widow is no longer married to a United States Citizen and therefore cannot have conditions removed because the continuing marriage is the basis for removal of conditions. Currently, the United States courts are in the process of dealing with this issue and it would appear that there is an overwhelming feeling that the “widow’s penalty,” should be removed because it is somewhat inequitable.

In the recent case of Hanford v. Napolitano, a Texas Court held that the Widow of an American Citizen will be entitled to adjust status to permanent residence even if the American dies before adjudication provided the couple was lawfully married and there are no issues as to the bona fides of the relationship. To quote the court opinion:

“Under the plain language of the statute, Congress’s intent is clear: The Attorney General is precluded from adjusting the status of a non-immigrant except as a result of the marriage of the nonimmigrant to the very U.S. citizen who filed the petition in the first place to grant that alien’s nonimmigrant status. Situations such as Ms. Hanford’s meet the exemption. Plaintiff is entitled to adjustment of her legal status to that of permanent resident under the language of the statute because her legally filed application is a result of her marriage to the U.S. citizen who filed Form I-129F to obtain her nonimmigrant status.”

The Widow’s Penalty would seem to be falling by the wayside, but the law is not completely settled on the issue as some courts have differing rules regarding the adjudication of such cases. For those with a great deal of anxiety about their spouse’s ability to obtain an adjustment of status in the future, researching immigrant and non-immigrant visas may provide insight into the consequences of a US Citizen’s untimely death.  One major benefit of the Immigrant visa categories such as the IR1 visa and the CR1 visa is the fact that the foreign spouse enters the United States with lawful permanent residence upon entry. However, the processing time for these visas is considerably longer when compared with the K3 visa or the K1 visa.

Issues like this fully emphasize the reason why it may be imperative for an American to obtain licensed legal counsel for issues involving US visas. For more information about the importance of retaining licensed legal counsel, please see: How Can My Thai Fiancee Get US Citizenship?


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