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Posts Tagged ‘gay marriage visa’

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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10th July 2009

Massachusetts  fired the opening salvo in what appears to be a major battle for same sex immigration rights. The Commonwealth is suing the Federal government of the United States. Specifically repugnant to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.  The first pillar of the case brought against the USA is based upon the idea that the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) deny those same sex couples married in the Commonwealth the “essential rights and protections” accorded to different sex couples.

A further, and in my opinion more compelling, argument deals with the issues of state versus federal sovereignty. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts asserts that the United States government does not have the right to dictate to the states about what will and will not constitute marriage. By refusing to acknowledge a valid same-sex marriage legally executed in a state (in this case the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), the Federal government is refusing to provide Federal benefits to married same-sex couples, while providing benefits to married different-sex couples. This denial violates the doctrine of “states’ rights” which contends that the states, not the federal government, are endowed with the inherent right to regulate the citizenry.

Hillary Sorin wrote the following on this issue:

“Five states now legally marry same-sex couples, but these couples are denied the federal protections and programs available to married straight couples. These include income-tax credits, employment and retirement benefits, health insurance coverage, Social Security payments and immigration benefits for spouses of U.S. citizens.”

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is probably the fact that DOMA effectively precludes US Family based visas because the Federal government refuses to recognize a same sex marriage (or an intention to obtain a same sex marriage) within the United States.

If DOMA were to be repealed then it is logical to assume that those same sex bi-national couples who marry in Massachusetts (or any state where same-sex marriage is legal) would be able to obtain a Permanent Resident Visa (CR-1, IR-1) based upon that valid marriage. Further, an unmarried  same sex couple with an intention to travel to the United States for the purpose of marriage could conceivably obtain a K-1 visa if the Defense of Marriage Act was no longer Federal law.

This case will be very interesting to follow because the ramifications on Immigration law will be tremendous as the whole field of US Family Immigration will likely be opened up to those couples previously unable to obtain US Immigration benefits.

(Please note that the author has no intention that reader use this information in place of legal advice. For advice on the law, please contact a licensed attorney. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and any reader of this article.)

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16th May 2009

Conflict of Laws and the Uniting of American Families Act

A controversial and important issue with regard to US Immigration law and policy is the Uniting of American Families Act which would confer family immigration benefits upon same-sex couples. However, a question that many people ask me is: can I get a fiance or marriage visa for a same sex partner if we plan to marry, or have already executed a marriage, in a state that allows same sex marriage, domestic partnerships, or civil unions? At the time of this writing, the short answer to this question is: under current law, NO.

State recognized same-sex marriages and civil unions represents one of the biggest conflict of laws issue in America today. With regard to same-sex marriage issues within the USA, the issue has been raised as to whether a state that does not allow same sex marriage or does not recognize same sex marriage can grant a divorce of a same sex couple. This issue has not been fully explored and no policy or legal principle has been set in stone.

In the realm of US Immigration, the issue is more clear cut, but no less confusing for the layman. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, the US Congress made the following laws:

  1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
  2. The United States federal government may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose, even if concluded or recognized by one of the states.

This means that even though a same-sex marriage is properly executed in a state and recognized by a state government, it will not be recognized as such by the US government. American Immigration law is a body of jurisprudence that is wholly federal law, so even though a marriage is properly conducted and recognized by a state, the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act precludes the Federal government, in the form of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), from conferring immigration benefits if based upon the underlying marriage, or intention to marry (however legally binding same sex marriage at the state level may be).

The Uniting of American Families Act is a rather clever piece of legislation because it circumvents the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by creating a whole new visa category under the US Immigration and Nationality Act. In its current form, the UAFA would allow “permanent partners,” the right to US Immigration benefits. This means that an alien permanent partner would be entitled to a visa like a CR-1 or IR-1 in which permanent residence in the USA could ultimately be secured.

It is the authors opinion that proving up the bona fides of the relationship when applying for a “permanent partner” visa will be more difficult than in different-sex relationship cases, because both USCIS and the consular post will be more heavily scrutizing these applications because they coule be used to defraud the government for US Immigration benefits. In a way, the permanent partner visa would be something akin to a hybrid visa like a K1 fiance visa. That being said, if and when the UAFA passes, it will be a major step toward equal rights of same sex bi-national couples.

(This information is intended for academic purposes only and should not be used to make legal deciions without consulting a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. No attorney client privilege, express or implied, is created between the author and reader of this content.)

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19th April 2009

The Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Aliens

Earlier this month President Barack Obama spoke with the President of Mexico about the issue of providing a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens in the United States. The call for comprehensive immigration reform has been brought up a great deal during the new President’s fledgling term. It is an issue that ignites passions on both sides of the aisle particularly in an economy environment in a state of decline. There is something to be said for the idea that an amnesty needs to be called to get undocumented aliens “out of the shadows,” even if a recession is threatening the jobs of American Citizens. The other side of the coin is the idea that illegal immigrants are exactly what their name implies: “illegal,” and should not in the end be rewarded for circumventing or outright violating Immigration regulations.

Many believe that the notion of America as a nation of immigrants and a melting pot of different cultures should compel the US government to make some sort of provision for granting some sort of legal status to currently undocumented aliens. Admittedly, this argument holds some merit particularly where the undocumented alien is working in the US and is not a burden to the state.

Family Immigration and Visas for Same Sex Couples

Concurrently with Comprehensive Immigration Reform there is another bill in the US Congress seeking to give another form of prospective Immigrants legal status in the United States that they do not currently retain. The Uniting of American Families Act (UAFA) seeks to add the term “permanent partner,” to the list of those eligible for US Family Immigration Benefits under US Immigration regulations.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act a marriage is recognized as a legal union between a man and a woman. Therefore, this act effectively bars same sex couples from receiving US federal recognition for a marriage (including in US states where same sex marriages and civil unions are legal). The upshot of this legislation is that it precludes same sex couples from obtaining US Immigration benefits if one of the partners is a foreign national.  The addition of  the new term “permanent partner,”  to the American Immigration and Nationality Act would allow same sex marriage and family visas without creating a legal conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act.

A New Category of Visa to be created under the UAFA?

Some lawyers and legal scholars have speculated as to what type of family visa a permanent partner would be entitled to. The term itself would seem to rule out the K1 visa because it is a fiancee visa and the use of the word “permanent” contradicts the idea of a fiance visa. At the same time, because the term specifically does not connote “marriage,” it would seem likely that a us marriage visa would be out of the question. Therefore, a “permanent partner” visa will likely be a separate category unto itself that is distinct from other family visa categories. It remains to be seen what the burden of proof will be for obtaining a “permanent partner” visa, but the fact that marriage will not be a legally recognized element for proving the relationship (at least with the Defense of Marriage Act on the books), it is likely that a large amount of evidence will be needed to prove up the bona fides of a permanent partnership.

Both Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the UAFA are necessary steps to dealing with the practical effect of immigration regulations that cause certain groups to “fall through the cracks,” of American Immigration law. However the debate on these issues is resolved, a modicum of uniformity and resolution of these matters is necessary.

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