Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Widow’s Penalty’

11th December 2009

In a recent article disseminated by AILA, Mr. Brent Renison discussed issues involving the so-called “widow’s penalty” (or “Widow Penalty”) and how recent legislation has been enacted to end the imposition of penalties imposed upon foreign spouses in the event that their US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse should pass away before the adjudication of an adjustment application or an application for a lift of conditions of lawful permanent residence. To quote the article:

“The “widow penalty”, whereby spouses of U.S. citizens and their children faced automatic denial of a visa petition if the death of the spouse occurred prior to adjudication and prior to two years of marriage, effectively ended upon the passage of § 568(c).2 That section removes the two-year marriage requirement from the current law that permits widows and widowers (“widow(er)s”) of U.S. citizens to file a self-petition for themselves and their children.”

It is still required that the American’s widow demonstrate that the marriage was bona fide when it was entered into:

“By removing the two-year precondition to a current statutory program, Congress retained the widow(er) self-petition procedure including the requirement to show a good faith marriage. The law does not alter the rights of widow(er)s who were married two years or more, who have been able to self-petition since 1990.”

The end of the Widow Penalty hopefully marks the beginning of more compassionate treatment of foreign widows of American Citizens. The aforementioned article goes further in its analysis of the new law and the impact it will likely have upon fiancees and spouses of US Citizens:

“The deletion of the two-year marriage requirement will allow a widow(er) who was married less than two years at the time of the citizen spouse’s death to file a Form I-360 self-petition within two years of the law’s passage, or within two years of the spouse’s death, whichever is later.”

It is interesting that this will likely have an impact upon those who enter the United States upon a K1 fiancee visa:

“This self-petition can be filed concurrently with an Application for Adjustment of Status to Lawful Permanent Resident (Form I-485) if the widow(er) is in the United States pursuant to a lawful entry.”

Therefore, if the fiance of a US Citizen enters the USA on a K1 visa, marries the US Citizen, and the US Citizen dies before the adjustment application is either filed or adjudicated, then it would now be possible for the fiance visa holder to self petition for adjustment in these circumstances. In this author’s opinion, this is an equitable and effective way of dealing with what is already a difficult issue.

If a lawful entry is all that is necessary, then the question must be posed: if an alien enters the USA on a valid tourist visa, marries an American who subsequently dies, would that alien be eligible to submit a self petition for adjustment of status? Hopefully these issues will be handled as the new law is brought into effect.

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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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