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US Immigration Service Ordered to Consider Same-Sex Visa Petitions


Gay rights advocate Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court at sun up in Washington, June 26, 2013.

Gay rights advocate Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court at sun up in Washington, June 26, 2013.

It’s official. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in a same-sex marriage to a foreign national can now sponsor their spouse for a family-based immigrant visa, according to a directive issued by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday.

The move follows last week’s Supreme Court decision ruling that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional. U.S. President Barack Obama has directed federal departments to swiftly and smoothly ensure the court decision and its implication for federal benefits.

“To that end, 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,” Napolitano said in a statement.

For more immigration resources, visit Immigration: The New Face of America

According to the new procedures, USCIS will look to the law of the place where the marriage took place in determining its validity for immigration law. That means if a couple was married in a U.S. state that recognizes same-sex marriage, but lives in a state that does not, the couple’s petition for an immigration visa will still be considered. Thirteen states and Washington, DC have legalized same-sex marriage.

There are nearly 30,000 binational same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and one is not, according to estimates based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Until now, those couples were not eligible for family-based immigrant visas, forcing many to choose between love and country.

A landmark immigration reform bill passed by the Senate almost stalled out because of a proposal to allow U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex spouse for immigration. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy withdrew the amendment after opponents threatened to kill the entire bill. The Supreme Court decision accomplished what Leahy was hoping to do.
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