Improving Safeguards for Same-Sex Couple Visa Applicants Abroad

Meg Hobbins, Senior Attorney
Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - 3:45pm
Meg Hobbins, Senior Attorney

Maggio + Kattar has a long-standing commitment to representing LGBT immigrants and advocating for their rights before the administrative agencies, the courts and U.S. Consulates worldwide. Our firm was delighted when the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v.U.S. on June 26, 2013, paving the way for marriage-based immigration benefits for same-sex couples. Shareholder Anna Gallagher proudly represented the first same-sex couple scheduled for a marriage-based green card interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Washington District Office later that summer.

In spite of the fact that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can now file immigrant petitions for their same-sex spouses, many obstacles remain. This is particularly so with visa processing at U.S. consulates abroad. Homosexuality remains illegal in 77 countries, and in many others it is extremely dangerous to be LGBT. Applying for a U.S. visa based on one’s same-sex fiancé or spouse can become a life-endangering process.

The Department of State National Visa Center recently acknowledged the predicament faced by many same-sex fiancé visa applicants living in dangerously homophobic countries and created a process for “changing venue” to a third country. Once the U.S. citizen petitioner is issued a receipt number for their petition, they can send an urgent request to the National Visa Center for the case to be processed by a U.S. consulate in an alternate country. This type of accommodation by USCIS and the State Department is certainly welcome, however numerous pressing problems remain. Unfortunately, many applicants may be ineligible for visas to enter an alternate country where same-sex couples are not threatened.

Those afraid that the immigration process could dangerously expose their same-sex relationship are left with a heart-wrenching dilemma. Many same-sex couples have come to our firm in the last two years seeking reassurances that their relationship status will remain confidential throughout the visa process. Some have been concerned that mail relating to their case could be intercepted by others or that other visa applicants would overhear their answers during the consular interview. Our firm continues to work with these clients and strives to guide them through the immigration process as safely as possible. We engage with State Department officials to learn what privacy accommodations are available and how we can ensure our clients will receive them without attracting undue attention.

Given the threatening environment in which many same-sex fiancés and spouses are living, the State Department must do more to reassure wary applicants and extend privacy safeguards. For example, consulates should allow same-sex applicants in certain countries to submit evidence of their relationship electronically, instead of requiring applicants to hand-carry this documentation to the interview. This simple accommodation would greatly reduce the risk faced by applicants living in countries where being gay can lead to imprisonment and worse.

We at Maggio + Kattar hope that USCIS and the State Department will be proactive and conscientious in addressing these concerns before applicants suffer harm. In the meantime, we will continue to zealously advocate for our clients so they can achieve their goals of U.S. residence as safely and expeditiously as possible.