Determining Eligibility for Immigration Benefits for Dependent Spouse or Partner: Same Sex Couples

Moving to a brand new usa is one among existence’s biggest events. Whether one is moving to soak up a temporary work project, or permanently immigrating, one’s spouse (or life accomplice) is usually important to the equation and could often play a essential assisting role inside the process. It is, therefore, essential to make certain earlier that the immigration laws of the u . S . A . In query recognize this vital person as a right “spouse” for immigration or visa purposes American ESTA VISA validity.

The United States currently takes a slim view on the definition of a spouse for immigration purposes. The end result of that is that spouses and companions in lots of no longer-unusual varieties of marriages and relationships are entitled best to confined – if any – immigration advantages. In this text, we assessment the standards utilized by america government to determine whether it’ll apprehend a partner for immigration purposes, as well as how said criteria applies to several marital conditions.


United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the United States Department of State (“DOS”) each observe a 3-prong check to evaluate the validity of a wedding for immigration purposes. The following 3-prong take a look at is implemented each in assessing eligibility for a spinoff non-immigrant visa (e.G., L2 visa, E2 visa, H4 visa, etc.) or an immigrant visa, in addition to in subjects of family-primarily based sponsorship by a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident:

Prong 1: Was the wedding valid in the region of birthday party?

USCIS and DOS each decide the validity of the marriage primarily based on the legal guidelines of the vicinity wherein the marriage become celebrated. A marriage that isn’t valid in the region in which it become celebrated will now not be recognized as a wedding for the functions of receiving immigration benefits.

By way of example, a wedding in Thailand have to be registered with the civil registrar, the Amphur. A non secular ceremony alone does now not create a valid marriage in Thailand. Thus, despite the fact that a non secular ceremony may be enough to sign in a marriage in sure states within the United States, if the marriage that passed off in Thailand changed into simplest a religious rite, without the desired civil registration, the spouse will now not be eligible for United States immigration blessings because of the invalidity of the marriage in Thailand.

By assessment, informal and tribal ceremonies that would not upward thrust to the formality usually required to register a wedding within the United States may qualify for immigration blessings if the ceremonies meet all the legal requirements to be legitimate inside the u . S . A . Completed. This detail comes up often with commonplace law marriages, which might be mentioned later in further element.

There may be the opportunity to remedy an invalid marriage and acquire immigration blessings. In an opinion by the General Counsel for the former Immigration and Nationality Service, now USCIS, an Iranian mosque marriage that changed into carried out in Turkey changed into discovered now not to be legitimate below the laws of Turkey; but, a next civil marriage proven the wedding in Turkey, as a consequence rendering the partner eligible for immigration benefits. (See INS General Counsel Legal Opinion No. 91-58, File No. CO831 (July 25, 1991)). Marriages that have been previously ineligible for United States immigration advantages may also even be cured with the aid of subsequent legal guidelines within the applicable usa that purpose the formerly defective marriages to be recognized as legitimate in that usa.

This approach additionally applies in determining whether or not a prior divorce turned into legitimate; USCIS and DOS will appearance to whether the subsequent remarriage turned into considered valid in the jurisdiction wherein it took place.

Prong 2: Is there a strong public policy towards this type of marriage in the nation of domicile or, for couples who marry overseas, the nation of meant abode?

USCIS and DOS may additionally refuse to understand a spouse for purposes of immigration advantages in some super occasions while the wedding is contrary to public fitness or morals, which includes plural marriages and marriages between close family. Each of those conditions calls for complex analysis and is mentioned later in similarly element.

Prong three: Is the wedding bona fide as described by using immigration regulation?

The United States Congress may also prescribe a federal trendy beneath which sure marriages, despite the fact that legitimate at the region of party, are not recognized for immigration blessings. Such federal requirements additionally push aside and override any public coverage in favor or in opposition to such marriages within the nation of contemporary or meant home.
The maximum terrific of such Congressional requirements is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage because the felony union between one man and one lady. Under DOMA, applications for immigration advantages primarily based on a wedding of two men and women of the same-intercourse have been uniformly denied, regardless of whether the marriage became entered into in a rustic that legally acknowledges equal-sex marriages. DOMA additionally supersedes any nation regulation with reference to immigration benefits and restricts immigration benefits irrespective of whether the equal-intercourse couple may be dwelling in a US state that recognizes same-intercourse marriage. Visa options for same-sex companions and spouses are discussed later in in addition element.

Immigration legal guidelines also prescribe that proxy marriages or marriages for the sole reason of acquiring immigration blessings (“sham marriages”) aren’t recognized as bona fide marriages. A proxy marriage involves a rite in which the marrying individuals are not in each different’s physical presence, but rather are married with the aid of image, smartphone, radio, tv, or comparable. Such marriages won’t entitle the partner to immigration blessings even if it is considered a legitimate marriage in the place of overall performance. However, proxy marriages may also result in immigration advantages if it could be proven that the couple consummated the marriage through cohabitation following the rite, therefore resulting in a bona fide marriage under US immigration laws.

A marriage that is entered into by way of parties without the aim to stay as man and wife, but rather to reap immigration benefits, will no longer be taken into consideration a bona fide marriage for the purpose of obtaining such advantage regardless of being otherwise legitimate. Such sham marriages now not handiest save you the foreign spouse from obtaining immigration advantages, but in instances wherein a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident documents an immigrant petition based on a sham marriage, the USA Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident may additionally face crook sanctions which include imprisonment and fines.

The principal attention with the aid of USCIS whilst evaluating a capability sham marriage is whether the parties intended to set up a lifestyles collectively on the time of the wedding. USCIS appears to the conduct of the events for this determination, including proof of courtship, the circumstances of the marriage ceremony, shared residences, coverage guidelines, bank money owed, and assets agreements. Other elements often considered consist of large age differences, language boundaries, and different non secular and cultural differences.

USCIS does now not, however, consider the following factors to be automatically indicative of a sham marriage if the wedding is in any other case valid and subsisting: 1.) Cohabitation of the parties to the marriage, but without sexual family members due to age or infection; or, 2.) The legal or bodily separation of the parties, with out dissolution of the marriage. A separated spouse can also nevertheless be entitled to immigration blessings if there exists an aim to reconcile.


Looking now to the utility of the 3-prong take a look at, following is an examination of present day USCIS and DOS coverage on immigration benefits for same-intercourse couples, transgender spouses, cohabitating partners and commonplace law spouses, plural marriages, and incestuous marriages:

I. Same-Sex Couples

USCIS and DOS will deny an utility for immigration blessings as a partner in a identical-intercourse marriage or civil partnership based totally on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as of the date of this text.

Section three of DOMA states in relevant component that:

In figuring out the that means of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, law, or interpretation of the numerous administrative bureaus and corporations of the US, the phrase ‘marriage’ way only a criminal union between one man and one lady as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers most effective to someone of the other sex who is a husband or a wife.

In February 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder introduced that the Obama Administration had determined that Section three of DOMA become unconstitutional and that the Department of Justice could now not shield it in federal court docket challenges. However, the Department of Justice must nevertheless implement DOMA pending a legislative repeal of the act or similar very last judicial selection. Numerous and big courtroom cases are currently ongoing concerning this problem, at the same time as a number of legislative acts have also been introduced to the US Congress. However, on the time of this article, DOMA remains controlling.

Based on DOMA, USCIS and DOS stand company that any spinoff visa, immigrant sponsorship, cancellation of removal, fiancé(e) visas, or waiver software established upon a spousal relationship, filed based totally on a equal-sex-marriage or civil partnership, may be denied. Furthermore, USCIS and DOS will make a direct decision on such topics, in keeping with trendy processing times. USCIS and DOS will now not honor requests that USCIS and DOS maintain filed instances till the decision of DOMA litigation.

A same-intercourse partner have to consequently seek alternative visa options to accompany a spouse maintaining a non-immigrant visa or to join his or her United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident partner within the United States.

A subsection of the B-2 traveler visa provisions authorize DOS to trouble unique traveler visas to the identical-intercourse spouse or partner of a overseas national that holds an extended-term non-immigrant visa. This sort of vacationer visa consists of a particular annotation that the holder is the same-sex partner or accomplice to ease questioning and scrutiny by using officers at the port of entry to the US. However, like ordinary visitor visas, the same-intercourse partner or partner will handiest receive authorized access to the US of up to 6 (6) months at a time. Stays for longer than six (6) months will need to be authorized through submitting applications to extend reputation in the United States, with the associated costs. Furthermore, the same-sex spouse or partner isn’t legal to paintings within the United States, whether or not or now not the work is paid, and no matter whether the paintings is for a United States company or overseas enterprise. If the equal-intercourse spouse or associate needs to work inside the United States, he or she will want to obtain the precise visa in his or her very own proper.

For same-intercourse spouses or partners of United States Citizens or Legal Permanent citizens, this subsection of the traveller visa policies best applies if the United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident typically lives distant places, but is travelling to the United States for a brief period of time.

This visa subsection does now not cowl the identical-intercourse partner or accomplice of a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident that generally is living inside the United States. In adjudicating all tourist visa applications, DOS need to decide that the applicant’s go to is brief and that the applicant has substantial ties to their domestic united states. A marriage to a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident residing inside the United States, even if the marriage is not diagnosed by using United States immigration laws, can also result in the denial of a tourist visa software with the aid of DOS primarily based at the presumption by way of DOS that the applicant will now not return to their home u . S ., but will alternatively stay in the United States with their spouse or partner.

Same-intercourse spouses or partners of United States Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents will want to achieve the proper visa of their own right. Some of the alternatives to do so could include making an investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States, a transfer from a foreign business enterprise to an affiliated United States enterprise, finding United States employment sponsorship, or enrolling in an accredited schooling or schooling course. Each of those options wishes to be completely evaluated against the qualifications and situations of the equal-intercourse partner.

II. Transsexual Marriage

A marriage wherein the 2 parties have been born the same-intercourse, however in which one birthday party underwent gender reassignment surgical procedure, may entitle the partner to immigration advantages. The Board of Immigration Appeals held within the Matter of Lovo-Lara that DOMA did now not practice to transsexuals in a heterosexual relationship based totally on submit-operative gender. Therefore, the evaluation of whether the marriage is recognized turns lower back to the validity inside the jurisdiction of the marriage.

The controlling test in figuring out whether or not such marriages are identified for immigration purposes is whether the wedding became considered a valid and heterosexual marriage inside the jurisdiction in which the marriage took place. The marriage inside the precedent case of Matter of Lovo-Lara, as an instance, took place in the kingdom of North Carolina. The transsexual spouse received a authorised alternate of the intercourse on her birth certificate following her gender reassignment to female after which married her male husband. The court mentioned that North Carolina registered their marriage as legal, but that identical-sex marriage isn’t always legal in North Carolina. Thus, the marriage became each considered heterosexual and legitimate in North Carolina, and the partner turned into entitled to immigration blessings.

A range of US states, as well as overseas international locations, have criminal precedent as to whether such a marriage is valid and heterosexual in that jurisdiction. In reviewing whether the marriage is legitimate and heterosexual, it is critical to note that a few jurisdictions, which includes Illinois and Texas, permit a publish-operative transsexual to trade the gender on their start certificate, but do now not apprehend the gender reassignment as changing the character’s intercourse for purposes of marriages. Also, a wedding wherein one party is a publish-operative transsexual can be diagnosed in a few jurisdictions as a legitimate marriage, however nevertheless as a equal-intercourse marriage. The registered identical-intercourse marriage might not identified for immigration purposes in step with DOMA.

In many jurisdictions the statute isn’t always clear or there may be no binding precedent. In such case, USCIS can be happy as to the validity of the wedding via submission of a court docket order, legitimate file, or declaration from the appropriate authorities company indicating that the gender reassignment surgical operation has ended in a change of the person’s legal sex below the law of the region of the marriage.

Accordingly, the marriage of two events who were born the equal-sex can be identified for immigration advantages if all of the following are glad:

1. One person underwent gender reassignment surgical procedure; and
2. The man or woman who underwent gender reassignment surgical operation has taken anything felony steps exist and may be required to have the felony exchange of sex diagnosed for purposes of marriage under the law of the vicinity of marriage; and
3. The marriage is diagnosed below the regulation of the jurisdiction of marriage as a legitimate and heterosexual marriage.

III. Common Law Marriages

An actual marriage between two people made without formal registry, frequently referred to as a not unusual law marriage, is diagnosed for functions of immigration blessings best if commonplace law marriages are recognized inside the jurisdiction in which the unregistered marriage passed off. In reviewing the validity of those marriages, USCIS and DOS will look first to determine if not unusual regulation marriages have been diagnosed by way of the jurisdiction on the time of unregistered marriage, and then as to whether the events fulfilled all of the requirements of the jurisdiction to create a common law marriage, which includes mutual settlement, cohabitation, and so forth.

USCIS and DOS may even appearance to make certain that the popularity of the commonplace regulation marriage by the jurisdiction bestows all of the same felony rights and duties as individuals in lawfully gotten smaller marriages. Factors for attention consist of, however are not constrained to, whether or not the connection can best be terminated via divorce and if there’s an intestate distribution of an estate.

Most US states no longer understand common law marriages. However, until the jurisdiction has invalidated commonplace regulation marriages identified underneath former regulations, USCIS and DOS will rely upon whether the commonplace regulation marriage changed into identified at the time of its inception, no matter whether or not the jurisdiction is presently spotting new common law marriages.

IV. Cohabitating Partners

Cohabitating companions who have now not entered into a legitimate, registered marriage and are not in a identified commonplace law marriage are not eligible for the immigration blessings of a partner. Similar to identical-intercourse partners, heterosexual companions cohabitating in a courting akin to marriage are eligible to use for a special vacationer visa to accompany a companion travelling to the United States with an extended-time period non-immigrant visa. The cohabitating companions of a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident who typically is living outside of america, but is journeying only temporarily returned to america is also eligible to apply for this special visitor visa.

This special visitor visa authorizes entry to america for up to 6 (6) months, with extensions of up to six (6) months at a time feasible from within the United States upon in addition utility to USCIS. If the cohabitating partner desires to work in the United States, he or she can need to achieve the appropriate United States visa in his or her very own proper.

It is not going that DOS will difficulty a cohabitating accomplice of a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident a vacationer visa if the United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident is usually residing within the United States, due to the presumption that the companion will not go back to their overseas residency. Cohabitating partners in these situations will both want to gain the perfect lengthy-term non-immigrant visa or input into a valid marriage to acquire immigration blessings.

V. Plural (Polygamous) Marriages

United States regulation does no longer recognize plural (i.E. “polygamous”) marriages, regardless of whether or not the marriages in query are felony and diagnosed within the jurisdiction of marriages. Thus, a wedding that is entered into earlier than a previous marriage of either birthday celebration is ended via divorce, annulment or loss of life is void and invalid for US immigration functions. (Note: Disappearance of 1 spouse may additionally constitute the felony give up of a marriage in positive jurisdictions.)

In cases wherein the soundness of the divorce is in question, USCIS and DOS look to whether or not the primary marriage turned into absolutely and legally terminated primarily based at the law of the jurisdiction of the termination and whether the second marriage turned into regarded as lawful at its place of birthday celebration, as a monogamous marriage. For example, in Matter of Moncayo, the Board of Immigration Appeals discovered that a divorce decree that become issued in Ecuador in the absence of one birthday celebration to the divorce become now not legitimate in New York, therefore the celebration’s remarriage in New York changed into not valid.

Even while the motive is for a monogamous marriage, people searching for immigration advantages as, or for, a partner that has entered right into a previous marriage should ensure that the prior marriage turned into well terminated. If the prior marriage changed into now not well terminated and the contemporary marriage is void, the beneficiary/spouse will no longer be eligible for immigration blessings until the previous marriage is well terminated and a valid marriage occurs.
Whilst polygamy is felony and practiced in many customs and cultures around the sector, it is unlawful within the United States and immigration law recognizes only the first of the plural marriages. The discussion of immigration advantages in such marriages will be discussed from the perspective of 1 husband with plural other halves; however, the dialogue applies identically to a scenario of 1 wife with plural husbands.

Only the first spouse of a polygamist husband who obtains a protracted-time period non-immigrant visa to the United States, inclusive of the L-1 visa, may additionally achieve a derivative non-immigrant visa, which includes the L-2 visa. It isn’t actually that only one spouse might also accompany the polygamist husband, it’s far that simplest his first spouse is eligible for a derivative visa as the marriages to later wives are void and invalid below United States immigration regulation.

The 2d spouse and any later better halves will want to qualify for a protracted-term non-immigrant visa of their very own right, as the fundamental applicant, to able to accompany their husband to america on an extended-time period basis. DOS additionally grants officials at United States Embassies and Consulates the discretion to difficulty vacationer visas to plural other halves to accompany their husband.

While the husband and the primary spouse are eligible for non-immigrant visas, the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(a)(10)(A) renders polygamists ineligible for immigrant visas. This section most effective renders individuals that exercise polygamy inadmissible and it does no longer amplify to those who merely believe in or propose polygamy with out themselves stepping into plural marriages. A polygamist that needs to come to be a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States will want to divorce all other halves besides his first and abandon the exercise of polygamy before commencing the residency technique. DOS consular officers are instructed to be suspicious of former polygamists who divorce plural better halves simply earlier than shifting forward with the residency procedure and have to assessment the problem to make certain that the former polygamist will now not resume the practice following issuance of Legal Permanent Resident fame.

VI. Incestuous Marriages

An incestuous marriage among close household will most effective be identified for immigration advantages if the marriage turned into valid at the place of beginning and the cohabitation of the events at their supposed residence inside the United States will no longer incur criminal punishment. When searching on the thing of the supposed residence, the controlling issue isn’t whether the state performs such marriages, however alternatively if the state deems such marriages or relationships illegal. Marriages with the aid of cousins and through an uncle and niece aren’t illegal in many states and feature led to immigration advantages.


All of the above-mentioned conditions create complicated and often tough immigration instances that need to be handled with care. USCIS and DOS do no longer offer steerage or precise instructions on the right presentation of those cases, nor ought to it be assumed that USCIS and DOS are fully practiced in such situations. The steerage of immigration legal professionals who are well-versed in such instances will assist to make certain that the precise visa category is sought and that the legal eligibility for the immigration gain, with suitable documentation, is very well tested to USCIS and DOS for the most efficient processing.