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US begins normal family immigration process for same-sex spouses

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Friday that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has now begun processing spousal visa applications for gays and lesbians in the same way it handles family immigration involving heterosexual couples. The change, which Kerry announced during a diplomatic mission in London, comes as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling in US v. Windsor, the case that invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Just as both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can sponsor their opposite-sex spouses for immigrant visas, Kerry said that the policy change will allow both citizen and green-card-holders to sponsor their same-sex spouses for visas that could eventually lead to permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S.

What about people who come from countries where same-sex marriage is not recognized? Kerry says the policy applies in all 222 U.S. visa processing centers worldwide. “As long as a marriage has been performed in a jurisdiction that recognizes it, so that it is legal, then that marriage is valid under U.S. immigration laws and every married couple will be treated exactly the same,” he explained, adding that “[e]ffective immediately, when same-sex spouses apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it considers the application of opposite-sex spouses.”

With the policy just announced and launched, it’s still too early to know whether USCIS offices have been able to begin processing these applications right away, but without unforeseen delays, the visa applications should begin working their way through the system at once. It remains to see whether LGBT immigrants find themselves facing undue red tape as they move forward, such as challenges to the validity of their marriages or other questions that might not be asked of a heterosexual spouse.

Whatever your views on the question of same-sex marriage, one of the most important aspects of the issue may be simply that family immigration is finally on immigration agencies’ radar, which could help give those advocating for broadening it more leverage in the immigration reform debate.

Source: TIME, "U.S. Eases Process for Same-Sex Couples to Get Visas," Associated Press Aug. 2, 2013

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