New U.S. Visa Policy Draws Ire from LGBTQ Groups

On October 1st, a new policy went into effect banning visas for unmarried partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations officials. This new regulation will also impact U.N. ambassadors, U.S. embassy staff, employees of international organizations working in the U.S., and foreign military members stationed in the United States. Partners under these categories will need to provide proof of marriage to enter the country. Unmarried couples have until the end of 2018 to submit proof of marriage or leave the country within 30 days.

In July, the U.S. mission informed relevant U.N. members, “Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” and therefore “partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible.” The changes began in October, giving a three-month window for unmarried couples to act. This decision, it has been said, will further the equal treatment of same-sex and straight relationships. According to a statement on the State Department website, the new visas “are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses.”

Many critics, however, were quick to point out that this policy may, in fact, cause hardships for same-sex couples. Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., noted that only 12% of U.N. member states actually allow same-sex marriage— and only 26 countries worldwide. This decision reverses then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s 2009 policy that granted visas to partners of U.S. and foreign diplomats, on the understanding that marriage equality was still a work in progress.  Akshaya Kumar, Deputy U.N. Director at Human Rights Watch, explained that this may “[force] those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation.” If couples are married in the U.S., they may face discrimination in home countries where same-sex marriage is illegal.

Foreign Policy reports that “limited exceptions” will be offered to diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is not legal but “that government would have to provide documentation proving that same-sex marriage was illegal and commit to accepting same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.”

The new policy will affect approximately 105 families from the United States. It is unclear how many foreign couples will be affected by this change. This decision comes as a blow to the LGBTQ+ community, after the legal recognition of marriage equality in the U.S. in 2015, and advocacy groups worldwide. Many LGBTQ+ organizations and human rights groups have expressed concern that this policy will be far more discriminatory than equalizing.

Cover image from Yahoo! News.

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