The Uniting American Families Act: Hope for LGBT Bi-national Couples

by admin on June 12, 2009

News of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), legislation that would allow visas for same-sex couples, is causing a stir among LGBT bi-national American couples all over the world. 

This legislation could have a significant impact in Thailand, where there is a large LGBT, especially transsexual, community.  The Thai government does not legally recognize gender status changes to one’s national ID card, so Americans in long-term committed relationships with these individuals are also barred from sponsoring immigration visa requests.   Persons that have undergone sex reassignment surgery and would be allowed to change their legal sex status in other countries are not permitted to do so in Thailand, resulting in no available options to allow these couples to migrate to the US.

As a US law firm in Bangkok, we receive inquires about the possibility of obtaining spouse or fiancé(e) visas for LGBT couples.  Currently, we have to inform same sex couples that there is no possible way of receiving such a visa.  The UAFA presents a possibility to remedy the unfairness of this situation and we give support to those pushing for the passage of this bill.

One particular case comes to mind.  The female was actually a transsexual (“katoey” or “ladyboy” as they are known in Thailand), but with a petite body, flowing black hair and delicate facial features, it was almost impossible to detect any former shadow of maleness.  She had an American partner of 10 years who was based in Thailand for work.  When his company transferred him back to the US offices, no visa was available for his transgendered partner.  He was forced to make the difficult decision to choose between his career and family.

Uniting American Families Act
On 3 June 2009 the US Senate Judiciary Committee held the first ever congressional hearing on the UAFA.  Entitled “The Uniting American Families Act: Addressing Inequality in Federal Immigration Law”, the meeting heard testimony from many supporters of the bill including same-sex bi-national couples struggling to stay together in the face of America’s immigration laws.  Afterwards, two more Senators announced their support for the bill, totaling 21 co-sponsors.

 The UAFA proposes to make changes to the existing Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which currently allows only American citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) that are in heterosexual relationships to sponsor fiancé(e) or spouse immigration visas.  These provisions discriminate against LGBT Americans and LPR in long-term committed same-sex relationships.

“Permanent Partners”
Instead, the UAFA proposes to extend immigration rights to same-sex “permanent partners”. Under this bill, a permanent partner is defined as any person 18 years or older who is: a) In a committed, intimate relationship with an adult US citizen or LPR 18 years or older in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment; b) financially interdependent with this person; c) not married or in a permanent partnership with anyone else; d) unable to contract with that person a marriage as understood by the INA; d) is not a first, second or third degree blood relation of this person.  This definition of permanent partner does not intend to change the definition of spouse that exists in the INA but rather creates a new category of relationship that will be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

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