Historically, U.S. immigration law discriminated against gays, lesbians, and people from the LGBTQ+ community. It was not until 25 years ago that they have been able to legally immigrate to the United States.
Nowadays, members of the LGBTQ+ community have a wide range of immigration options available. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognizes that they often face unique challenges in their immigration process, and offers several types of relief. This article will provide an overview of the legal immigration services LGBTQ+ refugees and members can get, and how to apply for them to ensure they can fully benefit from their immigration rights.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a relief for people abused and oppressed by an intimate partner or family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Enacted in 1994 to address and prevent violence against women, the VAWA brings a comprehensive guideline to addressing domestic violence, providing protection and resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of gender-based transgressions.
In 2013, the House of Representatives included the LGBT in the VAWA in a bipartisan collaboration. Then in March 2021, the House amended the VAWA to include LGBTQ+ survivors regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
With the VAWA, LGBTQ+ refugees can access public health services and legal protection against previous violations, and they may be beneficiaries of a Green Card. The VAWA legislation is a huge step forward for transgender women, lesbians, and the LGBTQ+ community in general, who have suffered because of their beliefs and orientations. To apply for a VAWA, the individual must:
Asylum is a special migratory protection from the US government for people who suffered harm (or fear that will be harmed) on the grounds of their:
Many immigrant LGBTQ+ refugees in the U.S. are looking for protection from various forms of persecution and discrimination. In some cases, these individuals have experienced brutal violence, including:
Often, these practices are deeply rooted in the culture and society of the LGBTQ+ individual’s home country, and they do not get any protection. Additionally, nearly 80 countries have laws that involve the criminalization of LGBTQ people. Therefore, individuals who have been hiding their gender identity and sexual orientation for most of their life come to the United States seeking the freedom to live openly and develop themselves as free members of the LGBTQ community.
Applying for asylum in the United States as an LGBTQ refugee looking for asylum allows entry to the country for one full year after arriving on U.S. soil, and the process does not involve any application cost or fee. However, there are some expenses the immigrants must think of, like living and travel expenses, and attorney fees. Additionally, refugees cannot have a work permit during the first months of the application.
Immigration asylum seekers often find themselves under heavy stress since they have to relieve their experiences and hardships during their asylum process. For the LGBTQ+ community, this is more difficult since they hardly ever have the support of their family and communities, being these the main reason an LGBTQ refugee seeks asylum. However, there are non-profits in the United States that can help LGBT immigrants succeed in their process.
LGBTQ immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. must provide evidence that supports their needs, such as:
Both the T and U Visas are immigration documents issued to survivors of sex and labor trafficking to protect and relieve them. Depending on the case or the crimes committed against the person, an LGBTQ refugee can receive special relief and protection to live freely in the United States.
Since the U visa and T visa are temporal documents, LGBTQ refugees are allowed to enter the United States for 4 years. However, they can be eligible for a Green Card.
The K1 visa (also known as Fiancé(e) Visa) is a great benefit for immigrants and their fiancé(e)s who are already LPR or U.S. citizens. The K1 visa allows the foreign fiancé (or fianceé) to safely travel to the United States for 90 days with the sole purpose of marrying his significant other, and then being able to live in the country.
In the case of the LGBTQ+ community, couples can also apply for this visa. Same-sex couples may get informal help from immigration policies from the U.S. government because it understands the perils LGBT couples may face when immigrating, and the dangers of several countries and communities that criminalize the LGBTQ+ movement and communities.
For an LGBT K1 visa application to proceed, the couple must meet essential criteria that you can find here.
Since 2013, the U.S. immigration laws have recognized that same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples have the same marriage rights than the opposite-sex married couples. There is no discrimination in marriage visa applications based on race, gender, color, religion, or sexual orientation.
These marriage immigration benefits also extend to children and stepchildren of LGBTQ+ couples where one parent is a citizen of the United States or LPR.
If you want to know more about applying for citizenship through LGBTQ+, same-sex or opposite-sex marriage, we invite you to check this material.
All the options mentioned above may lead to children and spouses of LGBTQ+ members being eligible for “Follow-to-join benefits”. This means that the spouse or children who did not physically accompany the LGBTQ+ immigrant to LPR to the United States do not have to wait more time for a visa opportunity to be available for a visa number to become available. Instead, LGBTQ+ visa holders can simply notify their local U.S. consulate that they are an LPR so the relative can apply for an immigrant visa.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide may also apply for work and study visas to the United States. These opportunities are given to individuals with the skills and merits to provide their best to the country, and the U.S. government values individuals who can better the country, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ+ immigration laws in the United States may change and evolve to better accommodate individuals seeking for better life quality. Immigration benefits and reliefs for the LGBT community have seen tremendous growth over the past few years, and now they can look forward to a brighter future that provides freedom, opportunities, security, and stability in the U.S.
Serving Immigrants’ goal is to realize the American Dream of deserving or needing communities, including LGBTQ+ immigrants. Contact our staff of immigration law experts who will provide you with the best outcome for you and your partner during your immigration to the United States.