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Navigating the U.S. immigration system on your own can be difficult.
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community and looking to immigrate to the U.S., you may be wondering about your rights under the U.S. immigration system and what unique challenges you may face during the process.
Whether you’re just getting started on your visa application or you’ve just recently moved to the U.S., Boundless is here to help. Here’s a breakdown of common questions and helpful resources for LGBTQ immigrants during each stage of the immigration journey:
In this guide:
1. Understanding Your Immigration Rights
2. Going Through the Immigration Process
3. After Arriving in the U.S.
Understanding Your Immigration Rights
LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Overview
Before moving to the U.S., it is important for members of the LGBTQ community to understand their legal rights and protections as immigrants, and what immigrant benefits they may be eligible to apply for. In general, two landmark Supreme Court cases from the last decade have improved queer immigrant rights in the U.S.:
United States v. Windsor (2013):
This U.S. Supreme Court case challenged the legality of the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), a federal statute which defined legal marriage in the U.S. as a union between one man and one woman. The court ultimately ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, declaring DOMA to be unconstitutional. U.S. v. Windsor determined that the U.S. government cannot discriminate against LGBTQ couples in determining government benefits and protections.
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015):
Two years after U.S. v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled again to protect same-sex marriage on a federal level and declared that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. The ruling requires that all 50 U.S. states and all U.S. territories perform and recognize legal marriages for same-sex couples.
These two rulings in favor of same-sex marriage had a direct impact on U.S. immigration policies, and opened up family-based visa eligibility for all LGBTQ families. These laws also determine that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is required to treat applications from LGBTQ couples the same as applications from heterosexual couples.
More information on LGBTQ immigrant rights can be found at nonprofit Immigration Equality. The National Immigrant Justice Center also provides resources for LGBTQ immigrants seeking legal help. You can also read a brief history on LGBTQ immigration policy in Boundless’ blog post here.
LGBTQ Refugees and Asylum Seekers
LGBTQ individuals facing persecution and violence in their home countries due to sexual orientation or gender identity may be able to seek asylum or refugee status in the U.S.. The Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as “someone outside of their home country unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in social group, or political opinion.”
Some U.S. state and federal court cases have since ruled that identifying as LGBTQ falls under this definition and therefore immigrants should be able to obtain protected status on this basis. In practice, seeking asylum or refugee status in the U.S. is complex and best navigated with legal assistance. The LGBT Asylum Project provides access to legal representation and additional resources for queer asylum seekers. AsylumConnect and Rainbow Railroad are two additional resources to help those fleeing persecution due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Going Through the Immigration Process
K-1 Visas for LGBTQ Couples
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision in 2013, U.S. citizens with same-sex partners can sponsor their foreign partners for K-1 fiancé(e) visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is required to treat applications from same-sex couples the same as applications from heterosexual couples.
The general K-1 visa process looks the same for LGBTQ couples, as it does for heterosexual couples. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of K-1 costs and processing times:
Timeline for LGBTQ Applicants
Cost for LGBTQ Applicants
Boundless has guided thousands of LGBTQ couples through the K-1 process and we’re here to help until your visa is in hand. Create your free account to get started and learn more about what Boundless does to help.
Marriage-based Green Cards for LGBTQ Couples
Similar to K-1 visas, LGBTQ couples are able to obtain marriage-based green cards since same-sex marriage is treated the same as heterosexual marriage for immigration purposes. LGBTQ couples are eligible, whether or not the foreign spouse’s home country recognizes same-sex marriages. The only requirement is that the marriage must occur in a country that legally recognizes same-sex marriage.
The marriage-based green card process is generally the same for LGBTQ couples as it is for heterosexual couples. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the costs and processing times:
Timeline for LGBTQ Applicants
Cost for LGBTQ Applicants
Aside from wait times and costs, we understand that LGBTQ couples may have unique questions when navigating the marriage green card process. We’ve put together a guide that addresses concerns such as bias of government officials, proving a legally valid marriage, documenting a “bona fide” relationship, and more. USCIS also has a list of frequently asked marriage green card questions from LGBTQ couples here.
Boundless provides LGBTQ couples the knowledge and tools to successfully complete their marriage green card applications. Get started today and check your eligibility by answering a few simple questions.
Supporting Documents and evidence of relationship
For K-1 and marriage green card applications, one of the most important steps is proving to the U.S. government that you have a legally valid, or “bona fide” marriage or relationship. For LGBTQ couples who have to hide relationships from their family or society due to fear of discrimination or persecution, this step can seem daunting. If you are worried about providing evidence of your relationship, Boundless’ guide has some helpful tips on how to compile supporting documents and explain your situation to immigration officials. This legal resource center guide also has more information on documenting a bona fide marriage as an LGBTQ couple.
Providing a legal marriage certificate is another important aspect of the immigration process for LGBTQ couples. You can find a detailed explanation of how to obtain a copy of your marriage certificate here. The National Health Statistics site also has a “Vital Records” search tool for couples who were married in the U.S. and are looking for the government office who issued their marriage certificate.
If you choose to work with Boundless, our team of immigration specialists takes out the guesswork of the process and provides you with a personalized document checklist. Our team also reviews each document to make sure they meet government requirements and standards. Learn more, or get started now.
Preparing for the Medical Exam
Undergoing a medical examination is an important step of the immigration process and is required for all applicants seeking a family-based green card or other type of immigrant visa. Boundless put together a guide on the medical exam so you can prepare for this requirement. The guide includes information on how to schedule an exam with an accredited physician, what to expect during the exam itself, and how to document your medical and immunization history.
In 2009, the U.S. government determined that testing for HIV was no longer required as part of the immigration medical exam screening. Therefore, individuals are no longer denied immigrant visas on medical grounds if they are HIV-positive. During the medical exam, the physician will review the applicant’s immunization and medical history, so it is important to disclose any illnesses, health-related concerns, or medications that may be relevant to the physician’s assessment. Applicants can find an approved physician to schedule and complete their medical exam in this search directory.
transgender and non-binary applicants
IMPORTANT UPDATE: In April 2023, USCIS announced that they would now allow visa applicants to specify their own gender on all immigration forms, without needing to provide supporting documents. Read more about the policy change here.
Transgender and non-binary applicants may also have unique questions when completing immigration forms and moving through each stage in the immigration process. One common question Boundless sees from our transgender and non-binary customers is whether or not it is possible to change or update legal names and gender markers on immigration forms. The short answer: yes!
According to USCIS instructions, generally speaking, to update the name on any immigration document, applicants will need to provide the following documents:
For legal name changes: A court order for name change or other document proving legal name change
If you need additional guidance, Transgender Law Center is an advocacy organization that provides legal assistance and other helpful programs for transgender individuals in the U.S.. Their immigration-specific resources can be found here.
children and adoption
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, and looking to sponsor your child for immigration benefits or citizenship, Boundless has gathered some helpful information to guide you through the process.
For international adoptions, USCIS has a comprehensive online resource on how to legally adopt a child from a different country. The State Department has a similar guide on international adoptions here, where prospective adoptive parents can search for accredited adoption providers and learn about the necessary immigration steps to take after adopting a child overseas.
If you have stepchildren that you would like to sponsor for immigration benefits, it is possible for U.S. citizens to sponsor their stepchild/stepchildren on a family green card applications. If you’re interested in applying for green cards for your whole family, Boundless has got you covered. You can include your children on your green card application for just $450 per child when you choose Boundless. Check your family’s green card eligibility here.
If you are a U.S. citizen with a child who was born abroad, you may also be wondering about your child’s citizenship status. Since 2021, a State Department policy change has made it much easier for LGBTQ parents to transmit their U.S. citizenship to their children. The new policy grants citizenship to children born abroad via in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, as long as one parent is a U.S. citizen. Prior to the change, children born abroad had to be genetically related to a U.S. citizen to be eligible for citizenship. The new policy also allows those who were previously denied citizenship to re-apply. Boundless’ guide explains how to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) in more detail, including some frequently asked questions on the process.
After Arriving in the U.S.
LGBTQ Travel Information
If you obtain a U.S. visa, you may start to think about your travel plans and when to start your life in the U.S.. Many visa types require applicants to enter the U.S. within six months of approval, so securing travel plans will become a top priority. International travel and crossing border checkpoints for immigration purposes can be stressful, and LGBTQ travelers may face even more unique challenges during the process. The U.S. State Department put together a guide on LGBTQ travel here. The guide includes information on name and gender changes for travel documents, safety guidelines, and more. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also has a site for transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming passengers.
LGBTQ-Friendly States in the U.S.
One important aspect of the immigration process is determining where to work and live in the U.S. once your visa is approved. For LGBTQ immigrants, moving to a U.S. state with queer-friendly workspaces, housing options, and support communities may be top of mind.
This article explores the best (and potentially worst) states for LGBTQ job seekers, based on overall reported work culture and use of inclusive language in job postings. In terms of housing, many U.S. cities have their own queer-friendly housing sites and city-wide online resources to help immigrants search for safe living arrangements.
If you’re looking into different areas to live in the U.S., the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign has a State Equality Index which ranks all 50 U.S. states based on their work to uphold LGBTQ rights and protections. This LGBTQ+ State Safety Ranking also has valuable insights on which states may be safest and friendliest for LGBTQ immigrants establishing their lives in the U.S..
LGBTQ Health Resources
The U.S. healthcare system is complex and can be difficult to navigate for even native-born Americans, let alone new immigrants. To understand your health insurance options and how to obtain affordable coverage, check out Boundless’ healthcare guide and the federal healthcare marketplace for more helpful information.
We’ve also put together a list of reputable LGBTQ-specific health resources to help with your move to the U.S.:
|Medical Resources||LGBTQIA+ Health Services and Clinics |
|Mental Health Resources||National Alliance on Mental Illness |
Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
|Domestic Violence Assistance||Safe Horizon National Domestic Violence Hotline|
Additional LGBTQ Immigrant Resources
Inter-country Adoption Information – DHS
Supporting Documents Information
Immigration Equality Nonprofit
Legal Services for LGBTQIA+ Immigrants
State Department LGBTQIA+ Travel Information
TSA Transgender + Non-binary Passengers
LGBTQIA+ Health Services and Clinics
Resources for LGBTQIA+ Patients
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
Safe Horizon National Domestic Violence Hotline
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
LGBTQ Immigration Policy History
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