- Getty Images/John Moore
- The State Department has quietly implemented a new rule barring same-sex partners of certain foreign workers from receiving G-4 visas – unless the couple gets married.
- G-4 visas are used by foreign nationals who work at major international organizations including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
- The UN’s LGBTQI employee’s association has advised its foreign workers to get legally married in the US to ensure their same-sex partners are still eligible for the visas.
The State Department has quietly implemented a new rule barring same-sex partners of international organization workers from entering the country on certain diplomatic visas, unless the couple gets legally married.
As of October 1, all same-sex domestic partners who use G-4 visas must prove they have legally married by the end of the year or leave the US, according to a note circulated to workers last week.
Foreigners who hold G-4 visas work at international organizations in the US, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
Though diplomats and consular personnel use different visas – known as A-1 or A-2 visas – that still grant US visas to their same-sex domestic partners in certain cases, the change to the G-4 visa will eliminate those exceptions entirely.
The policy change has provoked outrage, and even prompted former UN ambassador Samantha Power to decry the change as “needlessly cruel & bigoted.”
The State Department has not yet publicly announced the change, but a diplomatic note from July explains that the State Department reviewed its rules around other diplomatic visas like the A-1 and A-2 “as a matter of principle and reciprocity,” since certain countries refuse to grant visas to the same-sex partners and spouses of American LGBT diplomats working abroad.
A State Department official said in a statement that the change is meant to “ensure and promote equal treatment” among same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, the latter of whom must be legally married in order to “enjoy the rights and benefits of spouses.”
“This is based on US law, which now recognizes a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Therefore, the Department will likewise require that, as a general matter, officials from other governments and international organizations be married to enjoy the rights and benefits of spouses for purposes of visa issuance,” the official said. “In order for opposite sex couples to enjoy the benefits and privileges of a diplomatic spouse, they must be married. The same is now true for same sex couples.”
‘This could be read as the State Department taking a step to advocate for their own LGBT employees’
Alfonso Nam, the president of the UN’s LGBTQI employees’ advocacy group, told Business Insider that the G-4 visa change may be a well-intended, but clumsy attempt by the State Department to push foreign countries into recognizing American same-sex couples and granting them visas.
“This could be read as the State Department taking a step to advocate for their own LGBT employees, in the sense that they are standing up for them saying, ‘This is one way we’re going to try to get secure visas for your spouses – by enforcing a reciprocity standard,'” Nam said.
He continued: “I don’t know to what degree they are cognizant of the fact that this is a very weak tactic to use to get them to recognize the same-sex spouses of their own employees. [A foreign] government has no incentive to recognize same-sex marriage. They’re not going to care – you’re not going to scare or coerce them into recognizing same-sex spouses of your employees.”
It’s unclear how many international workers and same-sex partners are affected by the changes to the G-4 visa, but Nam’s group has advised all affected UN employees in New York City to consider getting married in City Hall to ensure they can maintain their G-4 visa status.
Opposite-sex couples were already required to be married before obtaining G-4 visas, but unmarried same-sex couples in domestic partnerships were allowed to use the visas, since most countries around the world have not legalized same-sex marriage.
Fabrice Houdart, a UN human rights officer and former head of the World Bank’s LGBT employee association, told Business Insider he questioned the need to change a system that lesbian and gay couples have been using for years.
“LGBT families navigate an increasingly complex international environment with real risks to their ability to pursue international civil service but also their safety,” Houdart said. “We must accommodate their reality rather than make their lives even more complicated.”