WASHINGTON >> The Trump administration will no longer issue family visas to same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats or employees of international organizations who work in the United States, State Department officials said today.
The shift drew sharp criticism from gay rights advocates, including those who work for the United Nations and could be affected. It also applies to people working in the United States for the World Bank, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other groups.
The changes took effect Monday. United Nations employees were notified in a memo last month that only married same-sex partners seeking to accompany newly arrived officials to the U.S. would be eligible for a G-4 visa.
Under the new State Department rules, foreign couples will need to present proof of marriage to obtain the diplomatic family visas. But only a small number of the U.N.’s 193 member states have legalized same-sex marriage. If necessary, the State Department officials said, legal workarounds could be discussed on a case-by-case basis for couples who are barred from marrying in their home countries.
The visas are issued to family members and dependents of diplomats and employees of international organizations, and had been given to domestic same-sex partners as well as formally married couples during the Obama administration.
Same-sex domestic partners of diplomats and workers who already have a G family visa must submit proof of marriage by the end of the year to qualify for a renewal. If a couple cannot submit proof of marriage, the partner will have to leave the U.S. within 30 days of the year-end deadline, the U.N. memo said.
The G category of visas is issued to almost all foreign diplomats, government officials and employees working for international organizations in the U.S., as well as their dependents.
State Department officials who briefed journalists today on condition of anonymity said the rule change affected about 105 families of foreign envoys and employees in the U.S. — 55 with international organizations and the rest at embassies and other diplomatic missions.
Critics called the new policy discriminatory, warning that many foreigners would not come to the U.S. to work if their partners were unable to obtain a diplomatic visa to accompany them.
Alfonso Nam, the president of U.N. Globe, a gay rights advocacy organization for U.N. employees, said the policy would raise concerns among future U.N. employees, particularly those from countries hostile to gay, lesbian and transgender people.
“For same-sex couples serving the UN, the U.S. is usually a desired destination for work,” Nam said. “It’s a place where you are able to bring your legal partner and get a visa.”
“Whether that will continue to remain the same is to be seen.”
Fabrice Houdart, who works for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the U.N., said he attended a wedding in Washington last week of a French couple that rushed to get married for fear of being split up by the new policy.
“In the past, people who would obtain a job at the headquarters of the World Bank, the IMF and the U.N. would make the decision to give up their relationship,” said Houdart, who formerly led a gay rights group at the World Bank. He said the new policy “doesn’t recognize the fact that LGBTI people remain a persecuted people around the world.”
The policy change was first raised in an internal State Department memo dated July 20, according to an Aug. 2 report by The Washington Blade.
According to the U.N. memo, which was dated Sept. 13, the State Department has not issued G-4 family visas to heterosexual domestic partners since 2009. But they do not face obstacles to marriage in many foreign nations in the way same-sex domestic partners do.
Samantha Power, a Harvard professor and former United States ambassador to the United Nations, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the new policy was “needlessly cruel & bigoted,” and noted that only 12 percent of U.N. member states permit same-sex marriage.
Power’ comments followed a tweet Friday from the account of the independent news organization PassBlue that revealed concerns within the United Nations.
State Department officials said today that the change seeks to make the visa process consistent with internal policies for U.S. employees with same-sex partners. As of Monday, all couples in the State Department must be married to receive family benefits, including diplomatic passports and diplomatic immunity.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriage was a nationwide right, which has led to changes in workplace policies on family benefits. Foreign couples who marry in the U.S. would qualify the employee’s partner for a diplomatic family visa, the State Department officials said.
Additionally, if other nations offer visas to same-sex domestic partners assigned to U.S. embassies and missions abroad, the U.S. could reciprocate for those countries’ citizens, the officials said.
In recent years, the U.S. has posted several openly gay people to important ambassadorships. The most recent is Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany, who was confirmed by the Senate in April. Grenell’s longtime partner, Matthew Lashey, accompanied him to Germany.
Former President Barack Obama appointed veteran diplomat Ted Osius to Vietnam, where he lived with his spouse, Clayton Bond, a State Department employee at the time. The two have since resigned and live in Ho Chi Minh City with their two young children.
A State Department directive issued in 2010 stated that U.S. missions should ask foreign nations to provide visas to all same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.
However, according to that policy, U.S. embassies should not approach host governments if the request for visas “would do more harm than good” and prevent the partner from being able to accompany the diplomat.