Last Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a Policy Memorandum to update the Adjudicator’s Field Manual’s guidelines on transgender immigrants’ documentation and marriage recognition. The new policies are binding for all agency staff overseeing U.S. immigration procedures.
The first policy pertains to the multitude of documents that USCIS issues regularly, including Employment Authorization Documents, Refugee Travel Documents, Permanent Resident Cards, and Naturalization Certificates. As per Friday’s change, applicants who seek to change their gender on any USCIS identification documents may do so without proof of sex reassignment surgery.
"It brings USCIS in line with DOS [the Department of State] in its guidance for updating gender markers on identity documents -- no longer requiring any specific surgery, but instead allowing a doctor to certify the individual's gender,” says Victoria Neilson, Legal Director for Immigration Equality. She adds, “This Guidance is an important step forward for transgender immigrants and their families.”
The second policy addresses marriage between a transgender individual and an individual of the other gender. Under the new USCIS memorandum, a couple’s marriage is valid if:
· A transgender individual legally changed genders and subsequently got married to a person of the opposite gender.
· The marriage was recognized as a legal heterosexual marriage where the marriage took place.
· The law where the marriage took place does not bar marriage between a transgender individual and a person of the opposite gender.
The policy does not require a transgender individual to present proof of surgery unless the place of marriage required it explicitly. Because of this change, transgender immigrants will be able to file a “Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)” or allow American citizens to petition for a green-card for their transgender spouses.
"Today's announcement is another example of the Obama Administration's long-term commitment to equality," NCTE Policy Counsel Harper Jean Tobin said Friday. "These revisions mean that trans people and their families can obtain accurate identification while maintaining their privacy. It'll also reduce bureaucratic delays, intrusive questions, and wrongful denials of immigration benefits."