A provision of the United States Refugee Assistance Program that is geared towards family reunification will now be applicable to same-sex couples, even when they are not legally married due to prohibitions in their home country.
The P-3 provision applies to refugees and asylees (those granted asylum) from 23 countries that are “of special humanitarian concern to the United States for the purpose of family-reunification refugee processing.” The program allows a refugee or asylee to bring a qualifying spouse to the United States under the same protections.
The countries in question, which are reviewed and potentially changed on a yearly basis by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, are as follows: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Cuba, North Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Uzbekistan.
Previously, only legal spouses (regardless of gender) had been covered under the P-3 provision. However, the State Department now acknowledges that in many of the P-3 countries, legal marriage to same-sex spouses is not a viable option, for reasons ranging from a lack of marriage equality laws to the criminalization of homosexuality (sometimes carrying a death penalty), and so they are expanding the family reunification provisions.
In order to qualify, a refugee or asylee must prove that the partner they are bringing over has been their partner for at least a year prior to their application, and that they consider each other de facto spouses or life partners. They must also prove that legal marriage was not an option in their country of origin. Currently, the partner must also qualify for the same refugee or asylee status, but the hope is that in the future, the laws will expand to allow qualifying individuals to bring non-qualifying spouses with them.
Aaron Morris, the Legal Director for Immigration Equality, said this about the change: “The State Department’s decision to keep permanent partner P-3 refugees together is a cause for celebration because almost no LGBT refugees have access to marriage equality.” There are still plenty of countries where the LGBT community is persecuted and criminalized that are not on the P-3 list, and it is my hope that the State Department will expand their provisions for family reunification to countries beyond the 23 currently listed.