Truong: Diplomacy Visa-vis Equality

Ending diplomatic visas for same-sex couples is undiplomatic and cavillous.

by Valerie Truong | 10/11/18 2:05am

 This past week, the Department of State announced that the U.S. will deny family visas to same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats or employees of international organizations who work in the United States. This means that those who are already in the country must either get married or leave by December 31st this year. Since 2009, same-sex partners were considered family under the G-4 visa policy. This rule reversal, according to a State Department official, was made to “promote and ensure equal treatment” for both same and opposite-sex couples. Though this new policy grants exceptions for the partners of diplomats who are from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal, the caveat is that the other country must recognize same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats posted there. This most drastically affects same-sex partners of international employees who work for organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, since the exception does not extend to them.

Many have criticized the change in policy for G-4 visas. They argue that these couples are essentially trapped — even if they were to get married right now, they could face persecution, or worse, criminalization, upon return to a home country that forbids same-sex marriage. This is pertinent because only 12 percent of countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage.

But even beyond the discriminatory implications for LGBT+ families, the State Department’s new visa policy is both undiplomatic and cavillous. It further strains the nation’s relationship with other international actors without attempting to understand the circumstances of those who must leave the comfort of their own country to work in the U.S. It leaves a sour taste in their mouths — the policy essentially asserts, “Hello world, if you’re going to come here to work, you have to play by my rules.” It disregards the individual circumstance and the context in which people come from, instead slapping an all-encompassing label to apply to every situation.

The new policy also nitpicks at low-hanging fruit from the “who else can we exclude from our country?” tree. State Department officials reported that approximately 105 families will be affected, 55 of which are employed by international organizations. While this is not that many people to crack down on, it is enough to be a bureaucratic burden. For example, employees in the State Department must now spend time enforcing this policy by identifying unmarried same-sex partners and drafting and approving paperwork for those who are exceptions. In effect, this policy doesn’t effectively advance the Trumpian agenda, and it serves to waste government resources and time.

In some ways, this policy is even hypocritical to what the Trump administration espouses. Generally speaking, the current administration only wants the best and brightest people coming to the United States from other countries. Yet, this policy could prevent the best people from coming if it means that their partners cannot come as well. While the policy change is touted under the guise of equality since same and opposite-sex couples now have the same marriage requirement, but the policy fails to take two points into account. First, same-sex marriage is illegal in most other countries; and second, the exception only applies to diplomats and not employees of international organizations. This backs half of the affected foreign employees into an impossibly difficult binary choice: get married or go home. Therefore, claims that the State Department is increasing equality fall flat. In reality, it does just the opposite.

This policy move seems to be an extension of the Trump administration’s immigration policy. Increasingly, it has worked to place limits on legal immigration and guest-worker visas. This includes a hiatus on granting green cards and in general, making it more difficult for legal immigrants to obtain citizenship. Yet, if its goal is to keep out people who don’t contribute to America’s economy or intellect in some significant way, this is certainly not an effective way to do so. This insular move doesn’t help with America’s public image in the global arena. As an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal suggests, “we need to recognize that the immigration debate isn’t really about immigrants. In truth, it’s about the children of immigrants.” The author goes on to explain how it is immigrants’ children who seem to change America’s culture when coupled with the country’s declining birth rate. If this is the case, there’s simply no need to create additional hurdles for the same-sex partners of diplomats and employees of international organizations. I see no practical purpose in this policy, and can only anticipate its detrimental effects.