Immigration rules on same-sex partners remain tough

Only a third of countries allow same-sex spouses to qualify as dependents on immigration applications, while just 30% allow same-sex partners this qualification.

According to data from 132 countries gathered by immigration law firm Fragomen, eight countries have relaxed their laws or practices regarding same-sex relationships and immigration since 2017.

These included Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Israel and Lithuania, which have allowed both same-sex spouses and partners to qualify since then; Croatia, which has allowed same-sex partners to qualify; and Finland, Germany and Malta, which already allowed same-sex partners to qualify but since have allowed same-sex spouses to qualify too.

Fragomen found that in some European countries, same-sex partners qualify as dependents, but require proof of the duration of the relationship and in some cases, proof of cohabitation for a certain duration.

Its research into global visa policies found that supportive visa policies for dependents were an essential factor in smooth mobility of employees. However, in some countries, a shaky geopolitical landscape had resulted in a tightening of the rules.

Of the countries surveyed, 34 countries (30%) conferred automatic work authorisation to dependent spouses, 41 countries (36%) recognised same-sex relationships and 44 countries (39%) recognised non-married partners.

While several countries had broadened their rules around same-sex spouses and partners, Canadian nationals and permanent residents can now also sponsor parents and grandparents for permanent residency.

Julia Onslow-Cole, partner for government strategies and compliance at Fragomen, said: “All global mobility professionals agree that an essential ingredient for a successful international assignment is a happy partner.

“Tolerance in relation to dependent visas can also lead to increased talent retention for local businesses. Until recently, dependent work visa policies had seen a growing level of diversity, but unfortunately while progress has been made, several countries continue to tighten their policies around dependent visa applications.”

The company also highlighted how countries with restrictive dependent work permit rules may become less competitive. In the UK for example, many of the proposals for visa arrangements post-Brexit do not cover dependents.

Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, board member of Permits Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for improvements to work permit rules, added: “We urge governments to adopt policies that grant direct work authorisation to dependents.

“It makes it easier for partners to find work and reduces the administrative burden for employers and the authorities. It also means that families can integrate more quickly and contribute to the economy through their taxes and improved spending power. Everyone benefits.”

Kay Hall, senior vice president of global advisory services at NetExpat, which supports the integration of accompanying partners of relocating employees, said that administration issues often blocked a smooth move.

She said: “It goes without saying that, if a country tightens its immigration rules for accompanying partners, as we are seeing in the UK and US, these destinations become more difficult for companies to attract key talent into, which will eventually inhibit market growth and the importance of that host location.”

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