** LEGAL UPDATE **
Under a recently announced policy change by the U.S. State Department, non-citizens seeking to accompany a diplomat or other foreign official to the U.S. using a spousal, derivative A-1 or A-2 nonimmigrant visa or change of status must be legally married.
Same-sex or other domestic partnerships will no longer be considered sufficient (as they were under the previous policy).
A-1 visas are issued to ambassadors, public ministers, or career diplomats, and their spouses and children, while A-2 visas are for other accredited officials or employees of foreign governments and their spouses and children. (See the full list of nonimmigrant or temporary U.S. visas.)
Although same-sex marriage is legal in the United States (and thus diplomats who are here already could decide to get married here in order to renew the derivative visa), the policy shift might harshly impact diplomats and officials who have not yet arrived in the United States. The difficulty is, as many critics have noted, that many countries do not offer same-sex marriage--only 25 out of the 195 countries in the world, according to Human Rights Watch.
As for domestic partners of diplomats already in the U.S., if you are one, better start calling caterers: The State Department will want to see a marriage certificate by December 31 of this year, or the person will have to leave the U.S. within the following 30 days.
One possibility that seems to have received little attention from either the government or the media is for the unmarried partner to apply for a tourist visa to the U.S., also known as a B-2 visa for pleasure purposes. An initial B-2 visa can be granted for a stay of up to one year, after which its holder will need to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for extensions, which can be granted for up to six months at a time.
In the past, the State Department was expressly willing to approve B-2 visas for same-sex partners who had no other viable path by which to accompany a primary visa holder to the United States. The B-2 applicant was asked to prove that he or she was part of the same household as the primary visa applicant.
It remains to be seen, however, whether this policy will continue to be upheld. And it remains less advantageous to get a B-2 than an A-1 or A-2: a B-2 visitor visa does not come with work privileges.
Effective Date: October 1, 2018