Immigration Law Goes Into Effect; "Widow’s Penalty" Ends

New immigration law goes into effect; 'widow's penalty' ends
A new immigration law is now in effect, and this means new changes for Americans who marry foreign nationals.

By Melissa Tune
The WRDW News (Augusta, GA), November 3, 2009

Augusta, GA — A new immigration law is now in effect and this means new changes for Americans who marry foreign nationals.

What's known as the widow penalty has ended now that President Barack Obama put the pen to the paper. This is especially meaningful to our military community, but it can affect anyone.

Under the old law, if a United States citizen married someone from outside the country and then died within two years of the marriage, the spouse was deported. Now the spouse can stay.

'Tomorrow is tomorrow. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow,' said Rev. Masaki Chiba.

Rev. Chiba is Japanese born and can't imagine a 'tomorrow' without his wife and children. He married his wife Charisse, an American, after they met in college. He became a U.S. citizen almost 20 years ago.

'What I did was, when we went back to Japan, I applied for a green card in Japan,' he said. 'That was five years after we got married.'

Marrying a foreign national can be as beautiful as it has been for the Chibas, or it can be a nightmare experience.

Up until October 29, 2009, the 'widow's penalty' was in effect, meaning hundreds of people were forced to leave the states.

'Unfortunately, the law in this area is very unforgiving,' said immigration attorney Paul Balducci. 'There's no exception; you basically will be deported.'

Until now. Balducci, who has had clients affected by the previous law, says this new law is good news for them.

'Any time the government's willing to step back and say 'We're not just going to have a blanket policy that doesn't take into account the particular facts of each case', I mean that a big victory,' Balducci said. 'It's a big win. It's a big success.'

The new law removes the two-year marriage requirement, permitting widows and widowers of U.S. citizens to apply for a green card for themselves and on behalf of their foreign-born children. It is also retroactive. Anyone qualifying for relief can file a petition for permanent residency up to two years from October 29, 2009.