A South African man living on Long Island has gotten a reprieve from immigration officials, allowing him to stay in the U.S. to care for his husband, who is a U.S. citizen. Edwin Blesch, age 70, is from New York. He and Tim Smulian, a 65 year-old citizen of South Africa, were married in South Africa in 1999. Both the state of New York and Suffolk County recognize their marriage, but they could not apply for immigration benefits as a married couple under federal law. For over ten years, they spent six months on Long Island and six months in South Africa, or elsewhere abroad, in order to comply with the terms of Smulian’s tourist visa.
Blesch, who is HIV-positive, suffered a few small strokes and other complications from his illness, and now he cannot travel. Smulian is his primary caregiver. Smulian’s visa was set to expire at the end of 2011. The prospect of spending six months apart every year with Blesch in poor health led them, in March 2011, to file an application for a green card for Smulian as the spouse of a United States citizen. They asked U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to exercise its discretion to allow an exception to certain aspects of federal law, in this case the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and approve the application. DOMA is the federal law defining marriage to be exclusively between a man and woman, and it has been the subject of several court challenges in recent years.
Several New York politicians, including both of the state’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, lobbied USCIS on behalf of Blesch and Smulian to allow Smulian to stay in the U.S. The couple received word earlier this month that USCIS had granted Smulian “deferred action” status. He can remain in New York lawfully for another year, but he has not been granted any further immigration benefits.
A tourist visa, also known as a visitor visa, is a type of nonimmigrant visa that allows someone to come to the United States for tourism or medical treatment. The key feature of any nonimmigrant visa is the requirement that the visa holder leave the U.S. before the visa expires. People with nonimmigrant visas must often physically leave the country in order to apply to renew the visa, which is what Smulian has had to do for over a decade.