U.S. restrictions on same-sex marriage are making it harder for Wall Street to attract some foreign workers, said executives including R. Martin Chavez, who leads equities trading for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
The rules don’t allow citizens and permanent residents to sponsor same-sex partners for immigration to the U.S., according to Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, who moderated a panel of executives yesterday at the annual summit of Out on the Street, an advocacy group for Wall Street’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.
Chavez, a 49-year-old U.S. citizen, cited his own story as an example of the potential hurdles those restrictions create, saying they almost forced him to leave the country. He married his partner last year, which proved to be problematic when they tried to replace his partner’s student visa.
“We got married in the state of New York,” Chavez said at the event, which was held at Goldman Sachs’s Manhattan headquarters. “You’d think this would be a wonderful thing, except we ended up in this crazed paradox where because we were married in the state of New York, that created the presumption of his attempt to immigrate, which meant he would not be eligible for a student F-1 visa.”
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing, the marriage doesn’t give Chavez’s partner the right to immigrate or obtain a green card permitting him to live and work in the country.
After several months of interviews and paperwork, Chavez’s husband received a new visa. In the meantime, Chavez said he spoke to Goldman Sachs executives about moving his role to London if his husband wasn’t allowed back into the U.S. He also considered retiring from his job running the largest equity-trading business in the world and moving abroad.
Chavez, who said he was the only openly gay employee at Goldman Sachs when he joined in 1993, leads the equities division with Michael D. Daffey and Paul M. Russo. He was named to the firm’s management committee earlier this year.
While the issue affects only a limited number of employees, it can result in significant costs for companies that have to move workers out of the U.S. or in lost productivity from dealing with an employee’s or partner’s immigration status, Alisa Seminara, associate general counsel for Citigroup Inc., said at the event.
Seminara cited another example of a senior executive who was supposed to start a local financing business in the U.S. Because of issues bringing his partner to the country, the executive had to work in London and build his team there, Seminara said.
Gay-marriage activists have celebrated the growing number of states that allow same-sex unions, yet because the federal government doesn’t recognize such marriages, they can create hurdles for immigration, said Jennifer Werner, senior manager of the financial-services advisory practice at Ernst & Young LLP. Immigration lawyers advised her not to marry her long-time partner, who was in the middle of an eight-year wait to obtain a green card, Werner said.
The immigration issues will probably be remedied if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union and prohibits gay spouses from claiming federal benefits, Tiven at Immigration Equality said. The court may rule on the case by the end of June. Activists are also pushing for inclusion of same-sex rights in an immigration bill being debated in Congress, Tiven said.