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Time Is Running Out for “Widow Penalty” Victims

Until October of 2009, immigrant spouses of American citizens were subject to a so-called "widow penalty" if they were widowed within the first two years of marriage.

The widow penalty canceled a surviving foreign spouse's eligibility for permanent residency. As a result, hundreds of widows and widowers faced deportation despite the fact that they followed proper procedures and entered the country legally.

Changes to the law in 2009 put an end to the widow penalty, and included a provision to apply the law retroactively by giving applicants previously affected by the law a right to renew their applications — but only if they do so by October 28, 2011.

After the October 28 deadline, which will be two years from the day in 2009 that lawmakers eliminated the widow penalty, the right to re-apply will end. This means that anyone who was previously denied eligibility for residency under the widow penalty and has not reapplied for residency by that date will be disqualified from seeking residency through his or her deceased spouse.

Who Qualifies to Renew Their Permanent Residency Application?

The right to a renewed application applies to anyone whose prior application for permanent residency was terminated under the widow penalty, so long as the applicant has not remarried and can show that his or her marriage to the deceased spouse was legitimate.

The right to submit a renewed application exists regardless of how long ago the original application was filed. However, with the deadline fast approaching, many people living outside of the U.S. may not discover that they are eligible to reapply until it is too late.

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