The Secretariat building in New York City, where staff of the UN Secretariat carry out the day-to-day work. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías


UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2023 (IPS) - Going back to the 1970s, thousands of UN staffers were given legal status opting for permanent residency in the US– after their retirement.

But that longstanding privilege now seems to be in jeopardy forcing retirees to return to their home countries uprooting their lives in the US.

The United States Immigration and Nationality Act has for long allowed long-serving UN staff members, who held the traditional G-4 visa status, and who met certain criteria, to apply for Legal Permanent Residency, also known as a “Green Card,” under the “Special Immigrant” category (EB-4), upon separation on retirement.

The UN’s Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance (DMSPC) last week sent an “urgent notice” to staffers that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has temporarily suspended accepting applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (I-485 form) under the “Special Immigrant” category (EB-4).

This development may affect the ability of staff members who hold G-4 visas to continue to reside in the United States following their separation from service on retirement.

The suspension may also affect recent retirees; children of current or retired staff members, as well as a surviving spouse, who have been planning to apply for Legal Permanent Residency under the “Special Immigrant” category.

The UN has advised staffers to seek legal advice from an immigration firm about their future status in the US.

Speaking off-the-record, a long-time UN staffer told IPS the programme is in jeopardy with no clear indication when it will resume or get resolved.

The reason is apparently a backlog of applications, but it may even be political, he said. ”You may never know”.

Basically, he said, it has been suspended because of some changes that came into effect early this year in the immigration laws –and also due to the existing backlog of applications.

“This means no priority processing for G4 visa holders from the UN. The situation is quite serious as it was taken by surprise many in the Secretariat”.

“We have been told that within 30-days, we have to leave the US upon separation unless the individual manages to change the status by going through an immigration lawyer. I don’t see it restored in the near future. A big disappointment and a mess to say the least.”

Most UN staffers who own apartments or house and property—and are on short notice– will have to dispose them before they leave the US while others with children in US colleges will have to make adjustments.

“It’s an absolute nightmare”, said one staffer whose retirement is due in February next year when he will be forced out of the US.

Meanwhile, In Geneva, which houses more than 40 international organizations, mostly affiliated to the United Nations such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), staffers apply for “resident permits” on their retirement.

After they have lived 5-10 years, including years spent at the UN, they are entitled to permanent residency leading to Swiss citizenship.

Currently, the US is home to over 9,000 staffers who work in the Secretariat and in UN agencies in New York, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN children’s agency UNICEF and UN Women– with some on retirement after living the US for over 30 to 40 years.

IPS UN Bureau Report