The US is apparently no longer automatically rejecting green card applications from the foreign spouses of gay and lesbian citizens.

Immigration officials confirmed on Monday that applications were being “held in abeyance” – or on hold – until the Department of Justice clarifies the legal situation.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced that it would not longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The 1993 act prohibits federal government from recognising the marriages of gay couples.

Previously, foreign same-sex spouses who applied for spousal green cards were automatically rejected.

A spokesman for the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Christopher S Bentley, said: “USCIS has not implemented any change in policy and intends to follow the president’s directive to continue enforcing the law.

“USCIS­ has issued guidance to the field, asking that related cases be held in abeyance, while awaiting final guidance related to distinct legal issues.”

Gay rights groups such as Immigration Equality have welcomed the news, although lawyers have said that it does not necessarily mean that immigration officials will approve the applications.