For love or for the visa?

Last updated 09:08 08/05/2013

An old friend sent me a message on Facebook this morning asking me for visa advice. He's been studying in Europe and has an American girlfriend that he'd now like to move to Portland with.

His situation, alas, was familiar to me.

His visa options were limited. There was an internship option available to him, or maybe he could get a tourist visa that would buy him six months at a time in the US. The H-1B visa is a fool's errand and the Green Card lottery is and will always be... a lottery.

The last grasp for him, in his words, would be an unromantic marriage proposal driven by visa reasons.

For many in this situation, trying to keep an international relationship moving forward with an American partner, this last question is the $6 million one.

cakeDo you get married for the paperwork?

There are no visa guarantees with America. There're not even a whole lot of visa options open for anyone looking to pick up and move to the US.

People have changing attitudes and ideas about marriage and the role they'd like it to have in their life. If marriage was derived as an institution to help govern property rights, why not enter into it for the legal work rights and freedom to come and go from America as you please?

Now, I'm not angling at a Gerard Depardieu, Sandra Bullock, Green Card meets The Proposal-type fake relationship.

I'm talking about two people in a genuine relationship deciding to get married who might not otherwise do so.

Why not?

LP and I faced this decision and chose not to. We'd been together maybe seven months. I found myself in California with a month to leave the country. It was February of 2008 and realistically she wasn't going to be able to join me in New Zealand until at least September. I was just 23 and she was 22, so we were pretty young. If I'd left and waited for her to move to join me it would have meant us spending as long apart as we had together and her having to move halfway round the world after not having seen me for six months.

I can't remember when, but marriage came up in this conversation, probably a little out of anxiety and sadness, and the idea was dismissed.

We never discussed at the time whether this could've ended our relationship, but in hindsight we've discussed that maybe it could have been a stretch. It definitely troubled me in theory at the time, because on a whim I moved to Vancouver for two months so I could come back and live with LP over the American summer and help her through the mental transition as she prepared to move to New Zealand.

I probably would have done a lot of things at this time to guarantee that LP and I could live easily in the same country, but I'm glad the line was drawn there. Roughly, the calculation was in my mind that we could buy time with her living in New Zealand (we love immigrants, especially younger ones) and then with my stubborn desire to do a Master's in Journalism in America (even if my writing career had flatlined at this point).

Marriage, I reckoned, would seem a little different as a subject five years in, than it did at seven months. And it was. I think maybe I even demurred on the subject to ensure that when I proposed I wasn't motivated even slightly by chasing paperwork.

I don't know where you stand on marriage. I know my own views: having been lucky to grow up with two happily married parents, put me toward the old-fashioned end of the scale. To me it always seemed confusing to mix a genuine relationship with a rushed marriage. I didn't want any future marriage between LP and me to come with any asterisks.

But this is just my take on it. It's a tough situation and a personal decision to make.

I know people who have married but still refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. I know people who have married for the visa and then remarried when the time was right in proper and official circumstances.

Even our own wedding was still timed in such a way as to make sure that I had time to become a resident before my student visa expired.

Reflecting on it as I replied to my friend, I thought once more about how tough the international dating game is when you want something to have permanence.

It's an interesting decision. For love, or the paperwork? Is it an either/or decision, or is there wiggle room here?

Where do you stand on this?

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