Challenges in Intercultural Marriages

I just read an excellent article on obstacles for partners in intercultural marriages. The author is Christine Benlafquih. This article is SO true of the obstacles my husband and I had.

If you are thinking about marrying a person from a culture or country foreign to your own, I strongly recommend reading this article. I wish I had seen more information like this in the early days of our relationship!

Cross-cultural Marriage Advice: Tips for Successful Intercultural Relationships

People from any two cultures are likely to face these issues. This author focuses on the issues that form cultures and makes cultures different. It’s these differences that most excite people in the early stages of intercultural relationships, but challenge them in later stages!

Does My Foreign Fiance Just Want a Greencard?

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

If your relationship shows all the signs of a healthy relationship–communication, each partner likes spending time with the other, interaction with each other’s family and friends, and so on, you probably don’t need to worry over this issue. Remember, people in most countries of the world are very patriotic and would NOT want to live in the US. People in poorer countries where life is a challenge often want to come to the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and so on to make a living–but they most often do this through student visas, tourist visas, and work visas, not by trying to scam natives into marriage!

However, there are situations when people get duped in relationships for legal permanent residency in a country–like a greencard in the US, landed immigrant status in Canada, and so on. So, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your relationship for signs just in case. When a partner is getting scammed, there are usually signs. Here are some signs that a partner may be trying to scam you (or that he or she may just be an undesirable partner!):

  1. He or she asks you for a lot of help pretty early in the relationship. Sure, partners ask for help sometimes. However, in the scam marriages, the dishonest partner was asking for WAY too much help early in the relationship–buy me a plane ticket, call me because I just can’t ever call you, I can’t use email because I need you to buy me a computer, I need new clothes, I can’t pay my rent, etc. (Note: My husband needed a little help when we were dating because his visa status didn’t allow him to work. But he LOVED me, so he almost never asked. And tried hard to refuse my help and figure out other ways. And he showed NO other signs below–he was attentive and warm always.)
  2. He or she tries to rush you into marriage.
  3. He or she tries to make you feel guilty for needing time to make a decision.
  4. He or she hasn’t introduced you to friends or relatives, or if they are in a different country, hasn’t even told them about you. If you are really suspicious, see how he or she reacts when you insist on marrying in their country in a ceremony attended by their family and friends.
  5. This person has lied to you about different things. (A liar is a liar and will be dishonest for many reasons, not one.)
  6. This person doesn’t do things a person in love would tend to do–call often, ask you on dates a lot, want to sit and talk to you for long periods of time, hold your hand, act affectionate, try to help you in different situations.
  7. Your friends tell you this person seems rude or seems to be using you. Even if you are blinded by love, your friends and family probably won’t be. A healthy partner in love will NOT treat you poorly. (Of course, it’s possible that a partner is mean, yet does NOT want a greencard. But who needs a mean partner regardless??)
  8. Your “partner” claims to love you but treats you very differently from how he treats his or her friends and family. He or she spends lots of time with friends or family, but barely has any time for you (though lots of excuses!).
  9. Anyone who makes wild promises and gives you too many gifts is suspicious. This person might give you huge compliments one moment, or gifts, especially if you have threatened to leave the relationship. But if the person just wants a greencard, he or she will not want to be with you very often and might act annoyed when you are together. If you find yourself asking questions like “Why don’t you call me more? Why do you always go out with your friends but never with me?” you have some things to figure out.

If you read this list and feel really suspicious, here are a few things you can do to gage your partner’s reaction:

  1. Talk about living together in his or her country rather than the US. Now, my husband would have said “No, we won’t make enough money there.” However, he would have been calm and respectful. If your partner gets irritable, angry, or acts completely shocked just because you brought this up, you might have a problem.
  2. Insist on getting married in his or her country too, particularly in a place of religious worship with your partner’s family in attendance. It may not be totally necessary if you know you’ll live here–that’s okay. Just ask to see how your partner reacts. But again, if your partner gets really freaked out about this suggestion, that’s a sign of a problem.
  3. Ask your partner for help in ways he or she can help you and see how he or she responds. If you have a fiance in Russia or China, for example, and you know she has NO money, ask her to send you photographs of places from her childhood–her school, her family, her pets, and so on. Ask her if she could send you a letter once a week in the mail because you miss her when you can’t call. If you get tons of excuses and no solutions every time you ask her to do something small and simple, you have a fiance who doesn’t love you enough to even mail a letter. Lose this person no doubt.

These tests will not definitely show you anything, but they may clue you into suspicious behavior and clue you in on the need to think further about possible issues. Also note: Your fiance may just be a less-than-desirable partner, and not necessarily a scammer. ALSO, there are many partners who scam people into marriage for reasons other than a greencard! Bottom line: Don’t marry a person you aren’t fulfilled with–marriage is hard enough even when you find the “perfect” partner. The challenges of intercultural marriage will cause a weak partnership to crumble. The partnership can only be strong if both people are reasonably respectful, kind, and healthy-minded.

How Long Until My Spouse Can LEAVE the US??

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

When my husband and I processed his permanent residency documents, we had to wait over two years before he had his greencard–and we were afraid to travel until then. Please note: I am NOT an attorney, and this post is NOT legal advice! It has been several years since we processed our documents, so laws and processes may have changed. Check the USCIS website or with an attorney for the most current information.

For the spouses of US citizens in the USA who have filed paperwork, it can take a long time before the spouse can safely leave and return to the US depending on the status and visa of the foreign spouse.  If you have filed your paperwork with USCIS, try calling their hotline at 1-800-870-3676 to see what the estimated wait time will be. (For information on various types of cases, browse immigration discussion boards on the sites of law firms or ask an immigration attorney online–but remember the information posted often comes from members of the public, only sometimes from attorneys. )

My husband had overstayed his B-2 visa when we were married. Therefore while his documents were processing, had he left the US without permission from USCIS, he would have been barred from re-entering the country. At that time, we could have used Advanced Parole to get permission to travel while his documents were processing–however, we heard of families how had trouble re-entering even WITH Advanced Parole. For us, it was a very easy decision to stay in the US until my husband had his greencard in hand.

USCIS 1-800 Telephone Number–Good to Know!

When you have questions about a visa situation, you can always call United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Their National Customer Service Center is at (800) 375-5283.

They may ask for your A# (or Alien #). (You can find this on the I-94 record that you receive when entering the United States. If you entered illegally, you will not have this record, since it is officially given at the point of entry.)

Calling is a little intimidating, but they have given me helpful information many times. Before September 11, 2001, it was NOT helpful to call. But after, they became much more helpful and efficient.

We got a Marriage License…Now What?

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Now the fun begins! First, I am NOT an attorney, only the spouse of a foreigner. I can NOT give legal advice–only share with you my own experience. We did the immigration process several years ago, so you must double check all of the information below with USCIS to be sure it is current. At least these links give you a place to start! Here is the process we followed for legal immigration and work purposes:

  1. Check out the process for filing your paperwork. For some couples, it may be easier to get married outside of the US. For others, leaving the US could create serious problems until the foreign partner’s status changes.  How do you check? Start with immigration discussion boards to get advice from people who had a similar situation to yours. Or ask an online immigration lawyer to be sure you are getting accurate advice.
  2. Check scenarios that could prevent your spouse from getting a greencard. If he or she is under deportation or entered the US illegally, marrying a US citizen will not guarantee that he or she gets a greencard.
  3. If the foreign spouse overstayed a visa but entered the US legally, realize that you may have to avoid travel outside of the US for months or even years. We had this situation and waited until the process was complete and my husband had a greencard before leaving the US.
  4. Assuming marriage in the US is the way to go, then get married!!! For us, this was the case. Couples can have a big wedding in a church or other location. Or you can get married by a Justice of the Peace. (We did both, but Justice of the Peace first to submit our paperwork quickly.) The courthouse or city clerk where you apply for your marriage certificate can tell you where to find the closest Justice of the Peace.
  5. Get copies of your marriage certificate. (TIP: Get 5 certified copies. I did it, and have needed them many times.)
  6. Prepare your paperwork for USCIS (U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services). There are many different immigration documents for various situations. To get information on your specific visa/greencard/immigration paperwork needs, I recommend this discussion board–see the section called Marriage-Based Greencards. There are three main situations–here are additional links:
    • You are in the US. Your fiance is in another country. You want him/her to come here so you can get married. Read about the forms you will need here.
    • You are in the US. Your spouse is in the US. You want to get married here. Read about forms you will need for USCIS here.
    • You and your spouse have already gotten married (or plan to) in a foreign country. Read more here (TIP: This one can cause problems if you need to come back to the US quickly because your spouse will need to wait in that country for paperwork before coming to the US–unless he/she already has a visa.)
  7. Shortly after you submit your paperwork for immigration, USCIS will send your new spouse an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document). With this, he or she can legally work!
  8. Once your spouse has the EAD card, he or she can apply for a social security number. Here is the link to the form, instructions, and addresses of local social security offices. (TIP: Your spouse should apply for a social security card as soon as possible, as a new employer cannot hire a person without one.)
  9. Before filling out any paperwork, call the USCIS to be absolutely sure that you have the right forms and that they have not expired!! Sometimes forms are available on the web, but they have expired–so call and ask before you take the trouble of filling out the forms. (Here is the 1800 number to USCIS.)

Immigration Tips Couples Need To Know

Please Note: I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Do not take this post as legal advice, as each case is unique. This post is a story about my experience with my spouse during the process of getting my husband’s marriage-based greencard in the US.

Please note: The information below applies only to my own experience that took place before 9/11/2001, so many things may have changed. Any little detail can completely change a case, so check with an attorney or the USCIS to verify how your case should be handled. You will need to check the new processes, forms, and guidelines as they pertain to your and your spouse’s status and visa–each situation is different. There are several sticky situations in the immigration process, plus a few details that KEPT confusing me during the early stages of the process. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

1) The spouse of a US citizen can apply for permanent residency in the US based on marriage to a US citizen. (The USCIS phrases this as applying for permanent residency through a “family member.”) When we were married, this was the rule: once the foreign spouse applies for residency, his/her status becomes “between statuses”–meaning not legal or illegal. In most situations, the alien spouse will be given permanent residency. If your spouse committed a crime in the US or entered the US illegally, there may be difficulties getting permanent residency–consult an immigration attorney. (If he/she entered legally but overstayed a visa, that is not generally a problem for changing status but can be an issue if he or she leaves the country before the status change is complete–but all situations differ slightly so ask a lawyer or USCIS if you are worried. Also see #3 about travel.)

2) In the permanent residency application process, some relatives such as brothers and sisters are placed on a waiting list and may wait a long time before their application is considered. This is not true for spouses. However, spouses will wait between the time they submit paperwork and the approval of the paperwork to get an interview–this is just processing time. (Relatives like brothers and sisters have the waiting list time + processing time).

3) After getting married and submitting paperwork, YOUR SPOUSE MUST BE VERY CAREFUL IF HE/SHE WANTS TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES–until receiving the greencard. When we processed our documents, after submitting the I-485 and I-130 paperwork, my spouse had NO STATUS until the process was complete–at that time, he was granted permanent resident status. To go outside the US and re-enter, he needed Advanced Parole (a piece of paper that gives official permission to travel from USCIS). Read about it on the USCIS website, but note the section called Caution. For a person who overstayed his or her visa, and applied for permanent residency, many people say it is best not to travel even WITH Advanced Parole. People who overstay visas and leave the US without official permission (given through Advanced Parole) are barred from re-entering the country for 3 or more years. If your spouse overstayed a visa, has Advanced Parole, and must travel, talk to an immigration attorney and USCIS first to be sure it’s okay.

4) You will hear repeatedly that a fiance “can NOT come to the US on any visa except a fiance visa to get married.” A fiance cannot travel on a student visa, travel visa, and so on IN ORDER to get married. However, in our case, my husband came on a B1 or B2 visa and DECIDED to get married while here; this was different from coming IN ORDER to get married. (My husband didn’t come here to get married to me, as we didn’t know each other prior to his arrival here.) It is possible that this rule could change over the years, so double check with USCIS or immigration boards.

5) Important documents to SAVE:

  • The I-94 Arrival/Departure record–a record that is received when a person enters the US. (My husband has needed this thing many times over the last 10 years.) This also has the Alien #–the foreign spouse will use it many times.
  • The receipt INS gives you that they received your documentation–ours was yellow, I’m not sure how you can recognize it. But KEEP it. It will give you a sense of peace while you are waiting for the interview.
  • Copies of everything you submit to the INS, plus copies of anything they give you just in case they are lost (receipt for I-485/I-130 paperwork, EAD card, passport stamp after your interview, and so on.

6) If you and your spouse are already in the US, the immigration process is sometimes faster and easier if you marry in the US, rather than going to a different country. But once you start the process here, as mentioned, leaving can be an issue until the process is complete, so check your options carefully. In the past, this was the only option if your spouse has overstayed a visa (see #3).  Of course, if there are deportation proceedings against your fiance or spouse, consult an immigration attorney before taking any steps. Also, if your spouse entered the US illegally, you could have issues–so speak with an attorney before getting married. (Finally note that for some couples, getting married in the US doesn’t make sense–especially for couples who plan to travel or stay in a foreign country soon after marriage. Once you are married in the US, it can be tricky to travel until the greencard is in hand.)

7) Many people often give completely INCORRECT immigration advice–so don’t listen to just anyone. Look for information on legal websites the USCIS site, and verify any critical information about your case with an attorney. The worst advice we got was that my husband and I should leave the US and go to his country to get married–due to his visa situation, this was completely INCORRECT. My husband’s visa had expired. Had he left the US on an expired visa, it would have taken months or years to straighten out the problems it caused! Plus we would have been separated (me in the US, he in his country) while USCIS sorted it all out.