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Uniting a Canadian/American couple
September 6, 2010 9:26 PM   Subscribe

What immigration/visa options are there for an American girlfriend and Canadian boyfriend?

I'll preface this saying I know very little about immigration in general. Here are some of the facts about each of us.

Me: American, current college student (only associate's degree so far), unemployed, living in New Jersey. Very close to family, physically and emotionally, and would like to continue living in the area.

Him: Canadian, some college education but didn't complete a degree and is not currently enrolled. Employed in the Vancouver area. Not as close to family, more willing to relocate. Probably lurking this question. (Hi!)

Neither of us have a lot of money, and unfortunately I hear that immigrating to Canada is a lot easier than trying to have him come here. However, this doesn't have to be a permanent situation- I'm more interested in pushing a long-distance relationship into a 'hey, we should probably live together for a while before anyone does anything irreversible or permanent' type deal.

What kind of options are out there for us?
posted by rachaelfaith to Law & Government (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he's planning on finishing college, he may try applying to whatever schools are in your vicinity and getting a student visa for that time. You'd have to start thinking about what he's going to do after he graduates pretty far in advance of that happening, but a student visa would get him here for a while.
posted by brainmouse at 9:51 PM on September 6, 2010


I understand your concerns. I'm an American guy from Ohio who met a Canadian girl from Vancouver. We met (online) while she was finishing up school and I was in grad school.

Our solution was, once I finished school, I found a job in the Seattle area so we could at least be in a more doable long-distance relationship (2-3 hour drive 1-2 times a month is a LOT better than spending a whole day flying internationally every 3 months).

However, if you don't want to move cross-country (which I understand since I'm pretty close to my family too and miss Ohio often) I would lean towards brainmouse's suggestion of him getting a student visa since that's probably the easiest way for him to get in the country. Canada is easier to emigrate to, but you need to be finished with school and get your skilled worker score.

Perhaps as a compromise he could move to Toronto and you could move to Buffalo or Rochester (and still be in the same timezone as your family at least) and do the LDR thing that way. According to google, it's only a 2 hour drive from Toronto to Buffalo and there's a lot of good SUNY schools in the area.

Finally, you must check out visa-journey. I've found it to be an invaluable source of information regarding all things immigration. The forums are filled with tons of people in very similar situations and they all have great advice. Oh, and if you find yourselves getting more serious and he wants to immigrate to the USA, visajourney has excellent sample forms for the various visas. (We did the K-1 fiance visa route)

memail me if you would like more information.
posted by johnstein at 11:42 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Canada has a work-program for immigrating, but you'd need to finish college (for starters). Canada's labor demand right now is very much for skilled labor. That said, when I lived near Seattle it wasn't all that uncommon for Americans to either have immigrated to Canada or to be in the process of doing so.
posted by bardic at 12:17 AM on September 7, 2010


Those suggesting the boyfriend go the student route need to read up on Dual Intent law.

Simply put -- one cannot enter the United States under a student visa with the intent of immigrating to the U.S. at a later date. In other words, if the boyfriend came to the States as a student, married the OP, and then applied for immigration, that would be illegal under U.S. law.

I'm not sure how this works in practice. But this doesn't sound like a promising case. Why would a resident of Vancouver suddenly up and apply to a college in New Jersey where his girlfriend just happens to live? That scenario has dual intent written all over it.

I can bottom-line this for you -- unless you plan to get married soon, any talk of immigration is a non-starter. Getting engaged will allow you to begin the long and painful process of applying for a K-1 fiance visa if your boyfriend wants to come to the States. If you actually get married, applying to become a Permanent Resident of Canada should not be too difficult.

For U.S. visas you had to be in a relationship for 2+ years to do anything last time I looked into this sort of thing. I'm not sure if there are any requirements along those same lines in Canada.
posted by hiteleven at 12:43 AM on September 7, 2010


Reading over my post I realize it sounds rather harsh. I just wanted to spell things out clearly because the U.S. does not look kindly upon folks who violate its immigration laws.

johnstein has some good practical suggestions for what to do pre-immigration (but ignore the stuff about the student visa, as I indicated). But there is a 2+ year minimum to get the K-1...I verified this in the meantime. I don't believe Canada has any such minimum for marriage-related Family Class visas...that's obviously a big step, though.
posted by hiteleven at 1:07 AM on September 7, 2010


johnstein's idea of moving closer to each other but still in our respective countries is probably a good option, assuming he can get a job in a new area.

hiteleven, your first post was a little rough to hear but I know the subject of immigration is not an easy one to go headlong into and I was fairly prepared. I've never heard of dual intent, and I'd like to read more about it.

Thanks to all so far, looking forward to more ideas and different perspectives.
posted by rachaelfaith at 1:38 AM on September 7, 2010


Simply put -- one cannot enter the United States under a student visa with the intent of immigrating to the U.S. at a later date. In other words, if the boyfriend came to the States as a student, married the OP, and then applied for immigration, that would be illegal under U.S. law.

In the strictest sense of the law, yes, partially (except the STEM students for which it isn't true any more). However, even the heartless bastards at ICE know that stuff happens and young people meet and fall in love. That's why INS and their legacy organizations have little things called adjustment and change of status. Even so, in this case, her BF's intent for being in the country would be to study, not to immigrate. If, at a later date, they decide to change this intent and take their relationship to another level, then they may change his status to that of an immigrant classification. Dating is not a prohibited activity for nonimmigrant students nor does having a girlfriend change his nonimmigrant intent.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:37 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're not a citizen and not married to a citizen, the government (any government) wants a reason for you to be in their country and wants to know when you'll be leaving.

Reasons they accept include variations on: studying, working and vacationing.

It's easy to get in as a vacationer, but you're not allowed to work or study and you can't stay long (six months out of a year in Canada, e.g.).

It's harder to get in as a student, but you're still not allowed to work full time, and you have to actually be a student.

It's hardest to get in as a worker because you need to have the job already, and, well, getting jobs in one's OWN country is hard enough these days.

If you want to date someone in another country, you have to do it as either a vacationer, a student or a worker and follow the rules for that. There's no "dating" visa, sadly.

It's a difficult thing you want to do. Probably the easiest thing is for you guys to alternate "vacations" on either side of the border until you are sure about your relationship, and then get married sooner rather than later so the permanent residency can be filed in whichever country you decide to settle in.

--

I'm a US citizen who married a Canadian and then vacationed in Canada with her according to the rules while my permanent residency stuff came through. Then it was legal for me to be in Canada full time with no end date. Five years later I was able to file for Canadian citizenship, which I received last year and am now a dual citizen.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:16 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


For U.S. visas you had to be in a relationship for 2+ years to do anything last time I looked into this sort of thing.

I'm not sure what you mean here.

If you mean that you have to have somethin' goin' on for two years before you can apply for a K1, that's just not so. I filed a K1 for biscotti something like 18 months after we met.

If you mean that you have to be in a relationship for 2 years to file on the basis of that relationship, that's also false -- the US has marriage and fiancee visas, and that's it. It does not have a long-term partner visa.

About the only thing I can think of with a two-year requirement is that unless you've been married for two years already, your first green card is conditional and lasts for two years.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:24 AM on September 7, 2010


Let me blunt here: immigration laws are very complex, especially so in the United States.

You really, really, really need to retain the services of an immigration lawyer in order to get any sort of accurate answer to your question.
posted by dfriedman at 6:02 AM on September 7, 2010


For U.S. visas you had to be in a relationship for 2+ years to do anything last time I looked into this sort of thing.

You really, really, really need to retain the services of an immigration lawyer in order to get any sort of accurate answer to your question.


Both of these things are untrue. It is possible and common for people to navigate the immigration process without a lawyer, especially if they do the work to become thoroughly educated about the system and have an uncomplicated case.

If you're willing to get married, K1 is a good option for bringing your boy the US.

Moving closer together sounds like a pretty good plan, too.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:29 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me: American, current college student (only associate's degree so far), unemployed, living in New Jersey. Very close to family, physically and emotionally, and would like to continue living in the area.

Since you are young, I'm assuming you've never lived away from your family. As someone who has lived in your area for a long time, and who teaches students just like you, I really strongly suggest you see your situation as an opportunity to move beyond your comfort zone and experience another part of the country, or even the two of you make the move to a third country on some kind of work or study program.

The time to experiment and take chances is now. Your family will always be there. The Northwest is a fabulous part of the country and wholly unlike Central New Jersey. Moving there might not get you into Canada, but the commute from Washington state into BC and back is a whole lot less cumbersome than you might think. From there, you and your boyfriend might figure out a way to be closer together.

It is very empowering to be on your own. Before you make long-term immigration-related plans, I would suggest moving and living on your own to see if you change.
posted by vincele at 6:50 AM on September 7, 2010


If you mean that you have to have somethin' goin' on for two years before you can apply for a K1, that's just not so. I filed a K1 for biscotti something like 18 months after we met.

If you mean that you have to be in a relationship for 2 years to file on the basis of that relationship, that's also false -- the US has marriage and fiancee visas, and that's it. It does not have a long-term partner visa.


Here's my error -- the couple must have meet within the two years prior to filling out the K-1 application. A subtle but crucial distinction.

However, none of you have yet talked about the minimum income requirements required for a K-1 filer. As the OP is unemployed she cannot support her fiance financially, as is required. I believe you can get a sponsor to vouch for you, but that's something to look into.

10th Reg., for every kind ICE/INS agent out there, I'm willing to bet that there are four or five that are strict rule-enforcers. A foreigner can face a five year insta-ban from entering the U.S. if a border guard feels something is fishy. This ruling cannot be appealed, and the decision is solely at the discretion of the individual who renders it. Let's not paint this thing is bright colours is what I'm saying.
posted by hiteleven at 7:55 AM on September 7, 2010


10th Reg., even if an ICE official does overlook the obvious dual intent issue for the boyfriend with regards to the change of status, the boyfriend would still have to remain a self-supporting student throughout the 1+ year period during which the paperwork was being processed. That means paying for tuition, working at most at some campus job (which are get to get, and largely part-time), and staying in the country for the duration -- a prospect that would almost certainly cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Also, read this thread on the risks of even visiting an American SO from abroad.
posted by hiteleven at 8:34 AM on September 7, 2010


Okay, I'm just poking my feelers around here- I understand that if I want to seriously look into our options I should speak to a lawyer, but for now asking around Metafilter and doing some research online is sufficient for my curiosity.

Vincele, I've lived on my own since I was 17, I'm just terribly close to my family. Right now, the furthest I'm considering going is upstate New York or VT/NH. In the back of my mind, I'm kinda-sorta considering colleges in his neck of the woods, but I don't know if I'd go through with it.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:57 AM on September 7, 2010


I think this is a sad case of all or nothing. Either you don't get to be together for a long time or you get married.
posted by meepmeow at 9:01 AM on September 7, 2010


hiteleven, thank you for correcting your post above regarding the requirement of meeting your SO in person within the past 2 years. As several here have said, immigration via K-1 visa isn't all that scary so long as you and your SO have a clean record and no complicating factors (previous marriages, kids, overstayed visas).

meepmeow. I don't think it's all or nothing. I was in the same situation 6 years ago. My SO and I found a way to move closer together (though still internationally) and we had a relatively "normal" LDR for 2 years after that before starting the K-1 visa process. Definitely not all or nothing.

RachaelFaith, several here have mentioned the importance of 'dual-intent'. I didn't mention it because it didn't sound like you were considering marriage. In fact, (although many don't consider it permanent) I assumed when you said you didn't want to do anything permanent, you meant you didn't even want to go down the marriage visa route until you'd been together longer. But in case you were thinking of sneaking the marriage in, listen to the warnings above and don't do it.

One thing you will need to consider when you visit each other if you do move closer together is, especially for him, always make sure you have some 'proof' that you are going to return to your country after the trip. This could be a return ticket, proof of employment or school enorollment, etc. Anything to give the border guard a warm-fuzzy that you don't have intent of staying illegally and will definitely return home. Me and my SO got warned about this several times and got chewed out once when I drove her to the US but said she would buy a return ticket there. He said we should have gotten it before and implied we were lucky he let us through that time.

Hiteleven is mostly correct that the border guards can pretty much do whatever they want, but that shouldn't affect your decision to try to get closer. They have to screen thousands of people every week. As long as you haven't done anything to raise their suspicions, be wary but not afraid. Read up stories on visajourney for some extra perspective.

International relationships aren't simple, and they often feel hopeless and impossible (especially when you are 2500 miles apart), but like anything in life, if you approach it with a level head, it's navigable. I know 3 others here at work who have done the K-1 visa. 1 used a lawyer, the other 3 of us did a lot of reading and did it ourselves. So, although you do need to be careful and go into this with both eyes open (and definitely take it all very seriously) there's no reason to feel negative until given a reason to.

But as I said above, I don't think you are looking for legal immigration advice, just some ideas to freaking get closer to him so you can see if you want to take the next [lovely complicated legal] step. Good luck.
posted by johnstein at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2010


oh yea, and if you do go down the immigration route and ever feel like you don't know what you are doing, definitely spend a few hundred bucks to talk to an immigration lawyer. I don't want to imply the visa stuff is a walk in the park and none of my advice above is intended to be legal advice, but since I've been in nearly your exact situation I wanted to let you know what worked for me and what sorts of issues I came across that you may want to consider.
posted by johnstein at 10:04 AM on September 7, 2010


10th Reg., for every kind ICE/INS agent out there, I'm willing to bet that there are four or five that are strict rule-enforcers. A foreigner can face a five year insta-ban from entering the U.S. if a border guard feels something is fishy. This ruling cannot be appealed, and the decision is solely at the discretion of the individual who renders it. Let's not paint this thing is bright colours is what I'm saying.

Um, no. A ban on admission would require proof of fraud (not conspiracy to comit fraud), material aid to a terrorist or criminal organization, or unlawful presence in the US. This would also take a review process before an immigration judge and could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The only officers of the US government that don't have administrative review of their decisions are Consular Officers on the visa line at a Consulate, the very people that Canadians are exempt from having to see. Simple dual intent does not meet any of the criteria that constitute banable offenses, even if it did, what dual intent does he have at this time?

even if an ICE official does overlook the obvious dual intent issue for the boyfriend with regards to the change of status

Again what dual intent? His intent is to study as a nonimmigrant, he also happens to have a girlfriend (note: NOT a fiancee) that he may or may not decide to get more permanent with after trying being closer for a while. There is no dual intent at this time, there will be no dual intent at the time of entry, therefore there is no fraud. Later, should they decide to get more serious, he may file for a change of status and, as he would then be eligible for a change of status. At that point, and only at that point his F-1 nonimmigrant status would be null and void as he was demonstrating an immigrant intent and that is why his SEVIS record would terminate for one of two reasons as soon as USCIS made their decision on his application, those reasons being "change of status approved" or "change of status denied".

the boyfriend would still have to remain a self-supporting student throughout the 1+ year period during which the paperwork was being processed

What paperwork? He would be coming to be a student. He has to show means of support for one year, period, and only that if the CBP officer is a jerk in the 45 seconds he has to review his papers at the border crossing (because remember, as a Canadian, he does not have to go to a Consulate). Tuition varies from school to school and many are very cheap. He can go to a community college and live in a cheap apartment, that is perfectly acceptable and common.

Look, what I am talking about is not a lie, deception, or even an obfuscation. He can come here to be a student, see if it works out with her, and then apply for permanent residence without fear of the Man.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:26 AM on September 7, 2010


I was in exactly the same position two years ago and managed to make it work. We didn't use an immigration lawyer, and I doubt it would have helped.

memail me if you'd like the details of what we did.

Also, check out http://www.roadtocanada.com.
posted by sonofdust at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2010


Um, no. A ban on admission would require proof of fraud (not conspiracy to comit fraud), material aid to a terrorist or criminal organization, or unlawful presence in the US. This would also take a review process before an immigration judge and could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. The only officers of the US government that don't have administrative review of their decisions are Consular Officers on the visa line at a Consulate, the very people that Canadians are exempt from having to see. Simple dual intent does not meet any of the criteria that constitute banable offenses, even if it did, what dual intent does he have at this time?

I think you're wrong about what can get someone banned. If a border officer feels a Canadian trying to enter the US demonstrates some intent to immigrate, he can allow the Canadian to withdraw his application or he can have the Canadian removed. The latter can incur a ban. No proof of fraud or terrorist activity or whatever is required, just lack of sufficient ties to Canada that demonstrate an intention to return home. Although there are rules for this, in my experience the border officer has a lot of leeway in these situations.

For example, a friend of mine tried to enter the US from Canada as a tourist with the intention of marrying his fiancee and was (rightfully) accused of immigration intent and turned away at the border. The guard was a nice guy and didn't put him through official denial and a ban. The guard said he could have done, and warned my friend to be more careful in the future. This could just be bluster, but based on my understanding it really is how that works.

Some bans can be appealed, but it's a real pain in the ass and requires a hardship statement from the US Citizen, etc.

I don't know a lot about ban waivers. I just wanted to point out that the above advice may be wrong.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2010


the couple must have meet within the two years prior to filling out the K-1 application.

To be absolutely clear this has nothing to do with the length of the relationship: it does not mean "first met" with in two years. It means: you have met in person, at least once, in the last two years, i.e. been physically present in the same room together. Yes they are strict about this, and you have to be able to prove this, but the USCIS, (United States Citizen and Immigration Service) is fully aware that people do things like meet on the Internet and doesn't at all mind unless they have never actually met up. Really this provision is directed against mail order brides and people marrying for green cards and shouldn't be a concern for you.

On minimum income requirements:

As part of the immigration process you will be required to sign an affidavit of support stating that you will be in a position to support your partner financially for the next five years without the aid of the government. What this means in practice is that you have to demonstrate that your income is equivalent to 125%, or greater, of the federal poverty level. Either through a letter from your current employer or by submitting your tax returns if you are self-employed. If you are unable to do so (which it seems likely you are not) you have two options: either demonstrate that you have assets equal to five times the difference, or find a co-sponsor, normally a relative, with the right income/asset combination who is willing to co-sign the affidavit with you (thus rendering them liable to support that person for the next five years, in theory at least).

(Note, even with assets its still an income centered process. My now wife and I went through some very similar to your situation — we had decided we wanted to live together before marriage, so she moved to the UK to be with me, on a student visa (no problems getting it, btw) so she had no income for the two years we were together there, she did, however, have more than sufficient assets to cover it .Even so we still got a letter a few weeks before my final interview (for adjustment of status) saying: insufficient income, no go, despite have submitted plenty of proof that she had the assets. Fortunately the decision lies with the immigration officer who conducts the interview, not with the person sending out random letters, and she took a brief glance at the forms, and huge pile of evidence, when we brought this up, and said 'no problem', and everything went without a hitch).

As I said above we used a student visa to be able to spend time living together before we considered marriage. You should note that my wife was also genuinely coming to study, it wasn't just a means of convenience. It probably helped that my wife came to the UK while we ended up in the US, but I wouldn't let the fact that it will be the other way round put you off considering this a way of being able to live together for a while as long as he is also actually intending to study. What you shouldn't do is consider this as a route to having him permanently live in the US, only a marriage based route will do this (in practice a K1 visa is the mostly likely route for you). You may find that he has to return to Canada , while you apply for a K1 visa, after his student visa runs out.

Immigrating to the US is a long and arduous process but don't let it stop you if you decide you do want to be together permanently (which means getting married). In many ways (apart from you being unemployed) yours is a best case scenario: a childless couple where the partner moving to the US is from an English speaking country in the developed world. Lots of other people have been through this and without having to hire a lawyer. Visajourney is a really fantastic resort for going the marriage route, down to detailed step by step instructions, and word for word examples of what to write ,as well as plenty of helpful and experienced people in the forums. You should start your research by looking at this page on immigration from Canada, then look at the general stuff they have in their wiki.
posted by tallus at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2010


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