Please help me marry my Filipina fiancée.
February 20, 2005 10:33 PM   Subscribe

My fiancée is Filipina, I'm an American citizen. Currently we're working on entry visas and need some advice.

I originally floated this question back in August, but was vague and called her a 'friend' rather than 'girlfriend'. I did get a couple of good answers — and am grateful — but now we're far more seriou, in the thick of a visa application process, and need more help.

We've discussed eventual emigration and have decided that it would be best for her to visit the US on a tourist visa (B2) before we make our engagement public. We want her to meet my family, maybe experience a touch of Minnesota winter, and ensure that we can make a life together with such great separation from her family.

Unfortunately, B2 applicants need to prove an intent to return to their country of origin. My fiancée has emigration plans, but just not the immediate intent required by the other classifications applicable to our situation, the K3 and K1 visas. The K3 is for the spouse of an American citizen and the K1 is for the fiance(e) of an American citizen. The K1 would seem to work, but you have to marry within 90 days of entering the US; we're not quite that far along and it would deprive her family of attending their daughter's wedding. A K1 would mean a wedding in the Philippines but she'd still be emigrating to the US sight-unseen.

We've been thinking of writing a letter for my fiancée to present to the consular official explaining our intentions and wishes, counting on absolute honesty and good intentions to carry us through, but I'm not so sure that's the best course.

Do any Mefites have relevant experience or any pointers towards help?
posted by nathan_teske to Law & Government (18 answers total)
 
I was in a similar situation. There are some other, shall we say, 'frowned upon' methods you might consider. Email is in my profile if you would like additional information.

For what it's worth, I would suggest you do not go with the letter / absolute honesty / good intentions route. This is a bureaucracy you're dealing with, and they make their decisions by following a very strong set of rules and regulations.

If you can afford it, an immigration lawyer might also be of service to you.
posted by cyniczny at 11:03 PM on February 20, 2005


nathan: why not have her come up for a visit, then the two of you could go down to the philipines and get married.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 AM on February 21, 2005


Here's another idea then: she visits, you guys go to Phillipines, get married, come back to the US, and get married again, but this time for your American folks!

Problem solved at twice the fun.
posted by the cydonian at 2:34 AM on February 21, 2005


Two friends of mine have been in this position, albeit slightly different countries (ie: US->AU) and the best advice I can offer is this:

Slow Down.

Get her over to the states on the tourist Visa first, see if she likes the country and that you two will be able to live together. Then go home with her, meet her family and talk it over with her family.

Then, once you're both ABSOLUTELY SURE, get married and get her over here. Yeah, it'll cost you more in air fares in the end, and she won't be there as quickly as you want, but you'll be better off for taking the time to ensure that you two can both live together.
posted by cheaily at 3:42 AM on February 21, 2005


There's some good advice up there. The State Dept. does take the "intention to return" seriously. If your lady comes on a tourist visa, then you get married here and try to get her status changed, it could be difficult.

The bureaucracy is not so rule-bound as cynizny seems to think. That's not usually a good thing. My experience (with "our" embassy in Beijing) is that State employees are highly capricious when handing out visas. The "proof" of intention to return is impossible. If they have reached their quota for the day, or they don't like the cut of the applicant's jib, or whatever, they will say the proof is not met, and won't issue the visa. The State Dept. is supposedly Constitutionally independent of Congress, so they can't be influenced to change their decisions. In reality, this means you have to be connected to get them to change. If your senator calls them up and makes noise, you will win. If your senator doesn't know who the hell you are, tough luck. You won't get to make your case to him or her, and they won't do anything beyond making a token inquiry to State. State has to reply to the inquiry, but there's no muscle to make them do anything beyond citing a rule for their decision.

Oh, and being a U.S. citizen carries zero clout with embassy officials. They do not see their mission as service to us.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:00 AM on February 21, 2005


Also, my wife tells me that they now issue visitor visas good for a year (up from six months). If that can apply to your situation, it makes delmoi's idea a very good solution.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:05 AM on February 21, 2005


I imported a lovely Canadian lass. The process is supposedly the same, but I'm sure that your girlfriend will face more scrutiny as the Philippines do tend to export mail-order brides and Canada, well, less so.

I assume you're talking about a normal-length vacation of maybe two weeks? Not having her come over for three or six months?

First, if you haven't made your engagement public, then as far as the public is concerned, it hasn't happened. Fiancee is not a legal status, so both of you are perfectly accurate to refer to each other as less-immigrationally-challenged boyfriend / girlfriend, especially if you haven't actually given her a ring yet. If asked about marriage, you can honestly say that you've discussed it as a possibility for the future but don't have any immediate plans to do so -- I gather from the way you're talking that you've discussed marriage, but that if she can't stand the US then things might be off, neh? She does not have immigration plans or immigration intent -- you've merely discussed the possibility of one of your emigrating to joing the other at some -- vague, undetermined -- point in the future, but this is JUST A VISIT.

Have her apply for the normal tourist visa then. The important thing is to have as much evidence of intent-to-return as possible. Letters from employers stating that she's due back to work on such-and-such a date, any property she might own over there, and so on. She might still get denied, in which case she gets denied.

K1/K3: K1 is generally easier and cheaper to deal with than a K3 (there's no initial spouse-visa to complicate things). I don't know your and your beloved, but what I'd suggest is a K1 with caveats:

(1) Get the K1, get her over. Then you have 90 days, no harm no foul no marriage at all, if she really can't stand being in the US.
(2) Before the 90 days are up, get a civil marriage at the local courthouse or JP or however they do that in MN, or whereever you might want to do that (vegasvegasvegas).
(3) Apply for AOS, EAD, and AP. The AP will allow her to leave the US and come back. Go to the Philippines and have a church wedding. Assuming she's Catholic, what you'd do might vary between a full-blown formal wedding as a convalidation, or a blessing of a civil marriage, which is similar but the vows are reworked to reflect the fact that you're already legally hitched. I am not a Catholic, nor do I play one on tv, but those are the standard things bandied about by people on a.v.u.m-b who seem to know what they're talking about.

(4) Read alt.visa.us.marriage-based. There's lots of wisdom floating around there, legal and otherwise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2005


i don't know the background here, and my experience is with the uk and chile rather than the states, but you might also look at whether she can get a visa on her own merit. that has worked for us both ways - we are unmarried, but my partner has lived in the uk with me for several years and i now have permanent residency in chile. in both cases we ended up with residency on the basis of getting jobs/being educated/useful to the economy rather than being married.

for us at least it is also nice to know that we are together because we want to be, rather than because the government would make our lives difficult otherwise - there is no "entrapment". but then that is also largely why we are not married, so this may not apply in your case.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:10 AM on February 21, 2005


you might also look at whether she can get a visa on her own merit

That's going to be difficult unless she's highly skilled and/or educated and/or rich, or works for a multinational and can be transferred to the US. If she could do an H1B, fine, but that's not an immigrant visa and they'd still need to go through a whole bunch of rigamarole once she's here.

there is no "entrapment"

There's no real "entrapment" in the US either. Once you get your 10-year green card, it's yours irrespective of your continued marriage.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 AM on February 21, 2005


alt.visa.us.marriage-based

That rare gem, a truly useful and informative newsgroup. All I can add is that thoroghly researching the immigration process and your own options up front, knowing the ropes in advance, is both a stress reducer and potentially a huge time and hassle saver. Much of the US immigration process is non-intuitive and common sense cannot be assumed to apply.
posted by normy at 11:06 AM on February 21, 2005


Yup. Though even then you'll probably find yourself running back to the NG to ask whether you should put NONE or N/A in a given field, since sometimes BCIS (supposedly) cares about the difference.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2005


...by the way, just by way of example, I arrived in the US on a K1 visa in December 1999. I finally received confirmation of my permanent residency last week. Mine was a completely uncomplicated, correctly completed and and by-the-book application. Don't expect it to be a straightforward or rapid process.
posted by normy at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2005


Have you considered separating the legal marriage ceremony from the festivities associated with it? It makes things much easier.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2005


normy: geez, that's a long time. We filed for AOS in 10/02, and she got her green card in 8/04 -- and that was with a time-consuming fuckup on their part that we dealt with through our Representative's office.* What office did you go through?

It is a long and fussy process, but none of it is terribly difficult. Very do-able by the average joe or jane.

And once she's here, being AOS-pending with an EAD and AP is basically the same as having a green card except that your citizenship clock isn't running, if you care about that.

*The pisser with us was that we adjusted status only a few months after the Dallas office stopped doing walk-in, SAME DAY right then and there AOS.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2005


First I want to thank everyone for the very thorough answers - you're all invited to one of the eventual wedding receptions, we'll make them meetups with a cash bar and all the pancakes you can eat. The replies in this thread have given me support and insight that is much appreciated.

Just to clarify, it is wholly our intent to wait on 'official' engagement until she visits for 2-3 weeks and can fully appreciate the impact of a move to the US on her life. Any international move move is taxing, especially when one is moving so far outside previous experience.

I think we'll be okay as far as intent to return goes. My fiancee has a four year fine arts degree; has a solid four year employment history at the same company (her employer is a division of my former employer; I outsourced my job to her and an office full of others); she has very close ties with her family; just made a major purchase (computer); and has significant savings at banks which only operate in the Philippines.

I know that's not a lot to go on, but it's a start.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:04 PM on February 21, 2005


I've gone through this process as well. A few quick pointers:

1) Don't try to find any loopholes. Going through *any* process with US Immigration is a long, tedious process that requires a lot of paperwork, and a lot of waiting. As a rule of thumb, If there is anything in your paperwork that can file a red-flag, it probably will. Even if it all works out in the end, the worst case scenario is you wait a little longer than you anticipated.

2) Your idea of writing a letter? Forget it. I don't want to sound mean, but to be honest, they don't care one bit. Unless they specifically ask you for something, they don't want to be bothered with it.

3) Make things a little easier on yourself. Don't think of your wedding in terms of a lavish ceremony. Think of it as being legally and lawfully wed to your SO. My suggestion? get a K1 visa. Go to a justice of the peace and get married. Then, immediately start your paperwork for your green card, and get your passport stamped as soon as possible in case she is planning on leaving the country at all.

Once your green card is approved, invite everyone over and have your big bash!

And I can't stress enough what others mentioned: try to get a good Immigration Attorney. Mine was a godsend and to this day still helps us with advice. If you live anywhere near Buffalo, send me a message and I'll refer ya!
posted by punkrockrat at 5:05 PM on February 21, 2005


try to get a good Immigration Attorney

I'm gonna disagree here.

Unless your Favorite Foreigner has a real problem -- a criminal record, or past troubles with BCIS / ICE / INS, all a lawyer is going to do for you is fill out forms for you. If you really hate filling out forms, to the tune of >$1000, go ahead.

If you get a lawyer, make real absolutely 5000% sure that it is an immigration lawyer and an immigration lawyer only. The newsgroup archive is full of tales of woe from people whose regular-old lawyer didn't know to include this with that, or who didn't send a check with the applications, etc.

For normal / unproblematic foreigners, there's a LOT of information out there. I recommend cruising the big websites. www.visajourney.com seems to have eaten the fabulous k1.exit.com -- look for the K1 FAQ. And, really and no-shit, hit the newsgroup. There are good people there with a huge amount of assembled wisdom, including a few immigration lawyers who chime in from time to time.

When you find a form weird or irritating, just hit the K1 FAQ, google the newsgroup archive, or ask people there live, and someone will set you straight and tell you what to write in this line or that line, and help you not to panic.

One thing: One stage in the K1 process is an interview at a US consulate or embassy in ForeignLand. The stringency of these can vary immensely. Montreal and Vancouver are both, from all reports, very pleasant to deal with, but Mumbai is reported to be a nest of vipers. Google for something like "k1 interview philippines" to get some sense of how the consulate(s) there work, or ask the newsgroup. I'd just tell you the results now but my DNS is being stoopid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on February 21, 2005


Ooof. I am from the Philippines and not too long ago (Oct-Nov), I applied for a tourist visa based purely on my own merits. I had assumed the process to be fairly straightforward, judging from sites I'd read online and advice I'd received from foreign friends. I filled out all the forms completely and submitted all the required supporting documents. When I got my passport back in the mail, visa denied, my first reaction was, "Wtf?"

The rejection letter had numerous grounds for rejection which I could not quite comprehend, the first being that my circumstances put me within high risk factors of breaching visa conditions. What did that even mean?

I was heartbroken and sought answers relentlessly and learned a lot after the fact.

The Philippines is not a travelling culture. The people who leave are those who have nothing to lose: the very rich and the very poor. The rich can come and go as they please because they can effortlessly secure such privileges. The poor will try any means without much care for legality, simply because they feel that any kind of life in any other place has to be better, and will do anything to get there and stay there. There is even a term for the latter: TNT (tago ng tago, loosely translated as "hide and hide") They are what gives bona fide tourists a bad name.

Other countries are apparently well aware of this TNT culture. I am told there are levels of judgement when it comes to these things, and the Philippines falls into one of the stricter levels where it is assumed from the outset that the applicant has every intention to breach visa conditions and is merely using the tourist visa as an excuse to set foot in that country and never leave! It is the applicant's obligation to convince the embassy beyond reasonable doubt that she can/will/should return shortly. The best ways to accomplish this are to:
a) prove to have much MORE than sufficient funds - this is very subjective, but considering how much the Philippine currency is undervalued, hundreds of thousands of pesos might seem like a lot but mightn't be enough
b) to have held these funds for at least three months, preferably much longer, and the account(s) must be actively moving
c) provide a letter from the employer granting a leave, stating the duration of the leave and an exact date of when she is expected back
d) provide a letter of invitation to visit from someone who is in the country you're visiting
e) provide evidence of strong family ties (I'm not sure how this is actually shown)
f) provide evidence of financial obligations (bills? debts?)
Oh, how naive I was! Knowing these things now, it seems I only provided the bare minimum, and it was far from being convincing enough. Like it or not, biases against the Philippines exist. Filipinos are widely seen as TNTs, mail-order brides, domestic helpers/maids, and potential terrorists. After 9/11, getting into the US is more difficult than ever for non-Americans in general. I hate that just by being from the wrong country, this is "the way things are" and what we have to live with.

Bottom line is, other countries are very strict when it comes to the Philippines.

With these caveats in mind, I hope you'll find it much easier to work with the system. It is a huge and difficult decision to emigrate anywhere, even moreso sight unseen. I applaud your intentions to have her visit your country first and get a feel of it before moving there. I'm afraid it's going to be an excruciatingly long road with lots of waiting and could possibly get quite painful especially for your girlfriend, but at least you have fair warning. Good luck, nathan_teske!
posted by Lush at 7:40 PM on February 21, 2005


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