INS vs True Love
August 24, 2012 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Immigration Calibration: if the love-of-his-life returns to the Phillipines, will he ever see her again? Or rather, give me a general sense of how easy it would be for her to get another tourist visa to US; get visa to travel here for wedding, live here after marriage.

A friend (US citizen, male) has fallen in love with a women from the Phillipenes. She is here on a tourist visa, applied for a student visa to do graduate work and got turned down by the INS (to his and her surprise). Now he is rushing into marriage. I know they need to talk to a real immigration lawyer but as a friend, I would like some sense of their options. He told me that if he lets her go back to the Phillipines it would be hard for her to get a tourist visa to come visit him and difficult (or at least extremely time consuming) to get her back to the States if they marry later. He also believes that if they marry before her visa expires they will be able to prevent her having to leave.

To be clear, this is not a green card marriage per se - this guy will go into the marriage with the intent of making life long commitment. However, the immigration stuff is vasty speeding up the decision making - which worries me since this is not someone who could easily walk away from a marriage if it doesn't work out. I am hoping for some sense of whether it is reasonable to advise him to slow down since slowing down means she has to return to the Phillipines (soon).
posted by metahawk to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL; TINLA. If she does leave the US, she could in theory come back on a fiancee visa for a wedding. He could also fly to the Philippines and they could get married there. But they really need to consult an attorney.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:36 PM on August 24, 2012

He needs to consult the boards at Visa Journey immediately.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know they need to talk to a real immigration lawyer but as a friend, I would like some sense of their options.

I'm an immigrant, I grew up in a community of immigrants, I've seen and heard about more immigrant marriages (sham or real) than I care to. Doing any of this without a competent lawyer is just straight-up foolish. Like, "deported forever" foolish if you screw it up badly enough. I also used to work with the USCIS at my old job (the agency which replaced the INS in 2003) and I do not suggest doing anything involving that agency without a sherpa.
posted by griphus at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I know they need to talk to a real immigration lawyer but as a friend, I would like some sense of their options.

As a friend, you should not be trying to source legal advice on one of the most complicated, arbitrary and arcane areas of US law from the Internet. There is absolutely no substitute for consulting an immigration lawyer in a case like this. Bad advice about these sorts of problems gets posted all the time, and the consequences of following it would be life-changing. I know you mean well, but this is not a judgement call or an edge case - your friend needs an immigration lawyer immediately, and that is the only good advice you can give him.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:43 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as far as calling the USCIS to get information (this was the extent of my interaction with them) this is what follows about five or ten minutes of navigating phone menus to discover the secret combination that gets you to an actual person:

"Hello, this is Frank. How can I help you?"
"Sure, Frank. What's your ID number?"
"I'm sorry we don't have those."
"Can I get a reference number for this call?"
"We don't issue those."
"Can I speak with your supervisor?"
"Sure. (On hold for 10 mins) This is Bob"
"Hello, Bob, can I have your ID number?"
"Ok, great, I need to know if [LAY INTERPRETATION OF USCIS LAW] is right."
"Yes it is."

"Can I speak with your supervisor?"
"Sure. (On hold for 10 mins) This is Susan"
"Hello, Susan, can I have your ID number?"
"Ok, great, I need to know if [EXACT SAME LAY INTERPRETATION OF USCIS LAW] is right."
"No, it's not."
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

difficult (or at least extremely time consuming) to get her back to the States if they marry later.

All routes to getting his non-US-citizen love to a permanent residence in the USA will be difficult and time consuming. If that's a big barrier he should give up now.

If he is in a hurry he should be calling immigration lawyers today and having consultations next week. If you want to help him make a quick decision you can find a few phone numbers and help make calls.

Worst case scenario if he just went ahead and married her now: I suspect that a woman arriving from the Phillippines on a tourist visa and getting married to someone she'd never met before arriving will look crazily suspicious to the USCIS, and they'll risk getting the marriage ruled a fraud, he'll be criminally liable and the woman barred from re-entry.
posted by jacalata at 1:57 PM on August 24, 2012

Also, did she appeal the student visa decision? They ought to run that by the immigration lawyer.
posted by griphus at 2:02 PM on August 24, 2012

USCIS frowns upon visitors who attempt to change their tourist visas into something that grants them even temporary residency in the US, and visitors who claim to have met the love of their lives on vacation in the US and want to get married rightaway in order to stay. I'm not surprised at all that your friend's girlfriend's student visa application was rejected, especially if she was applying from the US on a tourist visa.

I think it's incredibly important to play it straight when it comes to US visa applications. Your friend should consult an immigration lawyer if he's desperate, but this is no guarantee that his girlfriend will be granted a visa. Someone I know is stuck in their home country with no way of returning to the US where they have a spouse, a job and real estate despite having a lawyer on retainer. The surest bet for your friend, really, would be to let his girlfriend return home, and develop a paper trail of their relationship (assuming that it is legit on both sides) by accumulating evidence of his visits to the Philippines, phone calls, e-mails, photos etc over time. Then he can begin the process of applying for a fiancee visa, a process that takes about a year without delays.
posted by peripathetic at 2:28 PM on August 24, 2012

Having traveled all over the globe, I see many of us Americans falling in "love" with locals during their travels. It can be tempting. However, in your friend's case it's the other way around - the object of his desire is right here on American soil, and very hard to let her "slip away."

However - he must abate his voracious desires temporarily, if he wishes to have her as his wife. He's got to play by the rules, and the rules are only understood by a competent attorney. A taste of what life must be life with this Filipina has taken over his logical side - All the more reason he cannot afford to piss off the incredibly powerful arms of the United States' visa men!

Sadly, one warning must be mentioned: this visa hurdle is also for your friend's protection. Many cases of seductive lovers using the marriage-to-an-American track for very different personal gains. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:04 PM on August 24, 2012

Why dont you get a fiance visa? That allows her to enter the country and live here provided the wedding takes place in (i can't remember the exact time) but x months.
posted by pakora1 at 3:10 PM on August 24, 2012

Yes, lawyer, and I am not one. But although it's true there are other possible routes, what your friend is saying is not necessarily wrong. It would probably (depending on this and that) be entirely legit for his fiancée to "adjust status" from one valid visa to another, and many people feel that's it's both harder and slower to find a way to be together if the non-immigrant spouse isn't in the country.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:13 PM on August 24, 2012

"He also believes that if they marry before her visa expires they will be able to prevent her having to leave."

This is true. They can marry here, and immediately apply for adjustment of status. But adjusting from a tourist visa can be dicey, especially if she has been turned down for a student visa already, there seems to be some red flags already going on for USCIS. Visa Journey, as a previous poster has mentioned, is a great website where you can post questions like this. You can memail me if you want the name of the firm I used when I immigrated.
posted by nanook at 3:30 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you all! All of this confirms my sense that my friend is naive about the challenges of dealing with the INS. I will tell him to read Visa Journey tonight and call a lawyer on Monday or risk making a mistake that could leave him being legally married to woman who could be barred from ever living with him in the US.
posted by metahawk at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2012

FYI I knew a similar couple who married overseas. It still took a very long time, over a year, for the non-citizen to be able to come to the US.
posted by bq at 5:21 PM on August 24, 2012

5 years ago and based on my own personal immigration journey, ie everyones case is different and things change. Changing a tourist visa to a "being married" visa is very hard to do you have to the right sort of tourist visa, which is a lot more difficult to get than a general one so it is unlikely she has one, a general tourist visas will not allow you to change status except maybe sometimes, very very rarely in extenuating circumstance, these are not those. They should be able to apply for a fiancee visa but she would need to return to the Philippines, but which would enable her to return to the US to get married very soon after her return.

If he has known her for years and can show proof of that friendship or an LDR AND she has the right sort of visa it is possible to do. If he messes this up with a rushed marriage with no supporting evidence of a long term relationship (ie longer than a tourist visa lasts) and the people in charge decide it's a scam marriage of some sort, even if it's not, she will most likely not be allowed back in the US.

If they can't do the research online to find the info, Visajourney is a great site for asking questions as long as the forums don't think you are trying to scam the system that most of the people there are trying so hard to work with, and there are some good books by publishers NOLO that might help, but they should most likely find a reputable immigration lawyer.

It's late and I can't think of visa types etc off of the top of my head, 2 glasses of wine aren't helping either but if they require more info feel free to have them memail me and I'll drag out my paperwork.
posted by wwax at 8:16 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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