When to tell a prospective partner about my immigration status?
September 2, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I am residing illegally in a country (I would rather not say which one) and am dating. I reached out to a person on a dating site. We have only been on two dates, but I quite like them and the person seems very into me as well. I feel like since I asked them out the onus is more on me to tell them about my status than if they had asked me out. When should I tell? I want to wait in order to protect myself from even the slightest possibility of deportation, but I also want to be as honest and forthright as I can be to honor both the person I am interested in and myself.

For what it's worth, I have dated a few other people in this country who have not cared at all about my status (one even thought it was hot that I was "casting off the bowlines" (ala this quote from Twain: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."), but they were always the ones that came onto me first so I felt less pressure to disclose or prove myself trustworthy. Also, two were friends I knew from before I made this choice so that made it easier as, well, they already knew what was going on!

I feel like I should tell them before we sleep together (something I would like sooner rather than later as I am very into them) as they strike me as the sensitive type that might attach after that event (we are similar in this if I am right as I think I would, too). I do not ever want to make them feel that they have reason to mistrust me should things get serious. Seeing that, I also think that even if sex doesn't happen soon, it might be better to just put it out there in any case. They have also mentioned that it is hard for them to trust others, and I want to do everything I can to show them that I am being as open and honest as I can be and never make them feel betrayed. They seem like an incredibly trustworthy person, BUT they also seem like a bit of a stickler for the rules generally (not crossing cross walks on red even when it is 3am and no one's around, for instance).

I guess my hold up is that I am just worried that if I tell them now before I know them well, they might report me. My instincts say that that seems very unlikely, but you just never know with someone you have only met a few times. This would break my heart immensely as I love where I am deeply.

Also, I would NEVER and I mean never marry someone just for visa purposes UNLESS it was a purely platonic friend and even then, I would hesitate as it could disrupt their life in unforeseeable ways. I have had two friends make this offer and denied both of them because the situation wasn't quite right. Further, two people I dated and knew of the situation offered to marry me to solve the problem but I refused both as they were not ultimately well suited for me romantically and I would never take advantage. One of these people is still a very close friend of mine and would vouch for me to my prospective new partner if need be. I would only marry for a love that I thought was lasting and true (and if it had the side effect of fixing the visa, great, but that would never be the main idea). That said, I am very unsure of how to figure out fixing my visa situation and might be illegal for a long time or end up deported.

So when should I tell them? IS it ok to wait telling this kind of thing? Some of my friends say that it is ok to wait until after I feel more comfortable (even if that involves sex first and telling a month or two later) and some say to tell ASAP. What does MeFi think? If I should tell them ASAP, can you help me think of ways to phrase it so it doesn't seem like a Huge Deal. I get very nervous when I have to have Relationship Talks, especially very early on. This won't help matters if I need to tell soon. :(

P.S. Apologies for the use of "them" and "they", I just want to stay as anonymous as possible and this includes obscuring my gender.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really see what your immigration status has to do with this person you've been on two dates with and haven't slept with yet.

I mean, especially if "reporting you" is even remotely in the cards. I mean WTF, what decent person would do such a thing?

This is not really need-to-know information, and if you're honestly worried that it would be a dealbreaker for them, or worse, they'd actively work to get you deported, then you definitely shouldn't say anything and just stop seeing this person before it gets serious.

I think you should at least wait until things are more serious between you and you know that you can trust this person with this information.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

You don't have to tell them everything. You could say something like "I just wanted you to know that I have a couple of administrative issues that I'm dealing with in regards to my residency here. I'd rather not go into specifics right now, but I wanted you to be aware so that later, when I feel more comfortable discussing them, you won't think that I've been anything but honest. Sincerity is very important to me in relationships."
posted by cacao at 9:26 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am just all to familiar with this, but from the other end (I am native, dated an illegal). Here are my thoughts and how my situation differed from what you describe:

My person was upfront with me upon meeting that they were new to the country and I asked if they were a citizen and they said no. I'm in the US and just piecing it together between how they came ("student") and when that they were almost definitely not legal or had legalized in some shady way like marriage. I felt no desire to report them for several reasons:
1. i still wanted to date them, but even if I didn't:
2. I live in the Northeast part of the country where for all I know every 5th person I see could be an illegal and the legal status of non-native people isn't something I feel affects my life (opinions may differ in more conservative areas of the country.
3. I don't really hold law enforcement of any kind in high regard.

As it turned out, my person was married in a final try when all other avenues were denied. This happened some time before I met them, but ultimately they did not get the results they want.

I would tell the person as soon as you can, and definitely before sleeping together or getting further emotionally entangled. I may be something that the other person doesn't want to be involved with because if they are looking to settle down and start a family it introduces a longer than usual timeline and potential instability. For example, to stay together you may have to go to a different country, which could entail family separation, new jobs, liquidation of property assets...Basically it's just not nearly as straightforward as a relationship with a legal, and it's just the right thing to do to let the person opt out early if they want a more traditional transition into "settling down." There's no guarantees in the US that marriage would work for legalization, so even if everything went swimmingly, you could get denied and that would just suck. I have known people in this state that have renounced citizenship of their home country, which keeps them from being deported because they become the "man without a country" but its a pretty extreme measure and the smallest infraction, like a traffic stop, can lead to months in a maze of beauracracy as the government tries to figure out what to do with you and you try to figure out how to keep your relations together. Of course this is US specific, and other countries may be more strict or more lax, but I doubt more simplified.
That all said, it's note impossible to find a partner up for the ride. It sounds like you already found 2 in the past, but broke up due to general incompatibility. If someone decides not to pursue a relationship with you because of this, it's probable you would have eventually been incompatible due to differing views and risk aversion meters. Good luck!
posted by WeekendJen at 9:34 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you make it softer--tell them but not disclose, e.g. that you are not American, and it's possible you might have to return to your home country at some point and it might be short notice? It does seem that not telling them could be rather dishonest, as it implies you could have a relationship future that won't be possible if you are deported. But telling them may also give them the burden of deciding whether to report you, which also seems rather unfair if they care greatly for you. I do think that if the relationship gets serious, and you are beginning to think about marriage or significant commitment, they will need to know. And for all that's good, do not have any children.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:39 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the importance depends some upon the countrys immigration laws, too. In the US, for example, marriage does _not_ guarantee a green card -- in fact, prior immigration violations would weigh heavily in that decision (and it would be potentially hard to conceal when you have to prove your relationship history). So if this is or becomes the kind of relationship where that might be in the future, its pretty relevant information (since it could mean you would have to move to another country to be together legally).

I don't think you're obligated to tell early on. But if you feel yourself becoming very serious / attached, I think telling is good for _you_ --- because it would be better to know if htis is a dealbreaker early, rather than having a 6 or 12 month long relationship and then suddenly having to deal with it. This again seems to depend on country for me. In the US, this would be a huge complication in your partners life if they fell deeply in love and wanted to be with you. In some countries maybe its a much less important matter.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:53 AM on September 2, 2013

I lean towards waiting until the relationship is more serious OR when you find yourself becoming so attached that a serious, committed relationship is definitely what you want with this person... as well as being as proactive as possible about getting the situation resolved on your own, even if you are unable to do so before the relationship turns in that direction. "I have this problem and I'm working on it" sounds a lot better than "I have this problem, gee, don't tell anyone!"
posted by sm1tten at 10:02 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your status in a country is one of many pieces of administrivia in your life that could affect your life partner. When should you be obligated to tell a partner pertinent information such as - previous jail time, large personal debts, creditworthiness or lack thereof, etc. Certainly not after date #2, but certainly very early on in an exclusive relationship phase so a partner can make an informed decision about making a life with you given your constraints.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I was just interested in a casual relationship I wouldn't care about your immigration status. But I'd want to know. And if I was interested in a long-term relationship and settling down that would be a dealbreaker for me.

If sincerity and respect are important to you you owe it to this person to disclose before you get too deeply involved to allow them to draw their own conclusions.

As for the scripts for a softened version of the truth - if you said any of that to me I'd ask you to clarify...
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:14 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you should go with your gut feeling to tell them before you two sleep together. Maybe you should delay that moment, though, so that you can get to know them a little bit better before revealing this about yourself. You seem to be serious about this person, and I think that does call for treating this issue seriously and telling sooner rather than later, because as is mentioned above, it really would change the long term prospects for your potential relationship, and it's not an unreasonable dealbreaker. I cannot imagine a way to soften this reveal with phrasing--it is a big deal, and saying it in a different way won't change that.

Apart from your sense of their respect for rules, what do you know about this person's politics and opinions about immigration law and status? I know there are many people (including myself and others I know) who are prudish about the law and sticklers for rules like red lights, but who would not see your immigration decisions as terrible, and would certainly never consider reporting you. If you could have an initial conversation on the topic of immigration laws with this person that is not about your own situation first (maybe a news story would be a good segue?) that could help you to gauge their reaction more realistically and give you a sense of whether it is safe to reveal this information.

I think what you want to know is "Is this a person who would report an illegal resident?" If yes, then really you should stop dating them now. If they are a person who would report, and so you wait until the two of you are really attached and they're only not reporting you because they love you, that's not a good situation for you and not a nice relationship dynamic for either of you. You should only be in a relationship with this person if they are a person who would not report an illegal resident, period.

Wishing you good luck with this budding relationship, and with your immigration problems as well!
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:33 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be angry and disappointed if I got attached to someone and then found out they were not a legal resident, because I would not consciously get involved with them if I knew that in advance (can think of some possible exceptions, like they had immigrated illegally as a child and grown up here, or were escaping from Syria). I am fairly rules bound, and I am a resident non-citizen where I live so immigration status is possibly more important to me than average.

I think if you can't tell them now, you should break up with them. I don't know how to tell them like it's not a huge deal because I think it is.
posted by jacalata at 10:44 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

The point at which you're wondering if you "appear trustworthy" is the point at which you need to have the conversation.

For me this ranks up there with the phrase "I don't know how long I'll be in the country." And for me that would be important to know early, like first or second date, certainly before sex. I mean, if you're worried about random dates reporting you, then your situation doesn't feel very stable to you, let alone me. Also, if it's the first time your date has dealt with the situation, and they're rule-bound, even if they're not judgmental about your choice and not thinking about reporting you, it still may cause them anxiety about whether they should be worried about their own involvement with you. Could something happen to them if they knowingly don't report you, etc., etc.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:45 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been on both sides of this equation. It is traumatic when your sweetheart is in danger of deportation. As you know, beng undocumented can also restrict travel, job possibilities, work possibilities, health care, housing, and all manner of future plans. So it is a pretty big deal in a partner.

I would tell right away, and if you can't tell this person without fear of getting reported, I would move on. It is just too big a deal.
posted by feets at 11:02 AM on September 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I lived for 15 years in the U.S. on a variety of visas, and due to the U.S. system, I was never eligible to apply for a green card despite my long stay. And I sound like an American, so there would be no way for anyone to know that potentially I might have to leave the country on short notice, if my visa was not renewed. I always disclosed to everyone I was dating. I wasn't actually disclosing, I didn't think of it that way, it was just part of who I was at the time, and I told most people that I didn't know how long I was going to be around.

There was only one time I regretted doing so, and that was with a volatile and unstable guy I was dating for a few months, and when I ended it, he threatened to report me. At the time I was in the process of renewing my visa and was in a period of being temporarily illegal while the visa was being processed, and he felt he could somehow badmouth me to the agency and give me trouble. As I said, he was very unstable.

Everyone else was always very cool with it, and always very surprised that I wasn't a permanent resident. People I think always err on the side of assuming you are able to just jump through the right hoops and get status, which was one of the reasons I felt it important to educate people on that issue.

But, I would not tell them, in your case, that you are illegal until after you have known them for awhile, I feel that is too much of a risk, but say something like what epanalepsis recommended: that you may have to return to your home country at short notice. That is true.
posted by nanook at 11:35 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should not ever trick someone into being in a relationship with you that they wouldn't be in if they had all the facts. If you think this person would care, that is an excellent reason to tell them sooner rather than later, or else move on.
posted by shattersock at 11:48 AM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you're on the right track here - you shouldn't get serious with them, even to the point of sleeping together, without letting them know the facts, AND you shouldn't get serious with them, even to the point of sleeping with them, without getting to know them well enough to feel safe that they wouldn't turn around and try to get you deported.

I understand that it's a bit slower than many of us like to take relationships, but under these circumstances I think it only makes sense, and if it's someone you could see yourself being serious with, it's worth it to take the time to get to know each other.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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