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Advice for international couples

February 15, 2011

Congratulations international couples, you’re engaged! By the grace of God, your faith and your love has overcome the challenges of distance, time zones, language and culture. Hopefully, you’ve already settled the issue of which country you’ll be living in, because there are many more logistical hurdles ahead of you. They are certainly not insurmountable, but knowing what lies ahead and being psychologically prepared for them will help you avoid much frustration, wasted time, effort and resources. With faith, prayer and the right attitude, all these obstacles can help you pull together as a team and serve as valuable practice for the much greater demands that marriage and family life will make on your unity, patience and understanding.

How simple or complicated is this going to be? Immigration policies can vary widely from country to country and they also change over time so we suggest that you do your research as soon as you are engaged, or perhaps even while you are courting, so that you can include it in your prayer and discernment. Visit the country’s official immigration website, interview couples who had to go through the same process and, if necessary, hire a reputable lawyer or immigration consultant with a high track record of success. Some countries have application forms and procedures that are fairly straightforward while others can be quite tedious and ambiguous. You’ll have to weigh the risk of getting a wrongly filed application returned or rejected against the cost of procuring professional assistance or doing it yourself in terms of time, money and yes, stress.

The citizenship of the migrating spouse, as well as where you physically hold your wedding or marriage ceremony may also have significant bearing on the immigration process. For couples that intend to live in the USA, you will generally have fewer steps to take if the migrating spouse is a citizen of a country that falls under the USA’s visa waiver list. By ‘steps’, we mean the number of forms to file to procure the necessary visas or permits (fiancée visa, marriage visa, adjustment of status, petition, etc) that will eventually lead to the migrating spouse being granted US legal permanent resident status, i.e. receiving his/her Green Card. This is not the same as being granted US citizenship, which has additional requirements to fulfill and a different application to file after at least 5 years of residing in the USA, and then only if you choose to become a US citizen.

Getting married in the USA also simplifies the immigration process and, more importantly, allows you both to live together in the USA as man and wife immediately after your wedding, while waiting for the Green Card to be issued. If you choose to get married outside of the US, the spouse who is the US citizen or US resident, i.e. the sponsor, will have to return to the US and file the required paperwork while the migrating spouse waits in his/her home country for the Green Card. Those are sort of the basic scenarios but of course, different scenarios can crop up depending on your actual situation, marriage plans, family expectations, traditions, budget and lead times. Not to worry, there is very likely a legal solution or combination of steps to address your particular scenario. That’s why it’s prudent to start researching and getting your head around these things as soon as you’ve discerned marriage, so that you have time to carefully consider and pray about your options.

What documentation will you need to submit with your application? Again, the exact requirements will depend on the immigration track that you choose to take. However, here are some of the standard requirements:

(a) valid (current) passports
(b) authenticated birth certificates
(c) individual signed statements of how you met, fell in love, and decided to marry – keep it to one page
(d) proof that you had actually met in person – plane tickets, itineraries, boarding passes, passport stamp, photos of you together
(d) proof of your ongoing relationship – emails, phone records, postcards and letters with stamped or postmarked envelopes, photos
(e) marriage license and marriage certificate
(f) official receipt for the purchase of your wedding rings – they may also ask photos of your rings
(g) wedding photos – no need to copy your entire wedding album, just select a few
(h) sponsor’s proof of US citizenship or US resident status
(i) sponsor’s proof of financial capability to support the immigrant spouse because the immigrant spouse will not be able to seek employment until he/she receives a temporary employment authorization card; that can take a few to several months
(j) medical report signed and sealed by a certified US Civil Surgeon – check the official list for your area of jurisdiction

How much will it cost? Once again, this will depend on the immigration track you choose to take. The more complicated the track, the more steps involved, the costlier the process. The most significant outlays are for the medicals ($200-$500), the lawyer or immigration consultant ($1,500 – $6,000 if you choose to hire one), and the USCIS application fees ($300-$1,200 per form depending on which form/s you have to file). Other less significant expenses will be for copying, printing and mailing/courier. These expenses will be staggered over time – you may have to pay your lawyer or immigration consultant a portion of the fee up front but the rest may be billed you on a progress basis. Our immigration track turned out to be quite simple so our lawyer only charged us a very reasonable one-time engagement fee, with no further hourly or progress billings. We never even had to meet face-to-face with our lawyer (he was in California, we were in Texas); we merely communicated via phone, Skype, and email! You can also reduce the cost of the medicals if all the required vaccinations had been administered to the immigrant spouse previously and you have the documentation/shot records to prove it. Otherwise, the immigrant spouse will have to be vaccinated all over again here in the USA. If it’s cheaper to obtain those vaccinations in the immigrant spouse’s home country then do so but make sure you’ve got the shot records. If, as expected of good Catholics, you plan on starting your family right away, you can ask to be exempted from some of those vaccinations that are not deemed good for the pregnancy.

So you’re reading all of this and mentally putting it in a big, red “too-hard-and-too-expensive-to-do” box, right? Well, the course of true love never did run smooth but it will go much smoother if you maintain the right attitude. Just remember that meeting, falling in love and bridging the geographical distance between you was the harder part, and after the wedding, it’s going to be even more challenging trying to merge your individual lives into a harmonious union – so attending to logistics, as tedious as they can sometimes get, is actually the ‘easy’ part. It’s just a process that, provided you comply with the legal requirements, is almost guaranteed to culminate in the desired legal result/objective. And don’t forget that God, who brought you to this stage in your relationship, will also take you through it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other in the way that He leads you, and don’t try to fight tomorrow’s battles with today’s resources. That’s precisely the devil’s strategy to get you anxious and discouraged. Trust in God’s provision and timing…when the battle comes, you will be given the grace and the resources to fight and conquer. All the best with your preparation, and God bless!
[We don’t mean to sound trite, but the really good thing about having to hurdle difficulties together is that it forces you to focus on what’s really important – to both of you of course, but most importantly, to God. Remember that it’s His wedding too, and God has a lot more invested in the two of you than you have in each other. Guess what, He also has all the resources to make it happen so you’d best be staying close to Him.

When we started out with our international correspondence, we had absolutely no idea how we could afford to take time off and pay for international trips so we could visit with and get to know each other. Gosh, when each of us joined Ave Maria Singles, neither of us even thought the joining fee was affordable! Yet we managed 6 international trips between us in the year prior to our marriage. We also didn’t know how we were going to afford even a small wedding given that our modest budget had to be split between the wedding and the immigration application/process, but God provided an elegant solution, and accomplished it all in record time too! We just kept praying, “Lord, if You want us to get married, then You have to make it happen, because we’re running out of options here!”, and then we did the best we could with what we had and with what we knew. Money arrived unexpectedly, actual costs came in lower than estimated, we were led to the right people, procedures turned out simpler than anticipated, schedules ‘lined up’ – honestly, we could write out the details of all those big and little miracles/ways that God provided the resources we needed and some people would think we were making it up. Most would think that it could never happen to them but they’re wrong. Faith, prayer, and action are all you need. Those who trust in the Lord shall not be
disappointed!

John & Catalina live in Texas where they work in the healthcare and destination service industries, respectively. Devotees of the Infant Jesus/Sto Nino (the Holy Child), they are working to be faithful stewards of all that God has given and will yet give them. They pray for an abundance of happy and holy marriages, especially among the members of AMS, and ask that you remember them in prayer as well.

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