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A Personal Immigration Experience: Student Visa - Marriage - Travel

Don't Learn the Hard Way

A personal account about a student visa holder married to a U.S. citizen: Their experience when re-entering the country after a trip abroad, and the less fortunate experiences of others in similar situations. 

His student visa was no longer valid after marriage
Granted, no line could seem "reasonable" after that 15-hour journey from Switzerland. But having to wait two hours in the small, stuffy Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) Office seemed a cruel and unusual punishment. My husband Peter had been on a student visa in the United States, and that visa would have been valid for another two years had we remained unmarried. As he slumped over that heap of suitcases marking our place in line, I could not help but wonder if he had any regrets.

When we arrived at customs and passport control, the INS officer had drawn a huge and zealous magic marker line through Peter's student visa, indicating that it was no longer valid. Even though he was still attending college in California, he was also the new spouse of an American citizen, and was thus considered an immigrant (or even worse, a pending immigrant.) Despite the fact that we had followed all procedures to the letter of the law, this change in his status was the apparent cause for our delay: we had to be patient while they entered his information into the computer and stamped his advance parole papers. And so we waited... long enough to make some friends.

A long wait for her green card, and to see her husband
One of those friends was Laura, who--incredibly--seemed even more frazzled than we were. She was about to miss her connecting flight and had no way of informing her new husband of the delay. Laura had just flown in from Australia, eager to see him after a nine month separation following their exchange of vows Down Under. It took that long for the green card (permanent resident visa) to be processed and issued. But she and her husband had filed their papers properly; Laura caught the next flight, and I presume they were happily reunited. Finally.

The importance of Advance Parole
Peter and I had filed for his adjustment of status as soon as we were married, and for the travel permission (euphemism for "advanced parole") that allowed him to leave and reenter the country. So, after our paperwork was processed we too were on our way without any consequence greater than mere frustration. Not every couple is this lucky.

One set of newlyweds who sought our guidance had already made an irreversible error. Patrice was an American citizen and her fianc� Michael was Canadian. When Michael unwittingly admitted to border patrol that he was entering the U.S. to marry an American, they naturally turned him away: a foreign national cannot enter the U.S. with the intention to marry, unless the couple has filed for and received a K-1 fianc� visa.

At this point, Patrice decided that it would surely be easier to go to Canada and marry Michael there, so she did. They returned to the United States, inadvertently evading border control (no one asked if they were married, and they never volunteered this information). If they had been found out, Michael may have been arrested for visa fraud because he was entering as a "visitor" instead of under his truthful (marital) status. When I informed Patrice that Michael would have to return to Canada while she filed the appropriate immigration paperwork, the two of them gave up on the States entirely and returned to Canada in favor of Canadian immigration laws. They were fortunate to have that option.

Deported: Ignorance was no excuse
With no time to consider other options, Baxter Thompson of Alexandria, Louisiana, and his wife Martina Diederich Thompson of Germany, were suddenly separated shortly after their marriage in 1997. (Reporter Anthony Lewis sparked public indignation when he publicized their case in the New York Times.) The Thompsons had married in Louisiana while Martina was visiting Baxter on a tourist visa. Before filing their INS papers, the newlyweds decided to travel to Germany together so that Baxter could meet his in-laws. They planned to file when they returned from their trip, but no such luck. When they arrived back in the U.S., Martina tried to reenter on her travel visa. The INS, however, realized that she was not really a tourist, but the wife of an American. She was detained at the border and deported back to Germany shortly thereafter. She was indefinitely banned from returning to America, even to visit, and at last report the two had remained separated for 15 months. By that time, Baxter was contemplating the sale of his business so he could relocate to Germany.

Educate yourself on immigration matters
There is a moral to these torrid tales: While not all immigration cases are simple, many of them could be, if only the people involved were better informed. When it comes to INS matters, assumption can be disastrous. Anyone who anticipates involvement with the immigration process would do well to stay intricately informed. Having a lawyer can be very helpful, but it does not preclude you from this advice: It may never occur to you to ask your attorney, before breaking the rule that you never knew existed.

Remember: Love knows no boundaries, but the INS does, and it will enforce them.

Jennifer & Peter

Also see:

Association of Americans for Spouse Reunification
This Association seeks to alter immigration policies that divide families of immigrants.

Find an Immigration Attorney
A database of hyperlinks to immigration attorneys around the world.

Immigration Made Easy
A comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself immigration by Nolo Press.

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� Peter and Jennifer Wipf 1999-2005.  All rights reserved. No duplication without explicit written permission.

From Jennifer Leavitt-Wipf,
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