Long-distance marriages thanks to US Immigration

Anyone who is in the US deals with Immigration in everyday life. To say that the immigration system has broken down here would be an understatement. If you are Indian and applied for a Green Card, you are so out of luck.. They are processing applications received in January 1999. No this is not a typo….1999. Nearly six years ago. This from a country where processes never take more than a few days or weeks.

What is more screwed up is that if you already have a Green Card, you will have to look for a spouse who has a green card / H1-B or F-1 visa. Basically someone who is in the country on a long term visa. Otherwise you cannot get your newly wed spouse in, till they get their green card….and that’s 6 years…and counting, away !!!

Last week I pointed to an article that appeared in the TOI which talks about how matrimonial ads are now being tailored to bring up this issue“..Part of the reason for avoiding visits to India is I do not have courage to look her in the eyes and tell her that this separation will end soon as I myself do not see any resolution to our wait..”

The problem is not just limited to south of the 49th parallel. Our brown brothers north of the border also face similar issues, though not the same ones. Sepia Mutiny points out to another bizarre immigration story where the Canadian authorities think “…..you two just don’t look very happy…”. Check that one out !!!

The San Jose Mercury has a very interesting article about immigrants forced into long distance relationships. Somehow the story rings too close to home for me. Thank God I am not in that fix now. Hail H1-B !!! Read the entire article at the end of this post.

In a post-Sept. 11 world, extremely long separations between newlyweds across continents are a fact of life for many immigrants who come to the United States to work. They end up staying as permanent residents, but their hearts summon them back home when time comes to choose a mate.

Already a lot of businesses and corporations are facing problems with the H1-B visas runnign out and they not being able to hire the kind of technical skilled taskforece that is needed to run the engines of the US economy. On top of that, many an employees are waiting for their permanent residency to come through for the last 4-6 years.

With the whole outsourcing issue going on in the US media, no politician has the balls to address the issue of the breakdown of immigration bureaucracy. And when the debate turns to immigration, the illegal immigration problem on the southern borders, dwarf every other concern that is there. And sadly many a stupid politician lumps it all into one.

With my experience with the US immigration bureaucracy, I sometimes feel that all those people who complain about Indian government officers not doing their jobs are just being whiners. For all the competence and professionalism that is present in the private sector in America, the government sector just sucks.

If you have any similar experiences you would want to share, the comments section is open. Feel free to post.

Immigrants forced into long-distance marriages

Since his wedding day four years ago to a young lady from his boyhood village in Bangladesh, Masud Syed has been back to see his wife exactly 10 times. The last visit, in September, was both exhilarating and excruciating. He witnessed the birth of his son; three weeks later, Syed flew back to America, alone.

In a post-Sept. 11 world, extremely long separations between newlyweds across continents are a fact of life for many immigrants who come to the United States to work. They end up staying as permanent residents, but their hearts summon them back home when time comes to choose a mate.

Many Asians, from India to Korea to Vietnam, belong to cultures that still engage in the practice of arranged marriages. Instead of “love at first sight,” some call it “love after introduction.”

But U.S. immigration laws do not allow permanent residents who marry after they obtain their “green cards,” such as Syed, to have their spouses or children stay with them in America while their green card applications are being processed. The wait time varies from country to country, but it is currently about five years for India, China and the Philippines.

A group started in the Bay Area in 2002 called UniteFamilies.org is working to spotlight what its members say is unreasonable immigration policy. Its leaders protest that recent rules leave thousands of legal, tax-paying U.S. residents in emotional limbo, often forced to choose between marriage and a green card.

Many in Syed’s predicament come to the United States as temporary workers with an H-1B visa, which allows them to become permanent residents once they obtain a green card. Of the 386,821 H-1B visas issued in fiscal year 2004, 152,723 were for workers from Asia.Thousands of miles apart, Syed says he and his wife, 24-year-old Linia, have forged a deep bond. The couple talk by phone at least five times a week. She scolds him if he leaves for work without breakfast. “I have a picture of my son and my wife right in front of me at work,” said Syed, a 31-year-old electrical engineer who lives in Sunnyvale. “At the end of the day, I feel very empty. I call just to hear him cry, anything.”

“Part of the reason for avoiding visits to India is I do not have courage to look her in the eyes and tell her that this separation will end soon as I myself do not see any resolution to our wait.” — Anis Kasmani, 32, software engineer, Fremont

UniteFamilies has the backing of four Bay Area congressional leaders. They co-sponsored a bill, HR 1823, that would allow families to live together in the United States while waiting for green cards. The bill was referred to a committee earlier this year, but with a conservative Republican majority in power a pro-immigration bill has little chance of coming to a vote.

Supporting the bill, written by Democrat Rep. Robert Andrews of New Jersey, are: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell; and Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

“They say people ought to play by the rules, but it ends with absurd results sometimes,” Lofgren said. “If you look at it broadly, what public policy is being served here? None.”

Another way to gain entry to the United States, through the State Department’s visitor visa, is all but impossible since the law requires applicants toprove they are not coming to stay. Anecdotally, many say as soon as they disclose they are visiting a spouse in the United States who is a permanent resident, their chances of getting visitation rights are practically nil. A spokeswoman with the State Department said the government primarily cares if your “visit” might become permanent.

“You must overcome a presumption of immigration,” said Angela Aggeler, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Consular affairs. “It’s incumbent on the applicant to prove their intent is not to immigrate.”

Last year, there were 946,142 new immigrants to the United States; a quarter of them were family-sponsored and 155,330 — like Syed — earned the privilege to stay permanently through employment.

If Syed were in the United States as a foreign student or a temporary worker with an H-1B visa, and he married overseas, his wife and children could almost immediately join him with a visitor’s visa since neither spouse would have permanent privilege to stay in the United States.

But since Syed became a permanent resident first and then married a year later, his wife and child wait 7,600 miles away and he dwells in Sunnyvale until her visa number is called.

“It’s important for people to take immigration laws into consideration as they plan life events,” said Sharon Rummery, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency.

“The whole situation is very strange to me. If I marry someone before my green card is approved, she will automatically get a green card too. On the other hand, if I marry someone after I get my green card, we will be unable to live together forfive or six years.” –Alex Maslov, 30, Sunnyvale

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is split on the issue. While it supports placing a priority on uniting nuclear families, it also wants to restrict immigration to 300,000 people a year. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for FAIR, reflected this ambivalence when he said, “No one is stopping them from going back to their country to reunite with their spouse.”

Under the Clinton administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service implemented a V visa program to allow certain spouses and minor children of permanent residents to reside and work in the United States while waiting for their own green cards. That program, created specifically to clear a heavy INS backlog, has expired. The proposed bill would revive the V visa.

Alex Maslov came to the United States in 1995 as a graduate student studying physics. Ten years later, he’s a researcher in nanotechnology for a company in Mountain View. Now that he is a permanent resident, Maslov said his hope to marry someone back home in Russia is dim. “If I marry someone who doesn’t have residence in the U.S., I will not be able to live with her in the U.S.,” said Maslov, 30. “Five years’ wait is just too long.”

It’s also too long for Guarav Negi, a software engineer at Cisco in Milpitas. Before he received his green card in July 2004, Negi had heard about the marriage pitfalls for green card holders. At the time, he had no marriage plans. Then on a visit home to India in October 2004, his parents introduced him to 24-year-old Rohina Rawat.

“She’s not a technical girl,” said Negi, 29, “but the thing is I want to marry her.” He has seen his fiancee three times, and their wedding is planned for December. “In the U.S., marriage doesn’t last five years and now we have to wait five years to start our married life,” Negi said.

Negi is looking for an employer in Canada willing to sponsor him with a work visa. Asked which country his fiancee would prefer, Negi replied: “She doesn’t care, she just wants to live with me.”

San Jose Mercury-News


1 comment

  1. Hey Arzan – due to mysteriously fortituous circumstances, I got a green card in under a year. So I’ve vowed never to insult the USCIS ever again 🙂

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