Immigration Woes (Part 1)

1 November 2008
Many of you have wanted to know why we were disappointed with what we learned from the immigration attorney, so here’s a brief—though possibly confusing—summary. It seems that Homeland Security does not believe in long-distance relationships, nor long engagements. Put another way, the United States government simply can’t fathom that a man in a relationship with a US citizen might not be ready to break the land speed record to move here. That he might, in fact, have some business to take care of first, even though he would like to declare his commitment to said US citizen.

Some of you may remember that two Octobers ago Gerry had a harrowing encounter with a US immigration agent in Dublin, just as he was to board the plane to come here. She wanted to know why he was coming here so often, and what kind of job he had that allowed him so much vacation time (Americans don’t get nearly the amount of vacation time that Europeans do). She got up in his face, yelled at him, and did everything but call him a liar outright. Gerry is a pretty mellow individual, but he eventually snapped at her that in case she hadn’t noticed, the economy in his country was doing just fine and the Irish no longer needed or wanted to move to the States to make a living. (The attorney tells us this was a mistake. The immigration agent could have denied him entry had he made her really mad, and if that had happened, he couldn’t have entered the US for five years. Oh the bliss of ignorance, eh?)

Turns out, that was the Ghost of Christmas Future.

If Gerry works another seven years at his job he’ll get the maximum pension (yes, they still have those in Ireland, along with the longer vacations) from his company. So he’d like to do that. And it’s that seven-year thing that the folks at Homeland Security just can’t wrap their minds around. Gerry’s not just vacationing here; he has a fiancée here. If you’ve traveled to another country, you know they always ask you why you want to come in. And you might say “I’m vacationing” or “I’m here on business.” You’re expected to tell the truth; if you don’t, that’s considered fraud. But if Gerry says “I’m here to visit my fiancée,” HS won’t let him come to the US on a visitor’s visa—he’ll have to come on a fiancée visa. Once he’s traveling on a fiancée visa, though, he is expected to get married within ninety days (hence the disapproval of long engagements). And that would be OK with us … except that once he marries, he would be expected to move here permanently. In significantly less time than seven years.

Do you see the conundrum? Of the four possible ways to initiate paperwork to get a Permanent Residence document (they’re no longer green, but go ahead and think of it as a green card if you’d like), none takes longer than a couple years. The process also costs a minimum of $3000—so it’s not something we’d want to initiate, then let lapse, then start again, and repeat (this was an actual suggestion made by the attorney, but even if she were to take the maximum time to complete the various forms, drawing the procedure out perhaps an extra year, the repeated lapsing and reinitiating carries its own danger of raising red flags … and would be expensive).

The attorney says Gerry should only come here once a year from now on. That would be the safest thing to do … because the more often he comes to the US, the more likely it is that that unpleasant encounter at the customs desk will happen again. The attorney prepared us for this. She told Gerry to travel with copies of the deed to his house in Ireland, check stubs from work, copies of his utility bills … anything to prove he has a permanent life in Ireland and isn’t trying to sneak into the US. And IF another customs agent gets in a twist (and they’re trained to do this: the yelling, the invading of one’s personal space, the calling you a liar—it’s not a personal failing but an intentional tactic, one’s own personal Guantanamo experience, so to speak), even with all Gerry’s documentation of his Irish life, he should not wait for the gasket to blow. He should say, “I withdraw my application to enter the United States” (thus preventing the agent from denying him access and encountering that five-year prohibition, which is impossible to break). Then he should go home, call me, and have me call our attorney, who will start trying to fix it.

It’s a sobering thought.

So what do we do? We don’t want to deceive anyone, we don’t want to cut any corners; we want to do everything by the book. And we’d also like to plan for our future. These two things seem to be mutually exclusive at the moment.