American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal

And while on tangents, here is a second one…

I’ve had the question on the blog before: Are you getting married in Nepal? And yesterday’s post should make it clear that we are not. But there is a reason for that too.

So as I’ve mentioned in the past, my day job (when I’m not secretly blogging during my lunch break or lulls in student appointments) is an international student advisor at a university in New England. I really love my job. I love working with and talking to people from around the world on a daily basis, I love helping them when they have problems or questions, and it is a lot of fun to be constantly learning new things about culture. It’s not so fun working with immigration regulations… although having a good knowledge of these tricky regs helps me to better serve my students when they come with questions. But… that means I really know what I should do immigration wise, and what I shouldn’t do, and that if I break the rules, I don’t have “ignorance is bliss” to fall back on if we are caught, and professionally I can’t affording getting in trouble with this topic.

I’ve read on some blog forums about people going to India and getting married, then coming back in to the US, and getting married at a later date. Occasionally these couples are graduate students. P is also a graduate student on an F-1 visa. Going to South Asia on an F-1, marrying an American spouse, then coming back in through US immigration and not declaring the change of status, and then later changing it once getting married in the US is technically an immigration violation.

An F-1 student visa is “non-immigrant intent” meaning IF your intension to immigrate to the US changes (such as marrying an American and planning to stay here—unless you make it crystal clear that you both don’t intend to stay, but will return to South Asia and not apply for permanent residency) and you leave the country and re-enter, you have violated your F-1 status. (Similarly the most common visa rejection reason is Section 214(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act– that you do not have enough ties to your home country, or that you have not overcome a presumption that you are using the visa to immigrate or work illegally in the United States.)

Violation of F-1 status is an offense that could potentially have your SEVIS record at your university terminated and have you sent back to your home country. If you are taking this regulation exactly by the book with a strict interpretation—even being engaged and traveling internationally and coming back in could be a violation of your status. Certainly the last thing you should do is waive an engagement or wedding ring in an immigration official’s face at the port of entry (even though you will be in two separate immigration lines anyway—the American national in the US passport/green card line, the foreign spouse in the non-US passport line).

The other potential problem is coming back into the US and marrying here and initiating the paperwork for a Change of Status from F-1 to Permanent Residency (Green Card). If the time is short (between your foreign spouse’s entry and the US wedding/paperwork) the US gov’t can potentially give you trouble when processing your Change of Status info because they can question your spouses, “intention to immigrate” when they last entered the country close to your wedding date. Do they always give trouble, probably not, but the potential is there.

If a foreign national plans to marry an American then technically (if we are going “by the book” here) they should come into the US on a K-1 (fiancé) visa. However then your partner could potentially be stuck outside the country for months waiting for the paperwork to clear before they could enter and marry. It is a perpetual frustration… US immigration rules make things so challenging, that it encourages people to break the rules.

On the flip side… you get married in the US first, then plan to go to Nepal… after you marry here you would have to initiate that same Change of Status paperwork and at least get “Advanced Parole” (travel papers) before you leave the US. That could be one month to several months (or more depending on the country, spouse name, etc) to receive that paperwork. So either way, you can’t do a wedding in the US and abroad within a few days of each other legally.

From what I hear, in the past you could get married at a court house and walk across the street to a US gov’t immigration center and get your Green Card the same day. But long gone are those days.

Anyway, besides the silly desire to want anniversary dates close to one another for memory and consistency purposes, my main worry was that if we did the wedding in the US first, and too much time passed before we were able to make it to Nepal, then people might feel… well… the wedding is over now, so much time has passed, let’s just leave the Nepali part. We can have a party to introduce you to relatives, but no point in doing the rituals.

I didn’t want the Nepali ceremony to go by the way-side because immigration and timing just couldn’t add up. Plus I was certain that few, if any, of my relatives would come to Nepal. My sisters, probably, but my parents, particularly my dad, definitely not. I thought it would be good to expose them to P’s culture while I had the chance.

So… this is why both weddings are in the US. P and I hope to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011—either during Dashain or December depending on immigration paperwork and time off from work, and perhaps we will have a gathering of family in Nepal as a wedding party, but at least the main events will have been taken care of by then, and no immigration rules would have been flagrantly broken in the making of our marriage.

Alright, I’ll take a break from wedding posts for a little while to give you all a breather :)

7 responses to “American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal

  1. That makes a lot of sense to do both weddings in the US.
    I got married while my husband was on F-1 visa and he had no intention of leaving the US before getting the green card after that. Even though he got a re-entry permit after applying for the Change in Status, we were told that it still wasn’t a good idea to leave the US before getting the green card (unless it is an emergency) because despite having a re-entry permit they can still decide that by leaving the US you are abandoning your application for resident status. It’s pretty harsh these days! If possible, do try to get the green card before going to Nepal, you will have less worries with re-entering the US.

  2. Oh the memories! This entry had me remembering our dual with immigration!

    My hubby came to the US on an L-1 Visa but at some point (before meeting me) he had applied for an H-1 Visa so he could switch companies. The company that was sponsoring his L-1 helped him file for the H-1 Visa but did not have another job lined up for him. While he waited to initiate his H-1, he had to leave the country to renew his L-1 and went Canada… and just by leaving the US and having his L-1 stamped again, his H-1 became null and void. While he understood “some” of the immigration policy, he didn’t know that he’d lose his H-1 visa…. he didn’t even get a chance to use it. Although he was still legal in the US for another 6 or 7 years, he was bummed that he couldn’t change companies.

    Anyway…that was his personal struggle with immigration. This is what we went through re: marriage and leaving the country.

    Fast forward to meeting me… we knew we wanted a wedding in the US and in India. I had originally applied for a Visa to visit his family a year before we actually married… but we decided to wait. The fear of unknown was too much. While my hubby had a job, a car and an apartment in the US, it wasn’t set in stone that he’d be allowed back in. We read a lot of immigration forums and saw that people who had been in the States for years were getting turned down at the consulate left and right. NO WAY! lol~

    We had our US wedding first in Nov 2009 and waited for what seemed like years (but really it was less than 50 days) for him to receive his Authorization to Work Card and Advanced Parole. Even with AP, we were sketchy about leaving for India. We waited till after our immigration meeting in Boston to actually file for yet another indian Visa. Hubby is now a conditional green card holder and we have no fear of traveling outside the country.

    What amazes me here in the US is the red tape one must go through to do things “by the book”….but yet there are thousands of unregistered and undocumented illegals in MA alone, that never get sent home…but Murphy’s Law, if we had gone to India without AP, I have this gut feeling I would have been flying home solo.

    Oh… and we had our Indian ceremony 13 months and 1 day after our US wedding. I would have liked to have had both families at both ceremonies but it wasn’t possible… but the ceremony in India was still as important to his family, even with such a long wait in between. I hope everything goes smoothly for you!

  3. It’s all so frightening and confusing. I totally understand your sentiment of not wanting to do any little thing that might cause P to become one of the unlucky and not so uncommon people who end up with problems in the system.

  4. its so surreal, practical issue, thank you so much for sharing

  5. Pingback: American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal (via Musings from an American-Nepali Household) « Lkafle’s lava kafle web log history reality

  6. I remember this well, though we never thought of doing an actual wedding ceremony in Pakistan, we did have two separate weddings on the same day. The same day part was important to me then, I really didn’t want to celebrate two wedding anniversaries. But in the end we probably asked way too much from our wedding guests and as a result got only a medium turnout at our various functions. Not many people felt like they had to go to everything, I guess. We had a white-dress American wedding in the morning, followed by a mid-day brunch reception. Then that evening, at a mosque 90 minutes away, we had a Pakistan wedding and the following evening we had the Pakistani reception (Walima).

    One year later we did go to Pakistan for the first time and we planned a reception, a Walima, there too. It hadn’t even occurred to me to treat it like a real wedding but it turned out that way. All the guests brought traditional wedding presents and it was lovely. I hope everything turns out wonderfully for you, and that you take lots of pictures for those of us attending via the internet :)

  7. Pingback: A Nepali and an American Fall in Love.. | Nepal Blogs

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