Love at first (web) site
(The Freeman) - December 18, 2015 - 9:00am

The internet, either for better or for worse, has immeasurably changed the way we interact with one another. With unlimited texting, free wi-fi and fast digital connectivity, we immediately know what is happening around us in a split second. While I was still a kid, we had a neighbor who was a retired teacher and we knew what day of the month she had her pension benefits because that was the only time the postal delivery man would come to the neighborhood and shout at her name. Who among you here could still recall a service by a telegram company called "singing - gram?" Or who has not suffered the long wait for their turn to make a long distance call at PLDT Jones only to be told that the party on the other end of the line does not accept "collect?" In the age of Facebook and Skype, the adage, "what a small world" has virtually, (no pun intended) became just that. As a result, we have expanded our social circle by reconnecting with long, lost friends and meeting new ones and in most of my clients - finding love online.

Recently, a client came to me asking for my legal assistance in bringing his fiancée to the US. Dave, a US citizen met Sheila, a Filipina, through the internet and after chatting for several months discovered that they are madly in love with each other. He decided to go to the Philippines to personally meet Sheila and her seven year old daughter. This meeting gave them a chance to know more about each other which only reaffirmed their belief that they are meant for each other. Dave wanted to marry Sheila in the US so that his aging parents can attend their only son's wedding. He now asks me what steps he should take.

Dave may file a fiancée visa petition also known as K1 visa before the US Citizenship and Immigration Service here in the US. This type of petition is only available to US citizens. Green card holders or lawful permanent residents do not have this option. Dave, the petitioner must provide proof that he is a US citizen either through his birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or certificate of citizenship; He must also show that he and Sheila are free to marry each other and that they intend to marry within 90 days of Sheila's entry into the US.

How do we prove "intent to marry"?  As what I always tell to my clients, "We are presenting your love story here." So he must provide proof that they have genuine love for each other, that this would be a marriage in good faith and not to gain an immigration benefit. Photos of the engagement ceremony, of Sheila wearing the engagement ring, copies of emails, love letters, cards and gifts all professing their love for each other are just some of the evidence of a genuine relationship. Dave must also provide proof that he met Sheila over the course of the preceding two years from the time of filing the petition. He should present airline tickets, boarding passes, passport stamps, hotel receipts, date stamped photos of him and Sheila together and affidavits from friends and family attesting the fact of their meeting.

Once Dave's fiancée visa petition is approved, it will then be transmitted to the US Embassy in Manila for Sheila's interview. After completing the medical examination and further documentary requirements, her fiancée visa will be issued. Within 90 days of her arrival to the US, she and Dave should get married. Her daughter can also accompany her under a K2 visa, being a minor child of a K1 beneficiary.

After their marriage, they have two years within which to file for adjustment of status. The term adjustment of status simply means that Sheila's fiancée visa be adjusted or changed to conditional permanent residence. Take note that marriage to Dave, the fiancée visa petitioner, is the only basis upon which Sheila and her daughter could adjust status.

While Dave and Sheila's petition may seem to be a straightforward case, there are other situations that may pose some degree of difficulty.

What if Dave and Sheila have not met within the past two years? While this "previous meeting requirement" is mandatory for fiancée visa petitions, it admits of two exceptions, namely: (1) cultural and social customs prohibit the parties from meeting before the marriage; and (2) the parties would experience extreme hardship if forced to comply with this requirement such as financial difficulty, medical problems and political dangers  or conditions of the party's respective countries.

What if the marriage did not take place? Or if Sheila married someone else? If no marriage took place, Sheila loses her lawful status and must leave the US or she be held for deportation. If she married someone else, she would also have to leave the US and be petitioned by the new husband.

What if the K1 petitioner was previously convicted of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, dating violence, elder abuse, and stalking? In this case, the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA), the petitioner must disclose and indicate in his petition, of his conviction of any of these crimes and must submit certified copies of all court and police records showing the charges and disposition of each conviction. The beneficiary will then be informed of these convictions during her interview at the US Embassy. In relation to IMBRA, the K1 petitioner must also disclose that he met his fiancée through an international marriage broker and to provide information about the marriage broker in his petition.

What if one of the parties is still legally married to another but has long been physically separated from that spouse? Both parties must show that they are free to marry and that they have terminated their prior marriages. In the Philippines where there is no divorce, termination of marriage can be done through either judicial declaration of nullity or annulment.

And yes, a fiancée' visa is also available even for Filipino same sex couples.

At first glance, the filing of a fiancée visa petition may look easy for some people. However, that is not always the case. There is a reason why a fiancée visa petition is also called a hybrid visa. While it is classified as a non immigrant visa, it also allows entry of these non immigrants whose intention is to become immigrants. And this makes this type of petition more difficult as it is unique. While this type of petition is quicker than immigrant visa applications, one drastic mistake could contribute to further delays and more costs. There are several factors one should watch out for. So make sure that your petition is well planned, well prepared and well handled by a qualified immigration attorney.

This column is not a substitute for professional legal advice obtained from a US licensed immigration attorney. The information contained herein does not constitute a warranty or guarantee or legal advice regarding a reader's specific immigration case. No attorney-client relationship is and shall be established with any reader.

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