Visa Rules Hinder Couple's Celebration of Love
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now we turn to another international story that's hitting closer to home this Valentine's Day. While many people are buying chocolates and roses to surprise mister or miss special, others are unable to play Cupid because they are struggling with U.S. immigration authorities over whether their fiances or spouses will be allowed to come to this country. Wendy Brown of Baltimore, Maryland is one of those people. Her fiance, an Albanian native, has been rejected for a U.S. visa, and the couple is now appealing that decision. Ms. Brown is on the phone with us from Shkoder, Albania. Also with us is Washington Post reporter Karin Brulliard, who reported their story and those of others in their situation. Welcome, ladies. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. WENDY BROWN (Awaiting visa for fiance): Thank you for having me.
Ms. KARIN BRULLIARD (Reporter, Washington Post): Thanks.
MARTIN: Ms. Brulliard, has this become a common scenario, that - I guess what I'm asking you is has there been change in the ease with which couples have been able to bring loved ones into this country?
Ms. BRULLIARD: I can't say there's been a change in the ease with which they have been able to bring them, but there's certainly been an increase in the, these kinds of applications. Fiance visas - there's a special category for fiance visas almost quadrupled from 1996 to 2005. And spouse visas also have really jumped from, I think, 2002 to 2005, jumped by from 4,000 to 6 and 7,000. So there are certainly more people in the situation of trying to bring their romantic partners here.
MARTIN: Why do you think that is?
Ms. BRULLIARD: One explanation - I certainly don't think this is the entire explanation - but one explanation is, is the rise of the Internet. There are, of course, online dating sites, but also the ease with which people can maintain those relationships - instant messaging, email, all these things that kind of help keep relationships alive, I think.
MARTIN: Ms. Brown, tell us your story. How did you meet your fiancé?
MS. BROWN: We actually met in Greece when I was on vacation, and he was there visiting relatives and just happened to run into each other you know in a bar restaurant and started talking.
MARTIN: Did you think at the time that it would become, forgive me, more than just kind of a summer fling?
MS. BROWN: No, absolutely not. In fact, you know, initially, I thought, oh, isn't this cute? You know, I'm on vacation and I meet this really nice guy. But I certainly didn't think at the time that it would develop into, you know, a full-blown love relationship where we would be pursuing a K-1 visa for him to come and live with me in the U.S.
MARTIN: How long have you been together at this point?
MS. BROWN: More than a year and a half.
MARTIN: So at what point in the relationship did you start trying to bring him to the U.S.?
MS. BROWN: We actually started talking about it about a month after we met. We joked about, initially, when we met - but, again, at the time it was nothing more than that, and then we continued to communicate, you know, cell phone, text messaging, you know, chatting online. And after about a month we started to talk about it seriously, but we really didn't submit our paperwork until six months later, in October.
MARTIN: So why did the embassy reject your fiance's application? Do they have to tell you why?
Ms. BROWN: They gave - basically, you know, there were some really flimsy excuses that the consular officer used to reject us. He said it was a hasty engagement, meaning that we hadn't known each other long enough before we decided to apply for the visa. He also said - made vague statements like the beneficiary doesn't know about her attributes, her interests, et cetera, but…
MARTIN: You mean your fiance - he said your fiance didn't know enough about you.
Ms. BROWN: Right. He also said because I don't speak Albanian and my fiance only spoke basic English, that that was another reason.
MARTIN: Is that true?
Ms. BROWN: At the time, and when we first met, yes, absolutely. It was a struggle to communicate, but, you know, within six months he was able to pick up English very quickly. So his English is better than my Albanian, and we have no difficulty communicating now.
MARTIN: Ms. Brulliard, from what you learned from your reporting, is that fairly common? First of all, is the rejection rate higher than the acceptance rate, and are those typical reasons? A sense that the relationship is too hasty to warrant approving the visa?
Ms. BRULLIARD: I can't say whether the rejections are more typical than acceptances. I mean, certainly, one thing that's clear from everybody I spoke to, and I know Wendy can attest to this, is that delays are very common. And one thing that's also clear, delays and rejections don't come with very detailed explanations, usually. They might come with a sort of vague, broad explanation. You know, we have reason to believe, you know, this is entered into fraudulently. But that's, you know, the basic…
MARTIN: I'm sorry - is the concern that persons are specifically looking for American citizens to marry in order to get visas? Is the concern that theirs is a conspiracy, in essence, to fraudulently achieve a visa for a person, or that the international citizen or the foreign citizen is preying on Americans as a way to get into this country?
Ms. BRULLIARD: I think both. And, you know, this applies in not just this kind of category visa, but immigration officials now, probably more than ever, are concerned about who is coming here and why they want to come here. It's tougher and tougher. With regards to these kind of visas, absolutely. You know, immigrations officials will say very clearly that there are many Americans who have been the victim of people who profess love for them in order to come here. And, you know, there are certainly other cases of people who are U.S. citizens who are party to that, but marriage fraud is certainly a concern by immigration officials.
MARTIN: Ms. Brown, you can see why, right, that people would think that - you did get together kind of quickly. Can you see where people would be worried about you, think that perhaps maybe this was a little hasty?
Ms. BROWN: I'm a person who has always been rational in decision-making, you know. I'm a professional. I've been single for a very, very long time - not because I was unable to find a suitable partner, but because I just didn't want to settle for someone, anyone, you know what I mean? I really wanted to be with someone that I loved. And I understand the concerns. I guess all I can say is that in my heart and my mind and through the many, many months that we've been struggling with this immigration nightmare, there's no doubt in my mind whatsoever what his intentions are. You know, I've been here - living here in Albania for three or four months, and believe me, it's not a vacation.
MARTIN: Why did you decide to move there?
Ms. BROWN: I decided because I really couldn't bear the separation any longer, and neither could he. And it just seemed like all the material things that I may have really pale in comparison to the relationship that I have with my fiance, and that was more important to me.
MARTIN: So how's your Albanian coming along?
Ms. BROWN: Pretty good, actually.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Have you learned Happy Valentine's Day in Albanian?
Ms. BROWN: No, I haven't. I haven't. He's said it a couple of times, but, no, I don't know how to say it.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, maybe we'll work on that for next Valentine's Day. So Wendy, do you have some advice for people who are in your situation? Is there something you would want to pass along?
Ms. BROWN: Absolutely. If you do happen to pursue a relationship with someone living in a foreign country, unless your intention is to move there, you really need to start to compile your evidence immediately. Because I was naive in thinking oh, we'll just submit our application, and everything will be fine. But they really want tons of proof. They want photos, they want phone records. They want email. They want to know you've been communicating - how much. You know, it's sad that, you know, you kind of reduce your relationship to now when we go out, oh, we should probably take some pictures - not necessarily because we want to but because we may need them later. You know what I mean?
And also you have to have a lot of patience, a lot of love, and it's quite expensive, you know, this whole process. I would say, you know, definitely, definitely if you love the person, pursue it. But I can't imagine anyone in their right mind would put themselves through this unless they really, really, really love the person. You know what I mean?
MARTIN: Finally, Ms. Brulliard, there is this question of long backlog for visas in whatever category. Is the State Department doing anything to address that question, no matter what category?
Ms. BRULLIARD: It's a complicated thing where a lot of the backlog is caught up kind of not at the immigration authorities but in the FBI, where people undergo background checks. And I think recently we had a story in the Washington Post mentioning that several thousand applicants for permanent residency who are living in the United States now and who are just waiting for their FBI background checks will be issued some sort of temporary permanent residency, I believe it was, simply because, you know, immigration authorities recognize that this backlog was pretty trying for people.
So I guess the short answer is they say they're working on it.
MARTIN: Well, not very romantic, but I'm sure that's welcome news to folks like Ms. Brown.
Karin Brulliard is a report for the Washington Post. She joined us from her office in Washington. We were also joined by Wendy Brown, who is seeking a visa for her fiance. She joined us on the phone from Shkoder, Albania. Ladies, thank you both for joining us, and Happy Valentine's Day to you.
Ms. BROWN: Thank you. You, too.
Ms. BRUILLIARD: Thank you.
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