I’ve been a practicing Immigration attorney for a little over 2 years now. To give you some background, I was born in the Boston, MA area to parents who were both born in the US as well as 4 grandparents who were all born in the US. My family has ties to immigration until we go back to my great-grandparents who came here from Eastern Europe. So to enter a legal field that is dominated by immigrants and children of immigrants themselves came as a surprise to many people. As opposed to many of my colleagues, I’ve never been through or even heard stories about going through the treacherous immigration system. And even though I consider myself a very caring and patient attorney, I honestly could never truly take a step in client’s shoes; I never had any true insight into how the immigration process felt, from the standpoint of the client. I gave my clients excellent legal advice but I never fully realized how this legal advice affected the lives of my clients…until now.
For the past six months I’ve been dating a beautiful young woman who happens to be a citizen of India. She came over here on a J-1 cultural exchange visa, doing an internship in the field of Hospitality Management. Her visa is good for 1 year (plus a 30 day grace period) and that means she has to leave the US by February 8th. Furthermore, she hasn’t been home or seen her parents in over a year and has become quite homesick. So with our relationship becoming more and more serious, my girlfriend itching to go back to India to visit her family and the dreaded February 8th date quickly approaching, I had to suddenly change gears from immigration attorney to immigration client. I’ve advised countless numbers of couples in the same exact situation as me, so I knew exactly what our options would be:
1) Get married before Feb 8th and file the paperwork for permanent residency (green card);
2) Find an employer willing to sponsor my girlfriend on an H-1B work visa;
3) Have my girlfriend go back to school and obtain a student visa;
4) Have my girlfriend return to the US on a tourist visa and then either find a job or marry me;
5) File a fiancé visa and have my girlfriend return to India and wait for the visa approval before returning.
As an immigration lawyer, I knew that the best option would be 1 or 2, a solid option would be 3, number 4 borders on being unethical (especially when you are an immigration lawyer yourself) and perhaps the worst possible option would be number 5. Although originally created with the intent to help reunite couples so that they could get married, the fiancé visa is now regarded by some, as a marriage killer. Frankly, the visa takes way too long to get approved and ultimately, only the strongest couples survive; those who can maintain a long term relationship for an unknown period of time before the visa is approved.
The lawyer in me tried to provide the proper legal advice to my girlfriend and advised her that we should just go down to the courthouse today and get married; and if she didn’t like that, she had better find an employer willing to sponsor her for a work visa or think about returning to school. Well after 2 months of trying, she was not able to find a job, cringed at the idea of returning to the classroom and being from a traditional Indian family, there was no way she could marry me (even if it were only on paper) without having me meet her parents first.
Fast-forward to today, January 8, exactly 1 month before her grace period ends and she has to leave the US. After much debate and (yes) legal counsel from the other attorneys in my office (all of whom said to marry her today!), we ultimately decided to file the fiancé visa. So now for the next few months I get to experience what all of my clients get to experience – long delays, uncertainty and fear as Immigration processes, and hopefully approves, our visa application.
Aaron Blumberg is an immigration attorney in Miami, Florida.