If you live in the US (or if you don’t, but you’ve watched a few American romantic comedies), you’ve probably heard people joke about “green card marriages,” where a person who isn’t a US citizen can marry someone who is, thereby securing his/her own US passport and lifetime access to the American dream. It’s presented in pop culture as an easy fix to a lapsed work-based green card (or did you not see The Proposal?) and for anyone who enjoys reality TV and the whole family of “90 Day Fiance” shows, it justifies our suspicions of anyone who speaks with an accent. It perpetuates the idea that “foreigners can’t be trusted.” When an idea is a part of the cultural zeitgeist and everyone gets why it’s funny, it ends up getting tossed around way too freely. Someone mentions that they’re going to propose to their partner from a country/region/continent that you feel suspicious about, and can you even stop yourself from letting the words slip out? “Dude, are you sure this isn’t just about the green card?” “How do you know you can trust him/her?” Now before anyone jumps in and says, “But sometimes it is sketchy! And pointing that out to my friend is just being a good friend!” … I get it. There are certainly cases of visa fraud that happen every year, and it is the job of USCIS to flag high fraud locations and reject applications that don’t provide enough proof of a real relationship. I’m sure they catch quite a few people with false relationships, and I’m sure there are people who are genuinely in love who have been rejected, too. That’s the thing about a relationship-based immigration situation. Each relationship is unique, and it’s hard to know how it might appear from the outside or what someone else might expect to see in order to know that it’s genuine.
The frustration that I have with this oft-repeated joke is that the immigration process is already long, expensive, and emotionally-taxing. That right there is a deterrent to anyone looking for a quick, easy, and fake way to enter a country. The process itself requires commitment – it’s not like you fill out a quick form and then kick back and relax and wait for your green card. If your understanding of the fiance visa comes from “90 Day Fiance,” you’ve definitely heard the phrase, “They have 90 days to decide if they want to get married.” That’s a pet peeve of mine right there – I can’t imagine many people go through the stress and expense of filing for a fiance visa without first deciding that they do, in fact, want to get married and are already committed to each other. If your first reaction when someone tells you they’re engaged to a person from another country is to go full Sherlock Holmes to detect if their heart is pure and motivation is real, stop right there. Is this how you react to two people from the same country getting engaged? If so, great (I mean, that’s weird…but I’m glad you’re not discriminating). If not, and you’re letting your bias of people from a different part of the world express itself, then stop and take a breath. Try asking your friend questions about his or her partner like you would if you were just curious if these two people are compatible, not searching for skeletons in the closet.