Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Selena Expatriates - Guest Post

There's no one better to join our series on marrying and moving across the pond than Selena, who, with her husband, has now done it twice!  I found her blog just before she and Matt moved to England, after they'd already gone through the visa process for him to expatriate to the States.  One of my favorite things about Oh, The Places We Will Go is how honest Selena is about stepping out of her comfort zone - she's not always crazy about the idea, but she does it with panache!  Moving to another country for love is, as Selena and Matt have found, totally worth it, but it's not always a breeze.  Selena shows that challenge and adventure can go hand in hand and - well, go ahead and read her story for yourself!

A few years ago I attended a wedding in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas. A friend suggested that she should introduce me “to that tall guy over there. He’s from England.” He was a friend of the family and was in town just for the wedding. Between the adorable accent and the dancing, I was a goner. (If you’ve ever seen an Englishman dance you know what I mean.) I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. He moved in the next day. Scandalous, I know. But it was instant and we both knew. We were married three months later. Then came the really tricky dance of the visas.

We’ve actually done this twice now. Initially, Matt applied for a Green Card (permanent residency) to allow him to live and work in the US. And then when we decided to move to England, we went through the process again to get my Spouse Visa to live and work in the UK. I’ll describe below how we got through the process. But, it gets pretty complicated and changes every day. If you are going through this, I highly recommend that you do as much research as possible and consult an expert. It’s important to dot every “I” and cross every “t.” It takes time, money, patience and great attention to detail. It can be pretty stressful.

When we met, Matt was in the US on a tourist visa that was to expire in a few months. We set a wedding date which was a few weeks after it expired. Matt could overstay his tourist visa or he could return to the UK. If he returned to the UK it would mean long-term separation. It is illegal to enter the US on a tourist visa to get married with the intention of then settling in the US. If he flew home as planned, we would have to go through the process of getting a K-1 Fiance Visa before we could be together which could take months. We consulted an immigration attorney and carefully considered our options. We decided that Matt would overstay his tourist visa for a short time. Because he had entered the country legally on the tourist visa, once we were married and going through the process of applying for the Green Card there would be no problem with him staying in the US. (I am absolutely not advising this course of action. It’s important that you know all of the immigration laws that apply to your situation and that you consult an attorney.)

We had a wonderful wedding and since we couldn’t leave the country, we honeymooned in Key West. Then we started the process of applying for his permanent residency. We are both detail-oriented accountants and felt comfortable going through the application process on our own. Matt was unable to work until approved so he had time to devote to the process. As I mentioned, it is very detailed and complicated. It took weeks of filling out forms and gathering information. We had notebooks full of paperwork. (If you have any doubts, you should pay to have an attorney assist you with the process. Once something goes wrong, it’s difficult to get things back on track.)

Matt had a physical where they checked for the most random diseases. I had to complete an Affidavit of Support proving that I could support us living in the US without assistance. And we basically had to document our existence since birth. The last part of the process included an immigration interview, in part, to determine if the marriage was real. We took a folder with us that included photos of our time together and the wedding, letters from acquaintances and household bills. We were interviewed together. It was nerve racking leading up to but was relatively painless. The fees for everything were just over $1,000 and five months later the Green Card arrived. (Budget more money if you intend to use an attorney to complete the paperwork.)

Later that year, we made the decision to move to the UK and started the process of applying for my UK Spouse Visa while still in the States. Again, mountains of applications and paperwork were required. Luckily, we had most everything already gathered. I’ve been married and divorced before and had to provide originals of all of those documents.

This time Matt had to prove that he could support me in the UK without assistance. I had a biometrics appointment where they took my fingerprints. The fees were again in excess of £1,000 (without an attorney) and it took about four months during which time I was without my passport. Such a sigh of relief when my passport arrived with my Visa page included. My entry date to the UK was January 8th and we arrived on January 3rd. So I initially arrived and was admitted as a tourist. We took a quick trip to Paris and when I arrived again after the 8th, they stamped me into the UK on the Spouse Visa.
Matt also had to decide what to do about his US Permanent Residency. Because we were moving to the UK indefinitely and all of the rights and requirements of Permanent Residency, we decided that he would legally abandon the Green Card. This means that if we decide to move back to the US, we will have to go through the Permanent Residency application process again.

My current UK visa is for 27 months and once this probationary period is over, I will apply for settlement or “indefinite leave to remain”. (The laws have recently changed and the probationary period has been extended.) After three years in the UK, I will be eligible to apply for a British passport if I decide to go that route.

And that is the nuts and bolts of our visa process. Way to take a wonderful, international love story and turn it into a boring text, huh? But, I’m madly in love with Matt and would jump through any number of hoops to be with him. I’ve talked to many women who love a man with a sexy accent. The legalities of it have been the most stressful. It’s scary to think that government red tape can determine if you are going to be together at night. Matt and I were lucky that we’ve been able to stay together through it all. I know many who have had to spend time apart on separate continents like Betsy and Jon. Waiting for that approval can feel interminable, but waiting to be together must be the most difficult. Be informed, be diligent, read the fine print, seek professional guidance and trust that everything will work out in the end. It’s all worth it.


  1. I know this isn't an immigration board but there was a mistake in your guest post that I wouldn't want to confuse any potential transatlantic brides/grooms-to-be!

    I think this sentence needs to be modified slightly:

    It is illegal to enter the US on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married.

    It is NOT illegal to enter the US on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married-UNLESS you are planning on settling in the US (and not returning to your home country to apply for this necessary visa). It is perfectly legal to come to the US on a tourist visa and get married. You just have to leave afterwards. I married my British husband in the US and he was completely upfront about it at the border....because he had no intention of settling. It's a slight but fairly significant difference!


  2. thank you, Katherine, that makes sense! I'll not edit the post till I've heard from Selena, but that is what I thought as well from having looked into the option - thank you, and we'll make sure it's right!

  3. Same here! My husband (British) also entered the US on a tourist visa, we got married, and returned to the UK. He told them when he entered the US and there were no issues!

  4. Also, Selena, how did I not know you met your British husband at a wedding? I did too! Best place to meet them ;)


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