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How to Prove "Bona Fide" Relationship

The hardest part for any couple who is embarking on applying for a fiance or spouse visa to understand, is that at the end of the day the decision made by the consular officer reviewing the case, by the interviewer who has the absolute power to approve or deny, is that he or she is making a SUBJECTIVE decision bases on the APPEARANCES of your situation. Does the officer FEEL that in his or her OPINION, you APPEAR to be a bona fide couple?. Does he or she feel you appear to have followed a similar path that other couples in your partner's country have traveled before?. Does your courtship APPEAR to follow normal and reasonable practices, timing, and so on?

Sad but true, What is expected by the officer, may not match what YOU want to do.

Problem is, the officer has all the power, he is the boss. To be successful, to reliably get permission to come to the USA, you are best served to comply with HIS ideas, not only yours.

I recently got a call. The first thing the caller said was "I want to get married in Dominica next month, Can I do that?". She them spoke about how beautiful the country was, how she would have a wedding on a beach, how nice the wedding photos would be, and so on and so on.

I certainly am all in favor of getting married in a romantic, tropical, fun location. It's all good.

However, my job is to guide couples through immigration, by viewing the big picture, how best to get a couple their happy ever after in the USA. Not just to compliment wedding party arrangements.

I started by asking "Where does your Dominica fiance want to marry?. The surprising answer was, "he is not from Dominica. He is from Morocco, We have never met. We have been corresponding on facebook for almost 3 months. He is significantly younger. I want to marry right away. We don't have any friends or family in Dominica I just think its a beautiful place to marry"

Instead of asking me to warn her about the many red flags she had and advise how to reduce them, she only wanted my approval on the wedding venue.

She was not very happy with the practical suggestions I made.

When any application for a romance type of visa (I view both fiancee and spouse visa in that single category), the consular officer, regardless of where he is posted worldwide, when reviewing the case, always asks himself "Does the timeline and progression of the romance and relationship sound reasonable in general, and specifically reasonable in light of local culture and common local practice?

Certainly, he has heard of whirlwind romance. He has heard of "love at first sight". He has heard it all. But in his real life, the majority of bona fide cases he and his fellow officers have experienced, basically match the following scenario.

  • A couple has found each other. These days most first meet online at a dating or social website.
  • The couple get to know each other, corresponding and sending messages back-and-forth, via text, video, voice
  • Eventually they meet in-person
  • They continue continue corresponding and maybe meet in-person more times
  • Having developed affection for each other, marriage is proposed and accepted
  • They announce their plans for marriage to family and friends
  • Celebrations are held, such as engagement parties and/or wedding ceremonies
  • FINALLY the couple applies for a Visa to allow them to live together in the USA

In addition to expecting the above general progression of events just described, the consular officer will ALSO expect the local culture and traditions of the foreign fiancee's country and family to have been followed.

For example in Vietnam the US consulate regularly denies visa requests, if the couple planning marriage did not wait an appropriate time (about 6 months, from the time of the marriage proposal, before having an elaborate engagement celebration called "Dinh Hon". And the consulate expects that both the waiting period and "Dinh Hon" occured before any application is originally submitted at USCIS. The US consulate In India regularly denies if there is not proof that the Indian fiance's family were knowledgeable and materially involved in the wedding preparations.

Normally, the expected natural development of a relationship and the expected "touching of all bases" sometimes takes years. Rarely less than one.

Skipping steps, jumping ahead, speeding things up, often occurs. After all "the heart knows what it wants" But to skip the basics and to rush to apply for visa incurs a risk. It makes a couples case APPEAR weaker than what is normally expected for approval.

Back to my caller who wanted her Dominica dream wedding.

I pointed out that the red flags in her case, are as follows;

  • The couple only knew each other under 3 months but were already engaged
  • They had never met in-person but were already engaged
  • They had a significant age difference
  • Reverse chauvinism still occurs, when an older woman applies for a much younger man
  • The Foreign fiancee is from a country considered Hi-risk for visa fraud
  • They are of different religions
  • Their only plan to meet is in a third country, where no family, no friends, no colleagues can witness their relationship nor vouch for the foreign fiance.
  • The American has never experienced the foreign fiance's home, lifestyle, family, friends.

Some things can't be changed. They will always have age and religion difference. They will always have agreed to marriage, sight unseen. He will always be from Morocco.

The rising tide that overcomes such fixed red flags, is a demonstration of a couples bona fides and proof that the American (who the US consular officer is somewhat inclined to trust) can prove that she or he, REALLY, TRULY knows the foreign partner, and in essence can vouch for the foreign partner.

I suggest that they take action to strengthen their case by putting the wedding plans on hold, while spending much more time to get to know each other. She should travel to Morocco and do "due diligence" to learn about her partner. See where he lives, and who he lives with. Meet his family and friends. Talk to his neighbors. The more time they actually spend together in-person, the more the appearance of their bona fide relationship improves.

Their application should not be submitted before first putting in more time. She should prepare a solid case with many months of correspondence, and one or more in-person trips. Then after that, she can have a dream wedding in a third country, and still have the strongest case to obtain her partners visa..

This is in a nutshell what I do for my clients. I advise what they should to to make their case best match the consular officers expectations. I suggest what evidences should be obtained. And finally I comb through their evidences to prepare the best presentation to be included in the "front loaded" application we submit to US immigration.

And regardless of planning and best advice, if a couple's story is wide of the mark, and they have done things their OWN way. Well, then what I do is help EXPLAIN to the consular officer why what actually happened, was in the case of this particular couple, a right and reasonable path for them. I explain that even though they "march to a different drummer" they are a legitimate and bona fide couple, and as such deserve visa approval.

By Fred Wahl
the VisaCoach

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