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Photo by Jing Qu

Jocelyn Eikenburg learns that international love doesn’t come easy.

It was a rainy Tuesday in a Taiwanese cafe in Shanghai, and Jun and I were having fried rice with a generous side of tears. To the patrons around us, the whole scene had “breakup” written all over it. But it wasn’t that kind of breakup. Leaving melodrama aside, this was the US government breaking up our trip back to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

To me, Jun was the guy who first kissed me to the tune of cicadas, next to Hangzhou’s West Lake. The man who loved to pick me up from the metro station late at night, and ferry me home on the back of his bicycle. But to the visa officer at the US Consulate in Shanghai, Jun was just another immigration risk from China with no apartment or car, let alone a wife or children. “You’re too young,” the officer declared in Mandarin, stamping a denial in permanent red ink into the passport.

Photo by author.

Before I met Jun, I imagined international love to be as sexy as a James Bond movie, where lovers went from Monte Carlo to the Casbah as easily as ordering a martini. But then I went to China, and I was shaken and stirred by the reality there — that Chinese citizens had to scale an interminable wall of visa regulations just to set foot on a plane. Things such as having $7,500 saved in a bank account for at least six months, or proof of real estate ownership, or even passing interviews.

I shouldn’t have pushed Jun to apply for that US tourist visa — except I longed for him to meet my parents. I had met his months before, but he’d only known mine through the occasional long-distance phone call. But instead of getting the third degree from my dad, Jun had to get it first from a US visa officer, a guy who wasn’t kidding about “no.”

Like an embattled child, this denial made me want to take Jun to the United States even more. And I was willing to push the boundaries to make it happen, even if that meant getting married.

Taiwan became “the other man,” an illicit affair with what was, for Jun, the forbidden side of China.

Following my trip back home, alone, I realized we weren’t ready for some shotgun wedding just for a visa. We liked where we were, as a couple. And since I didn’t foresee any more travel to the United States in the next year or so, I didn’t worry about another government-induced separation.

But in December 2003 my company decided to send me to Taiwan: an island that was still technically at war with mainland China, and which was damn near impossible for any mainland Chinese citizen to visit. I desperately wanted to stay together with Jun, but the promise of a company promotion, and more adventures, lured me across the strait to Taipei.

Taiwan became “the other man,” an illicit affair with what was, for Jun, the forbidden side of China. And I fell hard for it all — from the sweet, sing-song “huanying guanglin” welcome of shop owners, to the view of the pearl-studded night sky from the Matsao Hot Springs in the Yangming Mountains. But as gorgeous as Taiwan was, he left me hollow and longing for my real love across the strait.

Photo by Fishtail@Taipei

So when I heard Jun’s voice from Shanghai, proposing over the phone, I resolved to break it off with Taipei for good. The distance had made me realize just how much I loved Jun, and how I never wanted to leave him again.

Besides registering our marriage in Shanghai in 2004, we also said “I do” to traveling around the world as a couple. We trekked across Thailand, and relaxed on the beaches of Bali, taking our first steps together in the most visa-friendly countries for mainland Chinese citizens. We consummated our commitment to each other, and to our mutual wanderlust.

This encouraged us to keep trying to get Jun a US visa. After nearly a year of applying for a green card — from sending in meticulously typed applications, to gathering evidence — he went for an interview at the US Consulate in Guangzhou in November 2005. I was frantic, pacing the floor in an apartment a few stories up, hoping the US government would finally step aside and let our marriage cross the Pacific.


At the Shanghai Pudong International Airport in late December 2005, Jun and I cuddled in the corner of a Korean cafe, with our luggage under the table. He had his arm around me as he tempted me with kimchi and noodles. And I smiled with every flirtatious bite, imagining the two boarding passes in my purse. Final destination: Cleveland, Ohio.

For the first time in our relationship, it felt so easy to be international, and in love.



About The Author

Jocelyn Eikenburg

Jocelyn never thought that China would be anything beyond one memorable year of teaching English. But after that year, she abandoned teaching for writing, pursued fluency in Mandarin Chinese, and, later, walked down the aisle with a Chinese national in Shanghai. A freelance writer and Chinese translator, she blogs at Speaking of China, and is still a sucker for China's TV love dramas.

  • George

    Full ten years ago a visa officer at the US consulate in Manila denied a visa to a Filipina woman saying she was a marriage risk! In 2009 he was visiting the East-West Center in Hawaii and saw a familiar face trimming the trees on the campus of the University of Hawaii. He saw her several times..and finally decided to ask whether he knew her from somewhere..she said he looked familiar but did not know from where..a few days later she remembered..and then asked him “you were the guy who denied me the visa in Manila did n’t you because I will find an American guy to marry? Guess what, that is what I did, in Singapore.” In the end, his rejection of visa gained the US goverment $200 in non-refundable fees…but in the end did not stop her from entering the country!

    • Mpartrid

      On a personal level, yes it feels so “unfair” that you cannot live and visit wherever you want with your loved ones.  But on a broader level, the governments have to do this to make sure that in deed real family members of their citizens has the privilege of immigrations.  That is their job.  We tasked them to do so.

      Sadly it is true that a good number of people in developing countries will do anything to immigrate to countries like the US and EU countries.   Open borders will create chaos that citizens of the developed countries do not want.  The governments can only allow people who are not likely to overstay to visit, that means you have to have plenty of reasons to go back and no reason to stay.  Large sums of money you cannot move easily or deep family ties helps.    Having a boy/girl friend from the county you want to visit means you are very likely to overstay your welcome and does not help.  Hence all the interviews in attempt to assess your probability of not overstaying.  The young, with no money, no job and nothing to lose plus a boy/girl friend pulling you to stay makes just about the highest risk.    Can’t blame them to see that.

      Given that they are only going to allow a certain number of people from developing countires to immigrate, they want to save the spots for the established immediate family members, husbands, wives, children.  I think that is fair.  If you are not ready to make a commitment to that person for life why should your fellow citizens make a commitment to the same person for life, which is essentially the case once he/she immigrates.

      By the way, I married an American citizen and went through all that myself.  But never did I feel unfair.  Annoying maybe.  But that was my choice.

  • Sara

    Interesting story Jocelyn and luckily it had a happy ending! This is pretty much the same with my Chinese boyfriend and it’s quite impossible to get a visa to Finland for him. Fortunately he already met my mom and one of my siblings when they came to visit me. But the trip to Finland seems to have to wait until we are married.

  • Robin

    Getting visas is very difficult for Chinese without a big amount number on the bank account.I been there,got a denial stamp on my passport from U.K,and I tried the second time to get the visa to visit my ex’s family…
    In this case,multi-national relationship for Chinese citizen is indeed difficult in the area of visiting.

  • Lindsay

    This made me a little teary!

  • Aorijia

    That’s how the world is made: Depending on where you are from, things are either extremely easy or extremely difficult.

    I remember when my Chinese husband and I had our pre-marriage interview. Like in the “Green Card” movie, they wanted to find out whether our marriage was real or out of convenience. After answering all kinds of personal questions about each other and our families, the judge asked us whether we had anything else to add in order to prove our relationship.

    -Yes, Sir! -we, said-, we happen to HAVE A DAUGHTER IN COMMON!

    It’s so crazy, the world felt so unfair that day…

  • Sarah

    I can totally relate with you, all the disappointments and denials, me and my boyfriend are in a slightly different situation, but were still struggling through our visa application.process it feels like were stuck in a maze and can’t get out, we get around one corner and find a new barrier in our way. hopefully next Chinese new year we will be back in China together

  • Andarin

    Beautiful story, and quite well-written! I loved it.

    Glad you and your love finally made it to Ohio. There’s just one thing I’m not clear on, you had to get married before they let that happen, or no?

    • Jocelyn

      Thanks to all for the lovely comments!

      @Andarin, yes, we did get married before going over to Ohio. In the story, I wrote about “registering our marriage in Shanghai,” which made us a legal couple.

  • melanie gao

    What a sweet story! Jocelyn I love the way you paint the picture of your romance with John. I’m so glad your story had a happy ending.

  • Emily

    Hi Jocelyn, thanks so much for your story. I found your article through a google search as I’m in the same boat as a couple other people who posted – my boyfriend’s Chinese and I’d love to get him a visa to visit my home in Oregon, where I’d eventually like to settle. I’m too young to get married and I’m not about to break up just because we can’t get a visa for him, and it’s a tough spot to be in… but here’s hoping our story turns out as perfectly as yours did.

    Has anyone else gone through a similar situation? I’d love to hear stories, thoughts and advice!

    • Jocelyn

      @Emily, thanks for the comment!

      There’s a website you may find helpful. It’s called Candle for love (Candleforlove dot com), and its purpose is to help Americans navigate the visa system to bring their Chinese loved ones over to the US. Most of the people on the site are dealing with immigrant visas, but there is some good information about nonimmigrant visas as well.

      I would say, though, from my experience it really depends on his situation. Like in the story I wrote, the visa officers just looked at Jun, not me. I would pose your question on Candle for love and get some perspectives on it.

      Good luck!

  • Webster

    ^_^ This gives me hope…I don’t know what I’m going to do honestly, as I can’t (legally) marry, there’s no way my boyfriend can even get a green card to the US. 

  • Laurie Wenli

    I love all your articles (and your blog), Ms. Jocelyn! Thank you!

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