Love happened to me while traveling.
I went to Algeria in 2008 to work on a theater project. I was determined not to have a single man hit on me. I bought fake wedding rings and made up a story of a handsome American husband named Luke (inspired by my mom’s Labrador). In my imagination he was blond, brown eyes and very athletic.
Then I went to a theater festival in Algiers and met Mohamed, an actor and director. He used to be a cyclist for the Algerian International team. He loved camping in the desert. He was an avid reader. He wrote plays. The story of my American husband named Luke evaporated.
Mohamed and I were married in Algeria in January of 2009. We thought he could come and visit Minnesota, the summer after our wedding, while I worked with a theater company in Minneapolis.
So Mohamed filled out a tourist visa application online. He bought a round trip train ticket from Oran to Algiers and took a hotel room. He arrived at the U.S consulate with $131 in hand thinking he had this in the bag. After all he is married to an American citizen.
Turns out that foreign nationals of countries such as Algeria, Taiwan, Argentina and Qatar are forced to immigrate to the United States if they want to meet their in-laws. Who knew that the U.S sometimes requires people to immigrate!
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act law 214b:
Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a non-immigrant status…(www.uscis.gov)
The U.S consulates around the world, in non-visa waiver countries, assume all spouses of American citizens to be ineligible of non-immigrant status. (A visa waiver country is any country that is part of the visa-waiver program. This program allows citizens of certain countries to enter the U.S without a visa.)
Our foreign spouses, the unfortunate citizens of countries that don’t have a special “in” with the U.S, are not even allowed the opportunity to prove to U.S consular officers that they have strong ties to their home country and that they will indeed return at the end of their stay.
Law 214b, as it is currently interpreted and put into practice, denies our foreign born spouses the right to visit the U.S.
In Mohamed’s case, a consular officer at the U.S Embassy in Algiers informed him that the reason for his immediate visa denial, without review of his supporting documents, is simply the law. Since his American wife can file a petition for him to immigrate he is not allowed to enter the U.S as a tourist.
“But I do not want to immigrate,” he said to the officer behind the window.
“You must immigrate,” she said.
“But I don’t want to immigrate! I want to visit.”
Perhaps some might be overjoyed at hearing those words from an official of the U.S. You must immigrate! They might not care they had lost nearly $300. They might think no sum is too large to get to the U.S.
However, in a situation like ours when you are living abroad and don’t have immediate plans to move to the U.S this is incredibly difficult. The interview at the consulate in these cases causes humiliation, loss of hard earned money, and animosity towards our country already facing strong criticism from abroad. The U.S government arrogantly assumes that everyone intends to immigrate.
How absurd, with all the talk of illegal immigration and undesired immigrants that Mohamed will be forced to immigrate in order to meet the majority of my friends and family.
He has never been denied a visa to Europe. An established actor in Algeria, teenage girls giggle at him when they cross him on the street. Why would he want to leave permanently?
Furthermore, to our chagrin, the consulate in Algiers does not state this fact on their website. The state department should inform American citizens married to foreign nationals of non-visa waiver states that our spouses are automatically ineligible simply because they are married to us.
Falling in love, marrying, and residing with an American in their home country is a major strike against them. Twisted is the only word that comes to mind.
Undertaking the immigration petition costs as much as the average monthly salary of most Algerian workers. Compounding this expense is the validity of the Green Card. Once a foreign spouse holds the Green Card they must return to the U.S every year. We live in North Africa and would rather be spending our time and money exploring the sites of the Mediterranean.
Simply put, forcing our spouses to immigrate just to visit and spend time with their family is preposterous.
For more stories about immigration and visa issues, check out how to move to the U.S once Obama is president and know before you go: visa and immunization problems that could leave you stranded and how to get an EU work permit.