I am writing to you not as a dater (or the parent of one), but as an immigration attorney in our community who has been seeing a jump in international shidduchim. I am wondering if you have been seeing this phenomenon too, and if you think people need some insight into the legal ramifications of dating someone who is either outside the country or who has traveled to the U.S. and plans to marry a U.S. citizen and stay here. I’m getting calls from Americans whose fiancées are from countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Israel, but also more exotic locations such as Chile, Ecuador, South Africa, and Italy.

These shidduchim come with special legal considerations for people in our community, considering the short engagement periods many couples have. They need to think about where the wedding (in which country) will take place, whether they plan to stay in the U.S. long term and want to apply for a green card for the foreign spouse, or whether the spouse is already living in the U.S. with legal immigration status.

Couples should first assess their personal circumstances and goals.

Where will we live?  Do we plan to stay in the U.S. long-term?

Is my fiancé(e) already living in the U.S. on a temporary visa?

Is he still living in his home country and needs to come to the U.S. for the wedding?

Are we going to get legally married when we have the chuppah?

Timing is also crucial when planning the wedding. Oftentimes, if a chassan or kallah is abroad, people consider a fiancé(e) visa, but waiting for the visa to be approved to enter the country may not be the best option for people in our community trying to get married within a short time-frame. If he or she came into the U.S. on a visitor visa in order to date and has been here ever since, getting married too quickly after arrival could raise red flags with immigration officials, because it may look like they intended to stay in the U.S. when they came in with the visitor visa.

Travel can pose potential issues. If the foreign spouse tries to re-enter the U.S. on a visitor visa after the marriage, there is a possibility that he or she could end up with problems at the border, because being married to a U.S. citizen indicates that he or she is not just here for a visit. Border officials are given a lot of discretion in deciding whether someone’s intentions are true. If they suspect a person is married to a U.S. citizen, they may investigate further by checking one’s phone or social media. Any newly married couple surely wants to avoid an involuntary long-distance relationship.

I do not want anyone to feel discouraged from dating someone from outside the U.S.! I just want them to be aware of the issues, know what questions they should be asking, and not assume they will figure it all out after the wedding. If someone thinks they are on the path to an engagement with someone from another country, they should get legal guidance tailored to their unique circumstances.

Have you been seeing a rise in international marriages in the last few years? Do these couples tend to settle in the U.S. or elsewhere? Do you think people are aware of how to prepare for the legal aspects of such matches? I would love to hear your thoughts on what kind of information on this topic you think would be valuable for singles in our community.

Signed,

Michelle Dinits

Response

Thank you for your invaluable legal advice regarding marriages between U.S. citizens and those who live abroad. I would like to add to your recommendations that it is important for the U.S. citizen to make sure that the prospective spouse is not specifically marrying for the green card! I cannot say that within the frum communities there has been a substantial increase in international shidduchim than in the past. Interestingly, years ago it was much more common. Nowadays I find that many daters have issues if the person is located more than a 30-minute drive from their home. That’s not to say that a match between singles who live in different countries doesn’t happen. Personally, I had the zechus to partner with Hashem in making such shidduchim, but they are not as commonplace as matches where one of the parties has already established residence in the U.S.

What we are seeing is an increasing global network of singles. Due to free social media platforms, there are many opportunities for singles to meet people outside their daled amos where they can regularly speak and interact with one another electronically. A problem often starts when it becomes clear that the next step involves a face-to-face meeting. That’s when scheduling conflicts occur as well as the concern of costs such as flights, hotels, etc. What typically happens in situations where they can’t agree on a time to meet in person, sadly the relationship fizzles out. Another scenario is when the couple finally meet face-to-face and experience a letdown because the person they meet is totally different from what they expected.

Not only that, but in frum circles, where people commonly do extensive checking into an individual, there are more opportunities nowadays to find out about somebody living overseas than in years past. If something negative comes to light, the shidduch is off. Years ago, there were horror stories told of international shidduchim where vital information was never discovered until it was too late. The other issue that comes up is time differences. As a couple becomes closer, they want to spend more time talking. Depending on where each party lives, that’s not always possible, and can lead to much frustration and arguments, resulting in a breakup.

Something that needs to be determined before a couple even meets is where they will end up living once married. This is not something that can be figured out later, and no one should ever attempt to date someone overseas unless they worked out their own personal logistics. If somebody has flexibility in terms of work, family, and other matters that are extremely important to them, and if language and culture are beyond a doubt not going to be a barrier to employment, then such an individual can contemplate international dating. As a shadchan, I will not match two people who live in different countries (and sometimes states) unless there are assurances from one of the parties that relocation is a sure thing. I will say that in my shadchanus practice, relocation is more common to the U.S., or if abroad, to Israel. Any other country where I generally see relocation for marriage would be where English is a common language, and if not, then the move is temporary for educational or employment purposes.

Whether people are prepared for the legal aspects of such matches really depends on their maturity level. Younger couples tend to rely on their parents to handle it for them, yet older, emotionally mature couples that are settled in their careers in most cases leave no stone unturned in assuring that everything is in place regarding finances and career before making the move. Not only that, but if one of the parties has elderly parents or family members whose simchas will require regular attendance, then cost factors come into play in a big way. Who will be paying for that? Moreover, what about the expenditures involved in traveling to the wedding or even before the wedding, and who will do most of the back and forth traveling for dates?

One should try and have all those issues figured out to the best of their ability and not hope that the spouse that lives in the U.S. will cover all the expenses. The biggest problem that I come across is that there are singles so desperate to find a match that instead of doing their due diligence before they date internationally, convince themselves that love will somehow conquer all, and when it proves not to be and plans fall through, so does the relationship.

It’s not just logistical matters that need attention. Earlier in my response I mentioned that nowadays it is much easier to find out about someone who lives overseas than previously, yet it’s still not foolproof. In the first place, dating locally means that the couple gets to spend more time together in various settings. Not so when dating electronically or via limited meetings when flying to each other’s country. The other issue is that since it’s easy to always act appropriately given the short number of in-person dates, there is a stronger likelihood that the couple will fall in love sooner than with local dating. The moment emotions take hold of a single man or woman, all red flags that show their colors will likely be dismissed. Additionally, international dating usually does not give enough opportunity to view how the other interacts with family members and other associations.

I’m not trying to dampen the spirits of anyone from dating a person who lives overseas. There are circumstances where an international shidduch would be the best prospect for them. I’m urging singles that when such a shidduch does present itself, that both parties do their homework to the extent that they each take time off more than once to hop on a plane, spend as much time as possible with each other, and get to know the background and social environment of the person in question. n

 

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. Baila also produces and hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for 5townscentral.com, vinnews.com, Israel News Talk Radio, and WNEW FM 102.7 FM HD3, listenline & talklinenetwork.com. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com.

 

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