• The business of marriage

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    CRISPIN R. ARANDA

    CRISPIN R. ARANDA

    There is LOVE at first sight, but how about MARRIAGE at first meeting?

    From 2005 to 2014, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) recorded 214,093 Filipinos who emigrated as spouses or partners of foreign nationals. Most were married. Some were not.

    Filipinos who are being sponsored or petitioned by a qualified spouse or partner from the United States, Japan, Australia or Canada (the top four country-destinations of Filipino spouses and partners) must register with the CFO before, during, or after issuance of the specific visa category.

    Petitions are usually what the US citizen or green card holder resident files for the spouse. For the Commonwealth Nations (CNs) – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the spouse or partner is being “sponsored.”

    In the US, only spouses (of citizens or lawful permanent residents) may be petitioned. In the Commonwealth Nations, the sponsor and the person being sponsored need not be married. They can be partners (de facto or in a common-law relationship) and in Canada, a partner by cohabitation is also eligible.

    In addition, partners (not just spouses) may be of the same – or opposite sex. The US was the last country (among the five countries with permanent migration options) to allow same-sex petitions.

    In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that “the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.”

    Top 10 destination countries of marriage migrants
    With 4 million members of the Filipino community in the United States, it is not surprising that the 2014 CFO Compendium of Statistics shows the US as the top migration destination (46 percent) followed by Japan (18 percent), Australia (8 percent), South Korea (6 percent), Canada (5 percent), United Kingdom (3 percent), Germany (2 percent), Norway (1 percent), Sweden (1 percent), and Taiwan (1 percent).

    About a quarter of marriages started through the internet or social media (24 percent), second only to meetings arranged through personal introduction by friends or relatives (31 percent). Twenty percent of marriage migrants met their partners/spouses at workplaces (20 percent).

    Knotty issues of internet brides
    Matching Filipinas (or Filipinos) to foreigners for marriage is illegal under Philippine law. Republic Act 6955 prohibits such practice of tying the knot through digital cupidhood.

    A random check using “mail order brides websites,” as the search phrase, generates quite an interesting list, especially the “Top 10 Mail Order Brides Sites 2016,” which comes with reviews, costs and features.

    The “Filipino Cupid” is ranked No. 9, described as “relatively new to the foreign bride scene, Filipino Cupid has already become popular with western men looking to meet Filipino women online. During our review of the site, there were about 2500 members online, which pushes Filipino Cupid toward the top of this category.”

    Five of the 10 top destinations are catering to foreign nationals seeking Asian partners, spouses, or mates.

    Citizens vs residents
    Only citizens of the United States may sponsor a fiancé(e). A permanent resident may sponsor a spouse, but not a partner – and the waiting period is at least twice as long as the petition for the spouse of a US citizen.

    In contract, permanent residents of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and most European countries, may already sponsor a partner of the same or opposite sex.

    Personal meeting requirement
    In all cases, the petitioning or sponsoring spouse/partner – of legal age, 18 or over – must have met in person. In the US, the personal meeting must have been within the two-year period immediately preceding the filing of the I-129F petition. Where either or both the petitioner/sponsor and the foreign national spouse/partner is 16 or 17 years old, consent of the parents or legal guardian is required.

    Genuine relationship and intention to be together permanently
    Since a spouse or partner petition is intended to bring the foreign national spouse to the country of the sponsor and pursue a life together in that country permanently, evidence must be presented to show that the partnership is genuine. A written history of the love story is essential detailing how the relationship started and blossomed and how committed the parties are to a life together.

    Where the petition is based on a common-law or de facto relationship and a marriage certificate is not required, evidence of having been in such a common-law relationship is critical. Both parties must submit documentation establishing the time that they have spent together in each other’s residence (which could be a house, flat, apartment, condo, but not temporary stay in hotels or lodging places). For example, a joint tenancy agreement, receipts from lease or rent payments coupled with the lease agreement showing the names of both parties in the contract. If there are children from the relationship evidence that both parties are the biological parents.

    Limits to sponsorships and residency
    Spousal abuse cases – including human trafficking and marriages of convenience – in the US and Australia have resulted in limits to sponsorships and compliance by the petitioner of rules regarding petitions or sponsorships.

    An Australian may not sponsor a partner or spouse until after five (5) years from the date of the last sponsorship or if the partner previously sponsored was granted permanent residency based on family violence grounds. If the sponsoring Australian partner himself or herself obtained residency through sponsorship, then a five-year ban is imposed before he or she could sponsor a partner to Australia.

    In the US, a two-year conditional residency is granted to the foreign spouse. Within 90-days from the end of the two-year residency, the US citizen and the alien spouse must submit a joint petition to remove the conditional residency. Failure to submit the joint petition would subject the alien spouse to be deported or removed from the US, unless the alien spouse submits his or her own application to remove the conditional residency because – despite the genuineness of the relationship – the marriage had been terminated, or the alien spouse had been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty, or having the alien spouse removed or deported would result in extreme hardship to the applicant.

    Financial obligation of the sponsor/petitioner
    Systemic abuse of public services and benefits to immigrants (both those legally admitted as well as individuals who have lapsed into legal limbo or those admitted as refugees or asylees) has led to pieces of legislation prohibiting spouses/partners from receiving public funds or services from the government at any or all levels (federal, provincial, state, territory or local).

    Of all the five countries with permanent migration programs, the UK has the most restrictive rule. The sponsor must be earning at least £18,600 per year if only the spouse or partner is applying. Otherwise, the financial requirement goes up to £22,400 per year for the partner and with one child and £2,400 per year for each additional child.

    On the plus side, however, the UK and Canada allow foreign national spouses to be sponsored even if the individual being sponsored has an existing marriage in the Philippines as long as evidence could be submitted that that marriage (or a de facto common law relationship) has permanently broken down.

    The US, on the other hand, requires that the marriage in the Philippines be legally terminated in the country. A court order declaring the spouse presumably dead may be accepted during the filing stage, but could be refused by a consular officer during the visa application stage especially if the consul obtains information that the relationship has “died” but in fact, the “dead “ spouse is actually alive and living with another family.

    The figures of migrant partners and spouses from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas refer only to those who registered for and attended the pre-departure counseling sessions. The total does not include Filipinos who were able to go to the US on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas, then subsequently got married and applied for adjustment of status in the US.

    For those who were issued immigrant visas, the CFO counseling session is required. The immigration officers will check the passport and look for the CFO stamp. However, for Filipinos who entered the US as visitors and subsequently adjusted their status by virtue of a spouse petition, the CFO stamp is not required.

    In 2014 for example, there were 24,930,606 foreigners who applied for and granted permanent residency in the US. Of this number, 363,269 were from the Philippines. This total includes those who were issued immigrant visas in the Philippines, as well as the 49,996 who adjusted their status in the US after being admitted as non-immigrants.

    The US Citizenship and Immigration Services 2014 Yearbook of Statistics show 48,783 Filipinos admitted with IR1 visas (spouses of U.S. citizens); 34,535 were granted residency after having adjusted their status in the US.

    It is clear that marriage migration has been a booming business for public (US, Philippine governments) and private entities (mail-bride matching companies on and off-line). In fact, green cards for sale has been documented – in fact filmed. But that is a column for another day.

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