Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Of proposals and paper-work

I hope to continue to file reports on my research into the various aspects of the mail-order bride industry, but in the coming weeks (and months, but hopefully not years) you should see some new content as well – in particular, posts touching on the immigration process to the United States of America.

The reason for my newfound interest is simple. First, if one in ten men coming to Ukraine ends up getting married, as I've been told, this is a process that should be of some interest to many of my readers. Consider the numbers:

Last year over 100,000 people were in the United States on a visa that had been granted to them as result of their marriage or engagement to a US citizen. 33,000 were there on K1 visas, which allow you to stay in America for up to 90 days, by which time, if you haven’t married, you must return to your home country. These are commonly called “fiancée visas.” The K3 and CR1 visas are given to spouses of American citizens and generally allow you to stay in the country for up to two years. By the expiration of that visa, you should have received the final adjustment of your immigration status, culminating in a Green Card, which awards its holder the freedom to travel (something that was not always granted to the citizens of the Soviet Union). 11,000 K3 visas were awarded during the 2005 calendar year, along with 65,000 CR1’s.

Secondly, and here is the textbook example of a journalist burying the lead, I’m getting married. To a Russian national. So writing about this may be my best way to both understand what I need to do and channel my frustrations. Do I already expect frustrations? Sure. I've been told that marrying a Russian in Russia and then getting her legally into America (rather than on a plane to Mexico City and then into a van that will take her around the wall currently being erected by the National Guard near Yuma, Arizona) can take up to a year, maybe even longer.

You have to understand. There are various government agencies to deal with, both foreign and domestic, things to sign, sometimes in triplicate, notaries to see, capitals to visit, friends to call on for advice, acquaintances to contact for help, and then, rising above it all like some grand traffic light, the Department of Homeland Security, with its many colored terrorism alert system flickering both day and night.

(Are we still color-coding terrorism, America? I've been gone so long I don't even know. What color is it today?)

But let me reel this back in.

While some people have been kind enough to congratulate me on my decision and allow me to enjoy the magic of the moment (the stuff afforded most people who drop to one knee and place the ring on the finger) others have been quick -- far too quick -- to say, "I know two people who tried this. The process was so long and arduous it contributed to their divorce. And oh by the way, Mazal Tov!"

So we're not even married and already people are imagining our divorce. But what do you do when you meet someone so kind, so beautiful, so sensible and strong you wonder if it's you that's changed or the woman you're with, because suddenly the world seems so consistently better? What do you do when you meet her more than two years ago in California, reunite in Moscow, and then have your third date in Ukraine?

I'm not a genius, but I think you go for it.

I started Monday, spending eight hours on the computer, visiting various websites and sending an untold number of emails, while My Fiancee went down to the Zapis Aktov Grazhdanskogo Sostoyaniya office(ZAGS) to see what was needed for us to get our marriage properly registered and performed in her hometown. The office was closed, so my internet searches zeroed in on the US Consulate in Vladivostok (I couldn't find information on the civil marriage process on the website for the US Embassy in Moscow).

The folks in Vladivostok said I should be prepared to present my birth certificate to the Russian officials, and as my father was traveling the next day to Norway, I told him to find it in the garage and DHL it to me in Ukraine -- a cost of $80.

The next morning I awoke to hear of My Fiancee's latest trip to ZAGS , at which she was met by a woman with wholly unremarkable intra-personal skills. This woman let it be known that all of the following would be expected:

* I would have to get my passport and visa photocopied and translated into Russian.

* Register my Russian visa in Belgorod, where the ceremony would be be performed.

*And get a marital status letter (something called a “statement of no impediment to marriage” elsewhere) which basically says I'm neither polygamous nor already more traditionally betrothed.

In her email, My Fiancee included a link to the US Embassy in Moscow. They had information on the civil marriage process after all. Five Steps to a Russian Marriage. Not six? Huh. No mention of the birth certificate. Oh well.

I focused on Step Three:

Authentication of the marriage letter is performed by the Department of Legalization of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The procedure costs around 100 rubles for a five-day return. Fees are paid at the Sberkassa located at Department of Legalization.

Department of Legalization, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1st Neopalimovskiy Pereulok, Dom 12a (near Smolenskaya Metro)
10:00am - 1:00pm; 3pm - 5pm (4:30pm on Fridays), 244-3797

Already things were complicated. If I left too soon, I'd miss the delivery of my birth certificate, a document I hadn't wanted to leave to the people at DHL in the first place, if only because the last time my father sent a package via that corporation, they had refused to deliver it, saying the packaged spices and whole bean coffee inside was illegal contraband. But then again, if I waited till next Tuesday (Monday is a holiday, Russian Independence Day) I feared I'd be giving up valuable time I couldn't afford to lose. After all, every ZAGS office in Russia requires a 32-day cooling-off period between registration and the Cyrillic equivalent of you can now kiss the bride. And a marital status letter is only valid for 90 days. And my Russian visa wasn't yet registered in Belgorod. And while that document didn't expire until the first week of September, my Ukrainian visa, given to me last year with one month already lapsed, expired the first week in August, when I was supposed to return to the United States to join a PhD program in Los Angeles. I had 61 days left. Perhaps no man since Hitler or Napoleon has given greater consideration to his entry into Moscow.

"Let's shoot for Tuesday," I said. And hope it doesn't snow.

What else can you do? Apply for the less arduous K1 visa? Perhaps. But then you can’t get married in Russia, in front of the bride's family, and I just couldn't stomach that route because I feared we'd have an experience like the one recently reported by Paul Keegan in the Moscow Times.

Keegan, a freelance writer, met his fiancée, Tatyana, through a friend last year in New York. Tatyana, an accomplished ball-room dancer, already had a green card. The couple agreed to marry on Christmas Day (December 25th) and then tried to get a tourist visa for Tatyana’s parents so they could attend the mid-June ceremony in the states. The outcome of this effort is both disturbing and, sadly, expected:

Tatyana's parents, Viktor and Lyudmila Rybushkin, traveled 19 hours on a train from their home in Volgograd to Moscow for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy. It lasted five minutes. The man behind the glass at Window 12 asked a few questions, glanced at our wedding invitation and handed them a form-letter refusal.

During their 15-hour bus ride home, Lyudmila wept while Viktor, 59, which is the average life expectancy for Russian men, took extra doses of the pills for his high blood pressure. For days, Tatyana was in shock, unable to cry.

The visa application fees alone cost nearly a month's salary at Viktor's factory job, at which he earns 7,600 rubles ($248) per month. Train and bus fares for the four-day, 2,200-kilometer round trip set them back another 3,000 rubles. The U.S. government requires personal interviews for all visa applicants but has only four consulates in Russia, a country that spans eleven time zones.

Why did they get turned down? The United States government assumes every person will over-stay their tourist visa, remain in the Land of the Underdog illegally, and siphon off valuable public services or otherwise be a drain on the economy. (So much for the Horatio Alger myth.) To get a tourist visa, you must have strong family and business ties tying you to your homeland, and even then you might have difficulties getting your application approved.

If you asked Paul Keegan, he'd probably say we should just be done with it and send the French their statue back. I'd like to believe the above incident was an anomaly, something that shouldn't have happened but somehow did, and that there are many more happy stories than sad ones delivered through the US Embassy in Moscow.

But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. I have to remind myself I'm only at the start.


Anne said...

Mazel Tov! Without qualifiers! Talk about burying the lead!

Sounds like the US government is going to be the least of your worries. Would you consider having a symbolic ceremony over there, family-food-religion-if- you-want, etc., then a legal one stateside? Getting married here is cake. All you need is a $35 money order and a witness.

OK, I'll stop. Congrats, enuf said.

Anonymous said...

You should visit www.visajourney.com to find out whatever you need to know and read about people doing the same.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

From 1 April, EU-states have to comply to a directive, which gives non-EU-citizens automatic residence permit once they have married an EU-citizen. Although not all EU-states have yet adopted the EU-directive in practice, it is applicable to all EU-members, because directives become directly effective on national legislations.