Category Archives: Visa Issues

Dating and Marrying a Filipina: The Five Greatest Challenges

Wedding_rings

I am extremely happy with the life that my Filipina wife and I have together.  I can’t imagine being with anyone else or being married to someone of my own race/culture.  Our love is a beautiful thing that has enhanced my life in ways I could never fully describe.

But I never want to present being married to a Pinay as some kind of panacea or fairy tale.  All marriages require work, and mine is no exception.  Marrying a woman from the Philippines, in fact, will come with some unique challenges that you wouldn’t face if you just dated someone from your own country.  Here are a few that come to mind:

Challenge #1: Choosing with Limited Information

This isn’t always a big factor for those of us who have spent time in the Philippines and dated while living/visiting there.  But most Filipino-American couples first meet online.  Usually this means the man joined a dating website (like Christian Filipina–the one I recommend), met a pretty Filipina, and started communicating via email and chat.  This works out well for most of the couples that I’ve met, but it is arguably more risky than being able to meet/date in more traditional or conventional ways.  In other words, the men usually have to make a decision based on very limited face-to-face time with their girlfriends.

Challenge #2: The Visa Process

Let’s say you do find a great woman (as so many do) and are 100% sure you want to marry her.  The next challenge is enduring the process of getting her spousal/fiancee visa so she can move to your country and (eventually) become a citizen there.  The process is doable but it does require a lot of patience on your part.  The government agencies involved get your tax dollars regardless of their inefficiencies and can be frustrating to deal with.  I have recommended a service to help you do things correctly, but it takes a few months even under the best circumstances.

Challenge #3: The Distance

The most difficult thing about being married to a Filipina is you are always going to be far away from either her family or yours.  This usually means being far from hers because of the better opportunities available in America (or other Western countries).  There are exceptions–guys who decide to live as expats in the Philippines.  Either way you’re going to live halfway across the world from someone’s family.  Family ties are extremely important in the Filipino culture, so you can imagine how difficult this can be.  Being able to chat via Skype does help, but the dilemma is still there regardless.

Challenge #4: Money Issues

Money issues are probably the biggest cause of divorce worldwide. This issue can be especially challenging if you’re married to a Filipina because sharing resources with family members is deeply ingrained in Filipino culture.  This is a potential source of conflict if the husband and wife don’t have good communication with each other or healthy boundaries with family members back in the Philippines.  The couple has to find a balance of sharing with family while making sure they are not putting themselves in a bad financial situation.

Challenge #5 Cultural Differences

A Filipina and a Westerner have grown up in two completely different cultural contexts.  Their respective worldviews have been shaped by factors that go back centuries.  This can also be a source of conflict if one of them is xenophobic or can’t learn how to be open to another point of view.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the most significant challenges that come to mind when I think of my own marriage and the other couples that my wife and I have met.  Here’s the good news: I can honestly say it has been 100% worth it for me.  I think there’s a good chance you’ll feel the same way, but be sure you are going into any relationship with eyes wide open.

The I-751: Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence

Green card

The first (and maybe most difficult) step to living happily ever after in the USA is getting the initial 2-year green card for your wife (I’ve shared some things about that process in previous posts).

There’s one more hurdle awaiting you on your way to her becoming a US citizen: the ten-year green card (or ten-year visa).  You will eventually have to complete an I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence in order for her to continue living in the United States legally once her 2-year green card expires. (and eventually apply for citizenship).

It’s more paperwork and red tape, but it isn’t all bad news.

I-751 Application

*This step is not nearly as complicated as the initial spousal/fiancee visa process.  There’s no harm in getting some professional help for it, but you may find that it is unnecessary.  The form is fairly simple and straightforward.  You can look for some sample forms online that have been filled out (with fictitious names, of course–just to give you an idea of how it should look).

*Unlike the previous step, you are presumably waiting out this one together.  She should already be with you at this point and maybe you’ve even started your family (having children).

*Technically the burden of proof would be on the government to deport her–a judge would have to get involved.

*Most filers don’t have to go in for an interview if their paperwork is in order.

The only bad news (other than the cost) is that it may take 8-9 months.  The government is backlogged (at the time of this post) and most offices are running behind.  Good thing you are waiting this out together, right?

Here are some tips for the I-751 application:

*You are eligible to apply once you are within 90 days of the expiration of her 2-year green card.  Go ahead and send it once you reach this time frame, but don’t send it any earlier than that–otherwise your application will be rejected.

*Documentation: The most important thing you can do to avoid delays is have complete documentation (evidence of relationship) in your initial application.  They may ask for additional information if they aren’t satisfied with what you sent.  The instruction form spells out the kind of documentation they are looking for, but here are a few additional ideas that will help:

  • Probably the most important thing you can do is provide copies of a Power of Attorney (POA), Living Will, and Last Will and Testament with you and your spouse listed as each other’s beneficiary or POA. If you don’t have any of these forms you can buy them at a place like US Legal Forms (the “Dave Ramsey special” is a good deal), fill them out, and get them signed/notarized.  You can go to an attorney if your will is more complex.  Legally binding documents like this are strong evidence that your lives are intertwined. Birth certificates of children would also be very strong evidence if you have already started your family.
  • Provide evidence that joint bank accounts or credit card accounts are still active.  Just showing them a copy of a check or bank card with both of your names on it isn’t quite enough.  Print out a few months’ worth of transactions and include that with your application.
  • Include proof that joint insurance policies are paid for.  You can ask your insurance company to email a letter to you or (easier still) print out a transcript of your payment history.
  • You can order IRS transcripts online a few weeks before you put your information together.  These are considered authoritative in terms of evidence that you filed jointly (and paid your taxes).  Ordering them online also saves you the hassle of having to make copies yourself.
  • Make a cover letter with a list of all the evidence you are including with your application.

The government can still ask for additional information (or even for an interview), but following these steps will probably minimize the chances of that happening.

After you apply your spouse will be required to go to a local office for biometrics (finger printing, etc.).  This happens pretty quickly (within a few weeks after your application).  You’ll also receive an official government letter stating that your spouse’s green card has been extended for one year.  Hang on to this letter because it’s the only legal proof you have of her legal immigration status while you wait for application to process.  She would have to carry this letter with her if for some reason she needed to leave the country and get back in.

You probably won’t hear anything from the government for a while after the letter and biometrics appointment.  You just wait for their decision.

Once the petition is granted your spouse will have almost all the rights of a US citizen (she can’t vote, but almost everything else would be the same).  You’re set for the next ten years and you can apply for her US citizenship once she’s eligible.

Helping Your Filipina Spouse Adjust to the USA

philippine-usa-flag

Let’s say you’ve finally made it through all that red tape and brought your wife or fiancee to the USA.  How can you make her feel at home and help her adjust?  I’ll share some suggestions I believe you’ll find helpful.

Staying in Touch

Your wife will want to stay in touch with her family.  The internet, of course, is very helpful for this.  There are internet cafes all over the Philippines and it shouldn’t be too hard for family members to get online and chat with your wife.  Internet access for smart phones is becoming common as well, so her family may be able to communicate that way.

Texting can be done through a program called Chikka.  You can set up an account to send free texts.  Just warn the recipients that responding (from their cell phones) will cost money (it cost more than a regular text message if I remember correctly).

Calling is a different story.  For some reason calling to the Philippines costs a lot more than calling from the Philippines.  You can call a cell phone in the Philippines with Skype if you buy credits but it isn’t cheap (the rate is much higher than calling other countries).   You’ll also notice the Philippines isn’t included on most international calling plans.  I think there are a few different phone cards out there but I’ve never heard of a definite way to get a really good rate.  You may want to keep calling to a minimum because the costs can add up.

Sending Money

I won’t repeat everything I’ve said before about money and sharing, but your wife will probably want to occasionally (or regularly) send money back to her family.  I normally use Xoom.com for this and I’ve never had any problems.  It works really well for sending money to a bank account in the Philippines.  Usually when I send money this way the recipient has it in his/her account in under 24 hours.  I think other options are available (picking up the money at a specific location) but I’ve never tried doing it that way.

Filipino Media

Your wife will be able to get all kinds of Filipino media through video websites like Youtube.  Some cable companies carry channels catering to the Filipino community, especially if you live in a large city or place with a significant Filipino population.

Here’s another option that is available to anyone with an internet connection: The Filipino Channel.  You can subscribe to this channel for about 12 bucks a month and watch all kinds of content.  This looks like a perfect choice if your local cable provider doesn’t offer some kind of specialty channel for Filipinos.  It would also work well for those who don’t want to change their cable service just to get that one channel.

Filipino Food

You’ll need to invest in a rice cooker if you haven’t already.  She may want to eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner just like she does back home.  Larger cities will have at least one Filipino store so she can get some ingredients.  Fortunately, some dishes (like adobo) don’t require anything except what can be found at most grocery stores (vinegar, soy sauce, etc).

Filipino Community

Your wife will also find it helpful if she can meet some other Filipina friends in your community.  One way to go about this is search “Filipino American (name of your city/town/state)” and see what you can find.  There are Fil-Am associations all over the place.  You’ll eventually discover that people from the Philippines tend to find each other and gather together for social events like birthday parties.

Hope this helps!