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US Immigration Law in the 21st Century: Online Dating

Love it or hate it, online dating has now become an established way for busy professionals to chat to prospective partners and have a go at finding the elusive "one". In fact, online dating has become the most common way in which romantic partners meet in today's world. Who can argue with online dating's potential to find a mate when the top sites have millions of registered users, and a multitude of sites catering to niche markets have been created for users who may want to date another parent, a farmer, a sea captain, a clown, a cat lover, a person who is tall, someone with specific political leanings, a goth, and so on. And yes, these are actual dating websites.

Individual tastes aside, online dating permits people from different corners of the world to meet virtually and establish a romantic connection with a person from outside one's own country of nationality. Not surprisingly, more and more British citizens and individuals from around the world are meeting their US citizen partners online. The relationship gets more and more serious as time goes on, and the couple starts thinking about marriage and the practicalities of immigrating to a new country.

As a US immigration lawyer, the typical scenario that might be presented to me is this:

A British citizen, let's call her Jane, and a US citizen, let's call him Brian, met through an online dating site. They exchanged messages in the beginning, then spoke on the phone and really 'clicked'. Soon enough, they were skyping daily and had fallen madly in love with each other. Their only wish now is to be together, and they are wondering how Jane can obtain a fiancée visa to enter the USA and marry Brian. They haven't been able to meet in person because of the expense involved in travelling to each other's country, but they have no doubt that the lack of a face to face meeting doesn't change how they feel about each other. The couple is eager to know: this won't be a problem, will it, in terms of immigrating to the USA?

Unfortunately, the lack of an in-person meeting will be an issue that will have be addressed with the immigration authorities, and it may well bar Jane's ability to obtain the fiancée (K-1) visa. This is because one of requirements of the K-1 visa is that the US citizen (the petitioner) and the foreign national (the beneficiary) must have met in person in the two years before the fiancée petition is filed. The fact that the plane ticket from the US to the UK would cost a lot of money is unlikely to be seen by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as valid reasons why a face to face meeting has not occurred.

There are some limited situations where USCIS may grant a waiver of the face to face requirement. One such exception applies in cases where the US citizen petitioner would suffer extreme hardship if required to meet his/her fiancée in person. As illustrated in the example above, economic hardship suffered by having to pay a lot of money for a plane ticket and/or hotel bookings does not amount to 'extreme hardship'. Secondly, it is important to note that it is the US citizen who must suffer hardship for the exception to apply; hardship suffered by the foreign fiancée is not examined by USCIS. The second exception applies where a face to face meeting would be contrary to the US citizen petitioner's OR the foreign fiancée's culture for a man and a woman to meet in person before being married. Whether a waiver will be granted depends on the particular circumstances present in each case.

Whenever possible, meeting face to face avoids this complication and allows online daters to be one step closer to achieving their US immigration goal. The caveat, of course, is that the K-1 visa has several additional, specific requirements that the petitioner and applicant must meet.

Would you like to learn more about immigrating to the USA through a fiancée and obtaining a green card through marriage? Contact the law firm today!