Marriage, residency and migration policy blues

Are you frustrated by the immigration policies of your partner’s home country? If you are, these two tales of immigration and residency woes might resonate with you.

A blue door with the EU flag on it set in a high barbed wire fence

In the last Global Migration blog post, I wrote about political change and how it directly and indirectly affects expats’ lives, whether that’s in France, the Netherlands, post-Brexit UK, the USA or elsewhere.

Today, I’m going to get more specific and tell you two tales. One is my own, a Brit married to an American; the other is from Lisbeth, a Brit married to a Dane. (Perhaps these tales will remind you of your own experience or a relation’s or friend’s. If they do please share your thoughts and experience below in the comments section.)

Both tales sum up, I think, the frustration a spouse from one country faces when he or she has to deal with the immigration policies of their partner’s country.

A Brit in Sweden, commuting to Denmark, hoping for Danish residency

Lisbeth’s husband’s work with the Danish government has meant that they have lived abroad for most of his career. Over time, having lived away from Denmark for much of their married life, Lisbeth has found it has become increasingly difficult to get residency in Denmark when they return, let alone citizenship, should it be necessary because of Brexit.

Lisbeth takes up the story: “During my first time living in Denmark, back in the 80s, residency was granted immediately and for five years. We moved abroad again after three years. The next time we had a home posting was in 2005. After 6 months, we gave up trying to get a residency permit and opted to live in Sweden while my husband commuted to Denmark. The questionnaire/application form we had to complete was outrageous. So much so that my husband wrote a scathing complaint to the authorities. We also had to pay DKK50,000 into a closed account, “in case I became a burden to the state”.

Lady handing over passport to immigration control

“If I had had a job in Denmark, residency would have been easier. Subsequently I did work in Denmark, part time commuting from Sweden, but after 3 years we were moved again. None of my husband’s work time abroad, mostly for the government or on secondment from Denmark to international organisations, is taken into consideration in Denmark even though our children are Danish citizens and I speak the language fluently, and have spent more time in Denmark during our marriage of 38 years than in the country of my birth. If Brexit really happens, then what, I wonder will the Danish government’s attitude be towards me?”

A not so special alien in American

Some years ago, I moved to the USA to work. After a few months, I met my American husband-to-be. A year later we were married and the whole residency immigration process kicked off. In my naivety, I thought it would be simple… you know, that “special relationship” between the UK and the USA would mean I’d be welcomed with open arms. Ha! Once I had had the test for AIDS and had stood in line (aka a queue) that wrapped around several blocks of Downtown San Diego, the idea that I was any different from any other migrant hoping to “live the American dream” was soon wiped off my face.

It took so long for my paperwork to move through the process that I had to apply for a special travel visa so that I could go home to visit family in the UK. When I came back into the States I was made to feel like a true “alien”, not just the American version of one. Every month we waited. Finally, I fell pregnant; surely soon I’d get an immigration interview?

Silouhettes of two people on the American flag with a surveillance camera

In the meantime, my husband applied for Irish citizenship through his Irish grandparents – just in case we decided to move back to Europe one day. It took some research and tenacity to get all the documents, but he did it and his Irish citizenship came through before my premanent residency interview. So, we decided to leave the USA and make a new life in the UK. Our child was born two months later in England, and one month after that I received a letter asking me to go to San Diego for my immigration interview. Well that horse had shot its stable!

It took years for the authorities to clock that I had cancelled my application – every time I travelled to the States I’d be hauled out of line and taken into a cubicle to explain why I had left during my “immigration parole”. Every time I’d take out the increasingly creased letter explaining that the application had been cancelled. Last year, 20 years after leaving the USA, was the first time I passed through immigration control without being given the second degree…Finally!

I never had anything to feel guilty about, but they somehow made me feel I was in the wrong. The experience makes me feel hugely empathetic towards citizens from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen who are desperate to enter the USA – possibly to join family members or continue studies – but are unable to because of the Trump administration’s Executive Order.

If you’ve read this far, I suspect you’ve had a similar experience, or a friend of yours has. Please do add you’re your thoughts and comments below. It’s quite cathartic to write it down!