Happily Ever After?   Falling in Love with a Foreigner


By Sasha Westerman-Keuning, Esq


With South Florida being a hub for all things international and 23% of Floridians born outside the United States, it is no surprise that so many of us fall in love with foreign nationals.  With their charming accents, bronze skin, and international flair, it is easy to see why so many Americans fall under their spell.  So what happens when you fall in love with a sexy foreigner? 


Most people who have entered the U.S. lawfully on a visa or the ESTA Visa Waiver Program are eligible to file for their green cards through adjustment of status in the U.S. based on marriage to their U.S. citizen spouse.   For those who entered the U.S. illegally through the border or in certain visa statuses, as well as those with prior immigration or criminal violations, the process can become much more complicated, often requiring a waiver of ineligibility. 


Even the most straight-forward marriage-based immigration cases can go terribly wrong.  Any couple, including ones that have been together for years, often have inconsistencies in their testimony during their immigration interview.  These inconsistencies can lead to green card denials and accusations of marriage fraud. 


Take the example of couples competing on a “newlyweds” show.  Obviously, these are real couples who believe they know each other well enough to win these competitions.  But as we all know, these couples get multiple answers wrong during the course of the newlyweds’ competition.  Now imagine being separated from your spouse and interrogated for 1-2 hours with hundreds of questions about the most intimate details of your life.  This is what occurs during a “Stokes” separation marriage interview.   USCIS frequently denies cases where a couple has 10 or less inconsistencies out of more than 100 questions!   This is why it is so important to hire a lawyer to prepare a couple properly for their marriage interview and to be present at the marriage interview to ensure the officer follows the law and does not ask inappropriate questions.


Many people want to save money by filing their own immigration cases without the help of a qualified immigration attorney, but often this can lead to paying even more money if the case goes wrong and the couple is faced with a potential denial.  This happens frequently when immigrants attempt to navigate immigration laws alone; the immigration officers often intimidate them and push them around as they are vulnerable without attorney representation.  


Apart from my legal knowledge and experience of immigration law, I have also personally experienced the immigration process first-hand as the United States’ citizen petitioner for my husband, Dylan, a native of South Africa.   As someone who has lived through my own marriage interview before USCIS, I know how stressful the immigration process can be even when you have nothing to hide.  I bring this personal experience to my representation of each and every client, understanding the emotional aspect of the immigration process when it concerns a loved one.  


When we prepare a case, we ensure that all immigration paperwork is completed meticulously to eliminate inconsistencies that may lead to denials.  We guide our clients step-by-step through the process—from obtaining their driver’s license, work permit and social security card to preparing for all the questions that may be asked at the marriage interview.   Not only does hiring a lawyer increase your chances of a smooth immigration process and approval of your case, hiring a lawyer is well worth it for the peace of mind alone.  This is especially true under the current administration where every USCIS application is scrutinized and where lengthy new forms are designed to create inconsistencies and ineligiblilities in your case.   Call our office now to set up an appointment with our Board Certified Immigration Attorney. 



Mrs. Westerman-Keuning has worked with hundreds of couples in applying for permanent residency ("green card" status) for the foreign national based on his or her marriage to a U.S. citizen or resident.  She works with individuals in the United States to apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident before USCIS.   She also assists married couples with obtaining residency, called an immigrant visa, through the various U.S. Consulates abroad.   She prepares each couple for their marriage interview before USCIS and attends all marriage interviews with her clients in the United States.   


When an American citizen marries a foreign national that person can obtain permanent residence in the United States (otherwise known as a "green card") unless grounds of inadmissibility apply.   This is why it is very important for individuals to meet with a qualified immigration attorney. 

An individual who is married for less than two years to the U.S. citizen when he/she is approved for permanent resident status are granted conditional permanent residency.  Conditional resident status requires that between 21 and 24 months from the date of approval of the residency, the couple apply together to remove the conditions on from the residency so that the foreign national may obtain a 10-year green card.  Evidence submitted in that process is similar to what is gathered for the initial interview, but will show an additional two years of history together.   Once the foreign national has been a resident for three years, he or she may apply for U.S. citizenship if he or she remains married to the U.S. citizen spouse.

A permanent resident may also petition for his or her spouse, but unlike a spouse of a United States citizen this petition is filed in a preference category and subject to many restrictions.  There is an annual quota on these petitions which can create a long line. In these cases, it may not be possible to wait those years in the United States, unless the non-resident spouse has some 
other visa status that would allow them to remain here or is protected under a special law called 245(i).   The one exception to this rule for permanent residents are those foreign nationals who are married to permanent residents who are natives and citizens of Cuba.   These foreign nationals may apply for residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act even if he or she is out of status as long as the initial entry was legal.  


Mrs. Westerman-Keuning has experienced the marriage process first hand as the U.S. citizen petitioner for her husband, a native and citizen of South Africa.   Mrs. Westerman-Keuning understands how stressful the immigration process can be for a couple and strives to make the process as smooth and easy as possible for all of her clients.   She specializes in marriage petitions for same-sex couples.  




A United States citizen may apply for a fiance(e) visa on behalf of his or her partner abroad. Lawful permanent residents cannot file fiance visas on behalf of their partners outside the U.S.

The fiance visa process requires that you have met or visited your future spouse in person within the past two years and that you demonstrate proof of a good faith relationship, such as photographs, wire transfers, phone/Skype records, e-mails, joint travel itineraries etc.  The United States citizen files a petition (known as Form I-129F) in the United States with USCIS which is normally adjudicated within 5-7 months.  The approved I-129F petition is then sent to the local consulate with jurisdiction over the fiance for an interview and issuance of the K-1 fiance visa.  The couple must then marry within 90 days of the entry on the fiance visa.  

Mrs. Westerman-Keuning has helped countless couples obtain fiance(e) visas through their home consulates.  

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