Love in the Age of Visa Regulations

In a world that's so well-connected online, long-distance relationships have become increasingly common. For most of these couples, closing the distance is a top priority, but when visas and immigration laws are thrown into the mix, this can become a major obstacle.
The options can seem overwhleming, but the first step is to have an understanding of available visas and their requirements. Although this varies from country to country, there are a few broad categories of visas which most countries have available.

Spouse/marriage visas

This is perhaps the most obvious visa for a long-distance relationship – if you can get married and provide proof of a genuine relationship, most countries will allow the foreign spouse to immigrate. Sometimes it’s not necessary to be married; in some countries, engaged couples or couples who have already lived together for a number of years are also eligible.
However, spouse visas have often been abused all over the world, especially in countries such as the US and the UK, with people faking marriages to gain permanent residency. So immigration officials tend to be skeptical, and you’ll have to provide extensive evidence of the authenticity of the relationship. This could include correspondence, phone records, and pictures of the engagement and marriage. Still, if officials have any doubt your relationship, the application can be easily rejected so it’s best to hire an immigration lawyer to help you put together all the right documentation and ensure you present a strong case.

Work permits

If you don’t qualify for a spouse visa, it might be possible to go the route of a work visa instead, which will grant the right to work in the country for the term of the employment contract. Some work permits don’t automatically include the right to live in the country, in which case a residence permit would also be needed. Getting one becomes much easier, though, once you can prove you’ll have an income to support yourself.
Most countries require the employer to prove that no local workers could fill the position, which isn't always an easy task. Furthermore, local employers are often unwilling to go through the red tape of organising a work permit for a foreigner. However, if the expat spouse has a specialist skill, especially one that is in short supply in the destination country, they're much more likely to find someone willing to hire them. Bear in mind that in some countries, knowledge of the local language – sometimes to the point of fluency – is essential to get a job.
Another possible route is somewhat lengthier and more complex. First, find out if there are any multinational companies that have a presence in your home country as well as the destination country. Apply to any such companies and let it be known that you're interested in transferring at some point. If successful, this method allows expat spouses to avoid competing against locals in the job market, as the company could argue that a local can't fill the position because you have existing knowledge of the company. The downside is that identifying such a company and getting a job there is of course a time-consuming process, and a bit of a gamble, as the company may or may not be willing or able to facilitate a transfer.

Study visas

A study visa can be obtained after applying and being admitted to full- or part-time study at a university or college in the destination country. Once you've been accepted, you'll then need to prove that you can support yourself while studying. This would include proof of being able to pay study fees and living expenses. A full bursary might cover this, but there are a limited number of international bursaries available and there is usually fierce competition for them.

Not eligible?

If you aren’t eligible for he above visas, or other visas that might grant the right to live in the country, you’re not alone. Strict visa laws are responsible for keeping many couples apart, but there are other options:
  • Consider whether it might be easier to do have your spouse move to your country instead – look at both countries’ visa laws and check for eligibility
  • Set a date for a visit – having something to look forward to helps a lot when feeling lonely or missing your partner
  • Never overstay on a tourist or visit visa, as this will hurt your chances of being granted residency later, and you may even be banned from the country
  • Think long-term – is there something you can do now to begin the process of becoming eligible for one of these visas in future?
  • Consult an immigration lawyer as they may be able to advise if there are any other options
  • Keep up with visa and immigration news
  • Don’t lose hope – immigration policies or personal situations may change, and you could become eligible for a visa in future

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Meagan's picture
Meagan Dill
Cape Town, South Africa
Meagan is a writer and editor for Expat Arrivals.

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