U.S. = Stupid Cupid, U.K. = Scrooge Regarding Immigration and Marriage

By David North on November 21, 2011

When it comes to immigrant marriages, the U.S. government plays the role of Cupid, frankly a stupid Cupid, while the British government plays Scrooge.

This was brought to the surface recently by a casual comment by an American immigration lawyer, a U.K. policy proposal, and an analysis of American immigration statistics.

In general terms, the official U.S. view of green-card producing marriages is both global and approximately that of a giddy high school girl reading a romance novel; the Brit view seems to focus on the Subcontinent, while reviewing the details through the eyes of a cautious, once-burnt auditor.

America's policies appear to be based on the hidden assumption that the melting pot still works, while the Brits are openly worried about the cultural segregation that seems to isolate its immigrant communities, particularly those from Pakistan and India. The notion in the U.K. seems to be that going back to the Subcontinent village in pursuit of a mate slows the acclimation process, a thought that apparently has not been even noticed in official America.

Further, the Brits, at both journalistic and governmental levels, seem to spend much more time and energy on the visa-creating marriage issues than Americans do. We should pay more attention, as about 28 percent of the million-plus new immigrants (and adjustees) reported in the 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics entered the U.S. because of visa-creating marriages.

These thoughts coalesced after I read a small item in a blog by Alan Lee, an immigration lawyer, published in Immigration Daily. He had written about "some of the topics covered at our recent staff meeting" and the third item on his list was as follows:

3. Be reminded that a K-1 petition now requires evidence to demonstrate that the couple has met within the preceding two years such as passport stamps, dated photographs, airline tickets, etc. The Vermont Service Center [a USCIS decision-making facility] says that a statement alone will not be acceptable proof of meeting.

A K-1 visa is a nonimmigrant document granted to a would-be spouse of a U.S. citizens. The visa gets the alien into the nation so that the person will marry the American in a period of three months. To obtain a K-1, unless there is a waiver, the couple must have met, face-to-face, during the last two years – a pretty modest requirement if you ask me.

The K-1 visa is one of at least five different authorized ways that a resident of the U.S. can legally bring an alien spouse or fiancé(e) into the nation.

If there is an existing marriage to a U.S. citizen, the alien can qualify as an immediate relative and get a conditional visa without waiting; then if the marriage lasts for two full years, the conditional visa becomes a green card.

If there is an existing marriage to a green card holder, there is currently a nearly-three-year wait before a 2FA visa becomes available for the alien spouse.

The remaining two techniques, the use of the K-3 or the V-1 nonimmigrant visas, allows the alien loved one to stay in the States while the applications are processed for spouses of citizens, and of permanent resident aliens, respectively.

Returning to Attorney Lee's staff meeting, if the Vermont Service Center "now requires evidence" (emphasis added) it must mean that such evidence was not needed in the past. Apparently our Cupid's helpers in Vermont in the past simply accepted the statement that the two people, one a U.S. citizen and a one an alien, had actually met each other, and were not engaged in pre-nuptial marriage fraud.

That's a scary thought, but as we will show below, what little immigration processing data are available suggest that the earlier non-demand for evidence in K-1 couplings is thoroughly reflected by the lopsidely high approval (and low denial) processing rates in this visa class.

At about the same time as I noticed Lee's bland statement about U.S. screening standards, I encountered a much tougher policy position reported in an article in London's Telegraph newspaper.

David Cameron's coalition government, which has talked of bringing net immigration to the U.K. from outside Europe down to the tens-of-thousands a year, and has had difficulty doing that, has received a proposal from an autonomous government agency, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The MAC has proposed that "The number of migrants arriving on family visas each year [including spouses] will be slashed by up to two thirds under plans to raise the minimum salary required to sponsor them," according to the Telegraph.

The MAC's proposed alternative income floors, almost double the current one at the peak, ranged as high as £25,700 a year, or over $40,000 at current rates of exchange. In the U.S., in contrast, the sponsor would need to have an income of 125 percent of the poverty line, or, currently, $18,388. And I have heard no American immigration policy person discuss raising this level, though it clearly would make sense.

The lower end of MAC's proposed range for the sponsorship of relatives was £18,600 or about $29,400 a year. The current British rate is about £13,000 a year, or about $20,500, which is about 10 percent more than the current U.S. requirement.

The Brits are tougher now than the U.S. on bringing in low-income family migrants, and may become much tougher in the future.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the U.S. government is softness personified when it comes to making decisions on visa applications for overseas spouses. One must, however, do some careful research to discover this because DHS does not appear to publish meaningful figures on the extent it denies applications of this kind.

There are two steps in the process, for say, the K-1 fiancé(e) visa; the U.S. resident must first get a petition approved by DHS, and then the alien must go to a consulate or an embassy, and seek the visa to come to the U.S.

Data on the second part of the process are better than on the first. The State Department publishes nonimmigrant approvals and denials information, and does so visa-class by visa-class; that's good, but the final product is presented in an awkward way, as one can see from these tabulations for 2010.

As I reconstruct the data, the Cupids at State say "yes" to a K-1 applicant about 100 times for every time they say no. In comparison, when dealing with tourist visa applications (outside the visa-waiver countries) the department says "yes" to only 3.8 applicants for every time it says no. Clearly State likes would-be brides and grooms much more than it likes would-be tourists.

Meanwhile, using a less satisfactory comparison, and a less satisfactory database, I find that in the DHS part of the process there are 264 approvals for every denial that produces an appeal to the DHS appeals body, the Administrative Appeals Office. In some other classes, such as first- and second-preference workers (EB-1 and EB-2), the same ratio comes out 78, meaning that the USCIS staff worries a lot more about the credentials of these skilled workers than the credentials of the spouses. (Readers wanting to learn more about both the estimation processes and the obscure data sources they are based upon, can drop me a line for the details.)

Whether the ratio is 100-to-one or 264-to-one, these data suggest a remarkably high quality of applications or, more likely, a lax screening thereof; in other words, there is evidence that Cupid is alive, and well, if not observant, within the federal government when it comes to screening would-be alien spouses.

Further, as suggested in an earlier blog on the narrower question of forced marriages leading to questionable immigration benefits, the Brits have tackled the issue head-on with legislation, while the U.S. barely recognizes that such a problem exists.

While I would propose higher income levels for those wanting to bring spouses into the U.S., I am not sure I would go as far as the MAC's highest proposal – of $40,00 a year; I have no hesitation, however, in urging the federal establishment to start looking realistically, and more carefully, at all those green-card producing application forms.

A future blog will summarize the numbers of spouses, fiancé(e)s, and some of the children thereof, that came into the U.S. in recent years, through the various immigrant and nonimmigrant channels described above.