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. Although, of course, living together can be difficult when you're not eligible for a visa allowing long stays in the first place.
However, spouse visas have often been abused all over the world, with people faking marriages to gain permanent residency for various countries. So immigration officials tend to be skeptical, so you’ll have to provide extensive evidence of the authenticity of the relationship. This could include correspondence, phone records, pictures together and pictures of the engagement and marriage. Still, if officials 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.

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, so a residency permit would also be needed. Getting a residence permit 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 can sometimes be difficult for immigration officials to verify. However, if the expat spouse has a specialist skill, especially one that is in short supply in the destination country, this task becomes much easier.
If not in possession of a specialised skill, another option may be to work with a multinational company in your home country, with a branch or offices in your destination country, and then get transferred. That way you can avoid competition with the locals in the job market, and the company could argue that a local can't fill the position because you have inside knowledge of the company already. But if you don’t already have a job with such a company, this can be a very time-consuming process, and it might end up not being possible to transfer in any case.
If an international transfer isn't an option, it may be time to start a job search within the country itself. This may require knowledge of the country’s language, sometimes to the point of fluency. Another obstacle can be local employers that are unwilling to go through the red tape of organising a work permit.

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 any of the 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 see if there’s an opportunity there
  • 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 – things can change, like immigration policies or personal situations 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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