Monday, May 25, 2015

Helping Your Partner Adjust to America

Imagine moving to another country and finally getting to be with your partner legally for the first time. What a joy!

But as fun and exciting as the newfound freedom can be, there are going to be a few difficult adjustments due to cultural and economic differences, but also due to marriage green card processing.

How Can You Best Help Your Partner?

In 2007 I met my husband Bjorn, a tourist from The Netherlands.  Eventually I sponsored him for a marriage green card.  Even though I had assisted others in the marriage green card process for years, I had no idea what starting a marriage with a foreign spouse entailed!  We learned a lot along the way, and I have also learned even more from my clients, so I am happy to share our discoveries with you.

  • CONSIDER YOURSELVES A TEAM
You may have been on vacation together numerous times, and you may have visited each other in your respective countries often, but there is a difference when you make the decision to live together indefinitely.  There are awkward moments, and let's face it, some things are downright boring.  But if you approach all that you need to go together as a team, it will go more smoothly.

Try not to blame each other during the marriage green card processing for delays, confusion, or how much it costs.  Try to take the attitude that you are going on this adventure together, and that you are tackling what needs to be done as a team.

You are going to be applying for a joint bank account, perhaps buying a car together, and along the way there will be setbacks.  He or she will not have an American credit history or an American social security card.  They will be starting from scratch and without your support it can feel upsetting. But if you approach each task with a "we can do this together" attitude, it will help - after all it is only a temporary situation and there will be many years in the future when this will not be the case.
  • ENCOURAGE BANKING FREEDOM
It is surprising for us to realize that most European countries do not write checks.  My husband finds it fun to write checks when it is time to pay the bills, but at first he didn't know how, or how to balance a checkbook. Many partners will not use the ATM card that you give them because they are uncomfortable using "your" money.  They need to be encouraged to use the ATM card from your joint bank account (responsibly of course) to get cash or pay for groceries, or the immigration officers will think you do not have a good financial partnership. 
  • SUPPORT "TAKING A BREAK"
The marriage green card process requires that the newcomer not travel outside the USA for 3 - 5 months once the process has started.  The process also does not allow for a social security card, needed for a driver's license, or a work permit for the same 3-5 months.  This means that the new marriage relationship begins with one partner at a disadvantage because while they may be used to a certain level of independence (driving!) and economic freedom (paying their own way), they are temporarily at a standstill - and this can be very unsettling.


Talk about how to handle the 3-5 month hiatus from work.  Is there anything your partner always wanted to do, but never had the time (learn to play piano?  practice their chef skills?  learn to surf?).  I have seen newcomers be able to live out a mini-dream while they take advantage of this forced 3-5 month sabbatical from the stress of working, which they will face for the rest of their life.  
  • FAMILY & COMING OUT
The most common scenario is that one partner has been able to come out on Facebook, at work, and with their family, and the other partner has not. In addition, the newcomer may not have their circle of friends supporting them the same way that they would if they were in their home country.

If you have come out to your family and friends, take the time to introduce your partner to your friends and family, and spend time with the ones that he/she is most comfortable.  Understand that even though your new spouse is happy to be with you, it can be a bit lonely to be separated from their culture, their food, and everything that is familiar.  Be patient.
  • ENCOURAGE ENGLISH ONLY
The fastest way to learn English is to only speak English, but it can be very challenging.  Even partners coming from Ireland, the UK, The Netherlands, and other countries were taught UK English and it is quite an adjustment to speak American English.  Remember watching a movie from the UK and having trouble understanding the language, even though the actors were speaking English?

Encourage your partner to speak as much English as possible, all the time.  Speak slowly and clearly to them, and try to use shorter words. Ask your friends and family to do the same. Take your time to explain things more than once, and try to explain things in different ways, using different words.

Don't correct your partner's English in front of anyone, but when you are both alone, occasionally make polite suggestions about how to substitute words for the ones that are hard to pronounce. Rather than ordering them television shows from their own country, make the sacrifice of watching the level of television shows that they can understand.
  • ENCOURAGE YOUR PARTNER TO MAKE CALLS AND TO LEAVE MESSAGES
No one likes to sound stupid on the phone, or on voicemail messages that they leave when the person doesn't answer their phone. Many newcomers avoid talking on the phone or leaving messages because they are so uncomfortable doing making the call. One of the first things I do with new clients is get them used to calling me rather than having their partner do it for them.

In order to practice speaking on the phone and get better at it, encourage your partner to call you (and trusted friends and family members) to speak to you on the phone, and call you to leave voicemail messages. 

I will never forget when my husband insisted on calling New York (we lived in California) to order some clothing for our wedding.  A few days after he called to make the order, I received a call from the clothing distributor (thank goodness he left my number!) and they asked about his correct sizes.  The person on the phone had such a strong New York accent, and the American sizes are so different, he had ordered the complete wrong sizes.  He was so embarrassed when he learned about it that he avoided using the phone for about three months after that.
  • EDUCATE YOUR PARTNER ABOUT "BIG BOX" STORES
Remember the first time you went into a Costco store?  It is completely overwhelming!  For visitors from other countries, they have never seen such a large display of merchandise. My husband loves Costco, and still (after 7 years) cannot get over the magnitude of stuff that is in that store.  In fact, he loves grocery shopping in general due to the size of the grocery stores and the wide selection of products (lucky me).

Keep in mind that in many countries, "borrowing" something small off of the shelves is often ignored, and customers do not get arrested for such acts of petty theft. I have had clients (one was a high ranking government official of an Eastern European country) that could not resist the temptation of taking something, usually from Costco or Macy's, because it just looked so easy and no one seemed to be watching.

Patience, Teamwork and Understanding

Danielle Nelisse, Immigration Attorney
Moving to a different country is sort of like starting out on a new career - every step feels uncertain and uncomfortable.  But eventually all will be good - I asked one of my French clients (sophisticated Parisian businessman) what he liked best about being married to a U.S. citizen in a small town in Texas and he surprised me with the answer:  how much everyone says "hi" and "I love you!"

Questions? Danielle Nelisse can be reached via Email or call her at (619) 235-8811 during her office hours. www.daniellenelisse.com
 
Other Immigration Questions Concerning Same Sex Married Couples:

What are the issues if my gay spouse entered the USA as a B-2 Tourist ?

Exactly what happens at a marriage green card interview?

How does a person get married in the USA? 

What if my spouse entered the USA legally, but overstayed their visa?

What if my spouse is HIV positive?

Is "coming out" important to the Immigration Officer who conducts the marriage green card interview?