Just when you thought there was no more new reality to be uncovered along comes 90-Day Fiance, TLC's new series designed to showcase the drama that takes place during the 90 days that international couples have to either marry or have the fiance go back to his or her country. The stakes are high which can make for some pretty interesting drama, which of course TLC is certainly hoping for. We all know that there are varying degrees of reality in the so called reality shows, so we thought we would reach out to one of the experts in the field in order to illuminate what really happens during this very interesting 90-day fiance period. John Adams, CEO of A Foreign Affair, (loveme.com) has spent the last 20 years working with couples from all over the globe going through the 90-day fiance visa process. More importantly, he and his Russian wife Tanya, went through the process some 15 years ago, which makes Mr. Adams one of the leading experts as to what can and does happen during that all-important 90 days:
1WV: Thank you for joining us for this interview. You are considered one of the leading experts in the world or International Introductions, can you share with us a little about your background and how you came to work with International couples going through this 90-day Fiance Visa Process?
Adams: Thank you for inviting me. About 20 years ago three of us started a company called A Foreign Affair to introduce men here in the states and even other countries to foreign women. We started in Russia and quickly expanded to the Ukraine and then Colombia, Philippines and China. We are currently in well over 10 countries and numerous cities throughout the world. We provide full service introductions including communication via the website and actual tours where we take men to the various countries to meet the women. Obviously quite a few of these relationships develop to the point where the couples wish to marry. The most common way to accomplish that is to apply for a K-1 visa, or as it is commonly called, a Fiance visa. We supply the men with a kit so they can do the process themselves or they can hire an attorney to assist them. I was lucky enough to meet my wife, Tanya, about 17 years ago and we went through the 90-day fiance visa process and were ultimately married on day 89! Not an easy process for the couple, so I can see why TLC started the show. Actually the production company working on the show has reached out to us for couples who may be interested in appearing on the show and we have sent them several candidates, although I am not sure if they have used any of our couples to date. It is a very private, and can be a very difficult process so it takes the special couple who is willing to share what they are going through with the world.
1WV: What are the requirements to start a Fiance visa?
Adams: First, you must have met sometime within the last 2 years. You just can't write letters to someone overseas and then invite him or her over and expect to get the visa; there must be a personal meeting somewhere within 2 years of filing the petition. The petitioner (the one filing for the fiance to come over) must be single and earn at least 120 percent or more of the Federal poverty level. The beneficiary, (the foreign fiance) must also be single, and must undergo a police background check, as well as a medical test. There must be proof of a real and on-going relationship, such as photos together, letters, phone records, etc. etc.
1WV: How long does the process take and where does the 90 days factor in?
Adams: It depends. The USCIS is the Federal agency in charge of the process. I have seen K-1 petitions go through and the beneficiary receive the visa as soon as 4 months and as long as two years. I would say that the average is about 6 to 8 months for the entire process. Once the fiance is issued the visa he or she has 6 months to use it and enter the United States. Once the Fiance enters the US a new clock starts and he or she now has just 90 days to marry the person who submitted the petition (the fiance cannot marry someone else and still say in the country, it must be the original petitioner)
1WV: It seems like 90 days is not enough time, you can barely plan a wedding in that time, do they grant extensions for couples who need more time?
Adams: There are no extensions, at least I have never heard of one in the 20 years I have been doing this. The 90 days is a very hard number and it comes very fast, trust me, I speak from personal experience. The short time limit is what puts a lot of artificial pressure and stress on the relationship that really should not be there. Granted if a couple is doing a Fiance visa they should be as close to positive by the time they file that this is something they both wish to do, but there are a lot of factors that go into it that can complicate the process.
1WV: What are some of those factors?
Adams: Well, like what I affectionately refer to as the dirty underwear factor. Because of the distance between them, many of these couples have not lived together or have been able to spend a ton of time face to face prior to him or her coming here, maybe a week here or a couple weeks there, and that time is usually much more like a vacation than what real life will be like. Yes, most couples will use skype or E-mail to communicate daily, but it is not the same as being around each other on a 24/7 basis and dealing with mundane chores like doing laundry, or cleaning the house. Not all couples will live together during that 90 day period prior to marriage, but in my experience almost all do. That can be a real eye opener for one or both of the couple, it isn't always what was expected. A lot has to do with how honest each person was about what their life style really was like and what they really expected out of the relationship. If there is any disconnect it is really going to be magnified during this process. Some couples have no problem whatsoever. They are married within a few days or a few weeks of arrival and move on from there. Others however, are more complicated and this is where the drama comes in. These are the situations where normally one, or even both, couples are still not 100 percent sure and are using the 90-day fiance period as a sort of test drive to see what life is really going to be like. That is where the problems - and the drama come in. The issue is that both individuals are well aware of what is going on and both constantly feel as though they are being judged and evaluated, which may be the case. The most drama and stress occurs in situations where one person is committed and ready to walk down the aisle and the other is still somewhat hesitant. This is where the excuses to delay will begin. No one wants to come out and say, Well let me think about this for a while, so we make up excuses to delay moving forward all the time evaluating every move and every word and every action and of course the stress level continues to increase as the 90 day deadline looms ever closer.
1WV: What are some other factors that come into play during the 90-Day Fiance process:
Adams: One huge factor is children. If either person has a child, especially the beneficiary, it can be extremely stressful. Now you are introducing a third (in some cases even more) person and personality into the equation. With domestic second marriages, dealing with the children and everyone adjusting is difficult enough, just imagine bringing a child who may not speak English to a totally new home in a totally new and strange country. Not easy. The child will impact the dynamics of the relationship, sometimes in a positive way, sometimes in a negative way. In a lot of cases the couple did not spend a lot of time with the child when getting to know each other in the beneficiary's country and in most cases did not live with the child. The age of the child does not really matter there are challenges associated with very young children and different challenges associated with older children, the challenges are there. Another factor that can really throw a monkey wrench into the works is ex-spouses. I recall a case where the man had his fiance come from the Ukraine and was living in his condo, the only problem was that his ex-wife lived in the condo next door. The man and his ex-wife were on good terms so the ex-wife would just let herself in and start making coffee like she lived there. I knew the woman from the Ukraine, great woman, and she told me that she just could not deal being that close to his ex-wife all the time, and she didn't think it would ever change, actually she thought it would get worse after the marriage, so she went back the Ukraine - single.
You really never know what the factor or factors are going to be until you are in the middle of it. I had one client who lived in Los Angeles and thought the woman from Colombia was going to love the LA area because a lot of people speak Spanish. But as soon as she arrived she really did not like LA at all and wanted to go back to Colombia. He ended up moving there and marrying her and living there.
1WV: So it does sound like the 90-Day Fiance Visa Process can produce quite a bit of drama which should be good for TLC. Do you have any advice for anyone that may be contemplating the process?
Adams: Realistic expectations. Both have to be very honest about who they are, what they want, and what they are willing to give. The more honest up front, the less drama on the back end. If you are going to do the fiance visa and survive the 90-day fiance visa period you have to want to be married. Don't do it and think, we will see what happens, or 90 days is a long time I'm sure it will work out. I will tell you from experience those 90 days go by like a wink of an eye, and you want that time of your life to be joyous and happy, not stressful and dreadful. So if you are not sure then put it off until you are and if that point never comes than you probably should not have done it in the first place. The last thing you want to do is to bring your fiance here and have him or her ready to commit and you get cold feet and have to send him or her back, that is one of the most difficult, most stressful of tasks you will ever encounter. Try to spend as much time as you can with your fiance before he or she comes over. I was lucky enough to live with Tanya for a couple months in Russia so that helped us quite a bit, but even still it was a hard process. One other thing, this is not a fantasy, this is real life and as you know real life is not perfect. Nor is your fiance going to be perfect. Perfect only happens in movies and in books, the rest of us have to deal with real life. All too often I see men who are searching for this romanticized fantasy of what they think married life will be like, and sometimes life may be like their ideal, but not all the time, actually that would probably get boring. Relationships are full of ups and downs, wins and losses, good and bad, and the 90 Day Fiance Visa Process has a way of magnifying everything the good and the bad.
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