Tag Archives: Visa

Becoming a Filipino Citizen – Again!

Now, dear readers, if you’ve been following this blog you know that some months back Janet was able to become an American Citizen! That process is expensive, complex and time consuming, but we considered it to be worth it, particularly because of the value of the blue passport we Americans take for granted.

However, one of the stipulations of becoming a US citizen is that you must give up all other citizenships. Therefore Janet was now an American citizen with all the rights and privileges that I have, but she was no longer a Philippines citizen.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike the US, the Philippines does not require you to give up other citizenships. Therefore you can re-acquire your Philippines citizenship, without giving up your US citizenship, thus becoming a dual-citizen. And that was our plan.

Unlike in the US, the Philippines laws, regulations and bureaucracy are a bit less transparent, so it took Janet a while to try to determine what she had to do in order to re-acquire her citizenship. We stopped in the Immigration Office here in Dumaguete, and as expected were told that they could not handle such a request; it had to be done at the main office in Manila.

Calls to the main office in Manila went unanswered but finally Janet did get a response to her emails. So the following is what we learned.

The paperwork is fairly easy and you can download it here: http://www.immigration.gov.ph

What we were interested in was the Petition for Reacquisition of Philippines Citizenship Under R.A. 9225. The form itself is fairly short and simple. However, you cannot just fill it out and send it in. You must go to the main office in Manila.

So, after Janet had put her documentation together; standard stuff including marriage license, US passport and proof of citizenship, birth certificate, etc. we booked a flight and hotel and we were on our way. The Immigration office opens at 8:00 AM and we decided to arrive around 6:00. There were only a couple of people ahead of us but by 8:00 the line was at least 100 people. I’d therefore recommend arriving early. You cannot get an appointment no matter how rich or white you are. It is strictly first come, first serve.

The two couples ahead of us were both foreigners with Filipina wives. One guy, an American and nice enough, had lived in the Philippines many years and therefore thought he ought to impart his wisdom to me, the newbie. I smiled and nodded my head a lot, though as I say, he was certainly nice enough. The 1st guy in line was German and right out of central casting; think Sergeant Schultz, only a lot less funny.

Once the doors opened (and they actually opened a few minutes early) we were hustled to a line that was essentially a triage area. Some people were there to get or renew visas and there were people there looking to do what Janet was doing. A lady, definitely the bureaucratic type (again think Sergeant Schultz, only less funny) checked Janet’s documentation, gave her a couple forms to fill out, told her to put it all in a folder and come back when she was ready.

Five minutes later we came back and waited, and waited and waited. Finally we were hustled into an office with an Immigration Officer, whose specialty was the re-acquisition of citizenship. She more thoroughly scrutinized Janet’s documents. Of particular interest is a document that Janet and I typed up. Essentially they require an affidavit stating that you have nothing bad hanging over your head under any of your past or current names. The document must be notarized, so Janet and I found a notary the day before,  a couple hours after we arrived in Manila. The notary literally had a desk situated in a restaurant and a couple hundred pesos later we were set. The Immigration Officer looked at our letter closely; later I understood why. Most applicants don’t have the letter and are sent around the corner from Immigration where a large area processes writing and notarizing documents. So, don’t worry; if you don’t have the letter, somebody will write it for you and have it notarized. We still had to go around the corner since they required the form itself to be notarized, for 100 pesos.

BTW, speaking of money, online we read that the fee for the re-acqusition was about 3100 pesos. When we arrived at Immigration it turned out that the fee was closer to 2500; I have no idea what the discrepancy was, maybe the notarization fees.

We returned back to the room to show the finalized documents to the officer. Sitting there was an elderly woman and her daughter and in typical Philippines fashion not only did Janet and the older women strike up a conversation but the Immigration Officer joined in. We found out that the lady’s husband had died, she had become an American citizen through marriage, all the husband’s money was being grabbed by his children from a previous marriage, that the woman was now broke and re-acquiring her Philippines citizenship to avail of some benefits she can get, if she’s a Philippines citizen. The woman’s daughter was stunned that Janet would re-acquire her Philippines citizenship, thus giving up the golden goose (aka the American passport). They all explained to her that Janet did not have to give up her American citizenship; that she would be a dual citizen. They all laughed and had a great time. Try doing that with an Immigration Officer in the US.

There were of course more lines, more approvals and finally Janet was in the payment line. After that she was directed to an office where another 5 women where waiting for exactly what Janet was awaiting; their dual citizenship. All were women and all much older.

Finally all 6 together were in front of an Immigration Officer (a 30ish man). I was looking on – the only husband – I suspect the only husband still alive. It’s not the 1st world so the officer one by one confirmed each person’s name and age. A couple were in their 80s (including the woman whose story we heard). One woman said she was 62. “You look at lot younger,” the Officer said. Janet confirmed her name and age of 29; she was half the age or less of any other woman there. It was obvious that the other women had deceased husbands and were looking to re-acquire their citizenship for whatever benefits Philippines citizenship gives.

They all raised their right hands and took an oath and were told that in 2-3 months (it is the Philippines, after all) they would receive confirmation that their petition was approved and we’d have to come back to Manila to get it.

But for all intents and purposes, our plan, which started five years ago with a K-1 Visa, went through two separate green card applications, an application to become an American citizen and now the application to re-acquire Philippines citizenship, was done. Don’t ask me what the total expense was, since I don’t want to think about it, but really in the end it’s all been worth it. Janet is a citizen of the world and has all the options possible. I’m very proud of her!

The K-1 Visa & the 90-Day No Fault Marriage

I get asked by my friends, relatives and perfect strangers about the process of a foreigner coming to America (what – didn’t they see the Eddie Murphy movie) and getting married. I can’t tell you how many people asked the following: “Why don’t you just fly Janet over here for a month or two so you can get to know each other better?” Shit, why didn’t I think of that!

There’s tons of information available on obtaining Visas and getting married in the land of milk and honey (OK, that’s Israel, but you get the idea) but none of that information will give you the real scoop on what happens, the hows, and the pain, joy and hysteria involved. So, I will!

As Americans we forget that one of our greatest freedoms is that little blue thing we’re issued (not Viagra – get your head out of the gutter – I mean a U.S. passport). You can go everywhere with it, other than Cuba. It’s essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” (for some people literally). But most countries don’t have that sort of freedom and if you are from most of the countries on the planet, the United States is not thrilled to have you arrive here.

So, if you’re a Philippines citizen what do you do? Yes, there are educational visas and work visas but the process is lengthy, expensive and in the end rarely do you get permission. Or you can be a sibling of a naturalized American citizen, which means we’ll see you here somewhere around 2050, give or take a decade. Or say you are one of those middle class Filipinos I’ve previously discussed. Why not get a tourist visa; Americans can get one to almost any country in the world. Well, you’re not an American. In order to get a tourist Visa you have to prove beyond any doubt that you will visit the US – and leave. By the time you might get that tourist visa they’ll be filling in the Grand Canyon. In short, unless you are the rare Filipino politician or fat cat, there is no way for the average Filipino(a) citizen to get here.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

First, there’s the paperwork process which is Draconian. Any mistake, even of the most minor nature, and the paperwork will get kicked back. Janet and I spent hours and days online scouring every line of the paperwork for any mistake. Now, I was a technical writer at the time, pretty damn good at preparing accurate documentation, but the stress of trying to get everything perfect got to me. And even if it’s perfect, the USCIS has the occasional habit of simply losing one of the dozens of documents you submitted – and then blaming you.

How about money? I’m a software engineer with a good income (far more than I’m worth); so I figured, no problem. Wrong. By the time you’re all done, it will put a serious strain on most budgets. Speaking of money, you have to prove to the USCIS that you, the petitioner, make 125% of the current U.S. poverty line. So make sure you don’t lose your job during the process or it might be a do-over. For that matter, many self-employed men who make very good money, don’t qualify because, how should I put this, their true income is not reflected on their tax returns. Their sweet, naïve fiancé, travels to Manila for the grueling embassy interview and finds out her fiancé does not make enough to qualify for the Visa. It happens every day.

Oh and speaking of Manila, once your initial paperwork is approved, you are able to schedule your embassy interview in Manila. And prior to that you must take a medical exam. Now that doesn’t mean you go to your local doctor and have him listen to your heart or cough a couple times. It means you go to St. Lukes Hospital in Manila (the only accepted facility in the entire country) for a two day (yes, you heard that right) two day exam. And if they find anything wrong with your young fiancé, let’s say a shadow on the lung, she gets to spend another glorious six months in beautiful downtown Manila for TB treatment and a re-testing. Janet had never had any serious or even semi-serious illness in her life, but was terrified by the medical exam, as well as the half dozen shots she needed. And let’s not forget that to even get said examination, you must arrive early at St. Lukes and take a number; Janet arrived at 2:30 AM. Is this all still sounding easy?

But wait there’s more: the Philippines requires the prospective émigré to take a class and get interviewed by the CFO. This interview is often tougher than the embassy interview. After all, the U.S. embassy mostly wants to ensure that everything is legal and on the up and up. The CFO tells the girls about all the terrible things that can happen abroad and the interviewer questions why the girl wants to go. In our case, after the CFO interview, Janet contacted me panicked because she hadn’t yet been approved. The CFO Officer had doubts and wanted to see Janet again. Why? Because Janet was young and pretty and marrying old codger, Dave. How to prove to the officer that our relationship was legitimate? Janet left her tons of photos of the two of us together, email and text correspondence and was simply told to come back and the officer would decide.

Still sound easy? Janet and I practiced her potential answers to whatever questions she might be asked. She was scared and when Janet gets scared she stops speaking or speaks in mono-syllables. There were a lot of “I don’t knows” and “you knows” in her practice answers. I tried to calmly explain that when the officer asked her why she wanted to marry Dave, answering “You know,” or “I don’t know,” might not be the best response.

In the end Janet got through the Visa process! I promised I would fly in and take her home with me. What I hadn’t considered was, would the actual physical Visa be ready by the time we were ready to fly out. Janet arranged for the Visa to be shipped to a To Go location, sort of like Fed-Ex in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they failed to contact her when the visa arrived and it sat for days. Finally they contacted her and told her that if she didn’t pick it up by the next day it would be sent back to Manila. So Janet and her sister hopped on a bus for the leisurely, fun-filled 3 hour bus ride from Alcoy to Cebu, got the Visa and returned by bus to Alcoy. Easy and stress free – right?

But now comes the truly easy part – we’ve finally arrived in the U.S. for 90 days of fun and sun. There’s even a reality show currently running, “90 Day Visa,” all about the thrilling escapades of these wacky couples. The show, like most reality TV, is entertaining bullshit.

Now I tend to be a planner; I’m older and allegedly mature. Before Janet arrived, I tried to project a budget for everything I could think of; the wedding; clothes she would need (no fleece jackets are needed in the Philippines); and just daily life changes.

Here’s what Janet (with my assistance) had to do in those 90 days: get used to a brand new city; check out the malls, public transportation (yes, of course, all Filipinos know how to use light rail); grocery shopping; finding the best local Asian stores; finding lechon; finding a Filipino restaurant; getting used to a new, and badly organized house; getting used to an old, and badly aging husband to be. Also, those 90 days gave me the opportunity to leisurely explain to Janet how everything works in the United States. And let’s not forget language. Despite the fact that Janet’s English is very good, speaking American English 24-hours a day is exhausting and her nose was bleeding constantly.

Which reminds me – I wanted to find her friends. So, before she arrived I hooked up with a Fil-Am group whose events we began to attend, which not only helped her make friends, it gave us a support system for the wedding.

Oh, that’s right – the wedding. That has to happen in those 90 days too. I had planned to have it in our backyard, which is a good sized space. Before Janet arrived I spent weeks cleaning out the yard and trying to get things semi-ready. It was a losing proposition. Finally, one day my neighbor (who has the showplace yard of the neighborhood) leaned over our fence and asked me how the wedding preparations were going – and most importantly, “Hey, would you like to use our yard for the wedding?” I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Also, understand that women are women all over the world, which meant that when Janet arrived she needed to choose rings, flowers, food, a cake, decorate the house, etc. The day of our outdoor wedding, September 22nd, it rained. Hell, it’s Oregon; of course it rained. But Janet was determined. We got a ten minute break in the weather and did the wedding then. Afterwards, the reception, which was also supposed to be outdoors, was crammed into our home.

In the end it all happened, it all worked, and Janet and I survived it. It’s a story to tell – well maybe not to the grandkids – but to all of you. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – with Janet that is.

Easy peasy, right?