New  Film Addresses the Issue of Student Visas, Immigration, and Young Love

(Written for a Justia client, October 2011. Used with permission.)

A new film, “Like Crazy,” is making the rounds of film festivals, winning a top award at Sundance this year. It tells the story of two college students in Los Angeles who meet and fall in love. Jacob is an American, and Anna is a British exchange student. Anna overstays her student visa and then returns home to London. When she tries to fly back to Los Angeles, she finds herself barred by officials at the airport. This sets up the main action of the film, in which the two must find a way to continue their relationship despite the trans-North America, trans-Atlantic distance between them.

While the film primarily acts as a love story, it offers a glimpse of the issues faced by spouses, fiancees, and lovers who find themselves separated by immigration laws. An immigration lawyer certainly knows that these situations present complicated and emotional issues. Anna certainly made a mistake by overstaying her student visa. If she came to the United State on a J-1 student visa, for example, she may have been subject to a requirement that she return to her home country for at least two years, even if she did not overstay her visa period. J-1 visas typically allow a visitor to stay in the U.S. up to 30 days after their educational program ends, but they must then depart. Overstaying a student visa could lead to ineligibility to return to the U.S. for years.

Is there anything the young lovers in the film could do? Overstaying the visa made it difficult, if not impossible. If the two were to get engaged, and she did not overstay her student visa, they might be able to get a fiancee visa, known as a K-1. An American usually petitions for a K-1 while the fiancee is still abroad. Both fiancees must show they are legally eligible to get married in the petitioner’s state of residence. They must show evidence that they will not become public charges, and that the engagement is legitimate. One specific requirement is proof that the fiancees have met in person at least once in the previous two years, which is intended to deter sham marriages. They must get married within 90 days of the immigrant’s arrival in the U.S.

If the characters in the film already took the plunge and got married, Jacob could petition for an immigrant visa for Anna as the noncitizen spouse of a U.S. citizen. The government places no numerical limitation on this category of family immigration, and it somewhat streamlines the process. He could file a petition for an immigrant visa to allow her to come back to the U.S., or to remain here if she is still here and has not overstayed her visa. She could also file an application for legal permanent resident status, commonly known as a “green card,” as the spouse of a citizen at the same time. The issue of overstaying the visa would be a serious complication, though.

© David C. Wells 2014