by Anna Blanch Rabe, Guest Contributor
My fellow military spouses, we need to talk.
When I was on the NextGen MilSpouse Happy Hour podcast we talked about some of the misconceptions and strange things that are often said to foreign-born military spouses. We had limited time on the podcast to discuss this, so here are the most common and the most egregious things said to immigrant military spouses.
5 Things Not To Say To An Immigrant Military Spouse
“You married him/her for the green card.”
This is so 1980s. Do you know how much work that would be?
The immigration system is so complicated and there are so many checks and balances that it would be almost impossible.
For example, we had to provide proof of joint financials, copy of military orders, affidavits from our friends and neighbors attesting to the legitimacy of our relationship, letters from our families detailing their knowledge of our relationships, my military service records, letters we wrote to each other while dating along with physical copies of photographs from our wedding and with friends.
Oh, and just in case you think marrying a foreigner is easy: we not only had to get permission from his command here in the United States to get married, because I am a foreigner, but we also had to get written permission (according to regs) to get married in my home country.
Believe me, when I say that marrying just for a green card, given the amount of work involved in applying and proving our relationship, is sooooo not worth it. Let alone the cost – we are up to $3,000 and we are not done with the process!
Please remember that like every military spouse, foreign-born military spouses give up a great deal to be with their service member. I gave up living in a beautiful city mere blocks from the ocean, a job I loved, time with family (including the birth of nieces/nephews and time with my ageing grandparents), and living in the country of my birth.
I know you’ve probably heard of a story of a friend of a friend where someone gamed the system, but don’t tell it to me or any other immigrant military spouse.
“Aren’t you a citizen already?”
“What do you mean you are still waiting on your permanent green card?” you say to me with a quizzical look.
“But I thought if you married an American, especially someone in the military, then you were automatically a citizen.”
Wouldn’t that be nice.
I’m not saying that marrying an American military member should make things easier on the immigration front – that is not what this article is about – but clearly there are many well-meaning Americans who seem to think it does make a difference, and is, for want of a better description, an immigration fast pass.
The minimum amount of time a non-U.S. citizen military spouse can apply for citizenship, if their service member is stationed CONUS is 3 years. Now, there is an expedited procedure for spouses who are stationed OCONUS or are deployed for more than 30 days, because of the practical needs of revised orders and a desire to alleviate a stress point for deployed service members. This expedited process can still take up to 18 months, because it relies on the petition for immigrant ( the I-130 form: Petition for Alien Relative) that is submitted by the sponsor (the service member) being approved.
I said that was the minimum but United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is so backed up right now that it is more like 4 years at the earliest for CONUS-based immigrant military spouses to get their N-400 (Naturalization) approved from the time they and their service member submitted their initial petition (after marriage)
“But of course you’re a spy.”
I am an Army veteran of a U.S. ally and I’m not the only military spouse who shares this distinction. I even served with a few others who are now married to U.S. service members or veterans.
But I’ve had fellow military spouses who are immigrants tell me this spy statement has been said to them.
Even said jokingly this is highly offensive. Truly. We support our service members just like you do. If you don’t trust us, stay away, but don’t make accusations you aren’t willing to go to the relevant military authorities to report.
Even before marriage, many of us foreign military spouses had to complete paperwork that gave detailed information about our family members, their vital information and occupations. Did you?
I get that there is a security risk. We live in heightened times, but this is for those who complete security clearances for our service member spouses to investigate. Don’t be that person who starts rumors.
“My child/husband/wife/significant other/friend can do your accent really well.”
Mostly, I find that our military community lets me and my accent be. If they make jokes it is because I have consented and our friendship has set the scene for this. But being made fun of because you sound different is really not enjoyable.
The worst is when somebody says
“I love your accent! My daughter does accents really well, in fact she can do English, Irish and Scottish. She could definitely mimic you.”
Firstly, I’m none of those nationalities. If you are unsure of where an accent is from, it is acceptable to ask “so I hear you have an accent that’s different from mine. It is lovely, where is it from?”
Secondly, mimicking is not flattering. Attempting an accent can be OK if you have a well developed relationship, but if this is at the expense of the foreign born person, don’t do it.
“Don’t you love America? It’s the best country in the world. I’m sure you always wanted to live here.”
Surprise, surprise…Not every little girl or boy grows up wanting to live in another country. We absolutely love our service members, but living in the United States may present some challenging situations.
Culture shock is very real and it can take years to get used to living in a culture different from the one in which you grew up.
American exceptionalism is an important part of the identity of the U.S. military. When your life is on the line, it follows that morale is often boosted by the belief and culture that America is the best country in the world, and is worth fighting to protect and preserve.
This is not a belief I contest nor do I bear any ill will to those who believe it, but it can be perplexing when you have experienced other ways of doing things, other forms of government, and other expressions of culture and community.
I know many immigrant and naturalized military spouses who are extremely patriotic. But, don’t assume that all foreign-born military spouses want to become American citizens, and this doesn’t make them any less of a supportive military spouse.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and advocate, who is also married to an Air Force officer. She has written for MSJDN Blog, Transpositions, and Englewood Review of Books. She works as the CEO of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates LLC, serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and attorneys with strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives. You can read more of her writing on her blog.