Imagine you lived in a poor rural area in a ‘poor’ country. And now imagine that many of the young women around you are being ‘snapped up’ by foreign husbands, husbands that whisk them overseas in return for a payment to both an agency and the family of the bride. No doubt you would feel pretty upset.
Cambodia’s answer to these ‘sham’ marriages was a 2011 edict banning foreign men over the age of 50 from taking Cambodian brides (the ban was only for men, not for women). In addition, foreign men eligible to marry a Cambodian woman had to prove their salary was above US$2,250 (VND49 million) a month.
The reason, said one official in ABC News, was to prevent “fake marriages and human trafficking”. At the time human rights groups had documented instances where Cambodian women were sent into prostitution or “used as slaves” in their husband’s home country.
Vietnam’s answer was less controversial. Applicants for a mixed nationality marriage now needed to sit an interview to “ensure that they are getting married voluntarily” and to assess their language ability “for the purposes of communication and mutual understanding”.
Unfortunately the interview process has been open to “misconduct”. And according to an article in Thanh Nien, it has “yet to prove effective in preventing marriage frauds”. As a result, a proposal is being tabled to scrap the interview process from Jan. 1, 2016.
Marriage has always proved a bane for officials charged with issuing green cards (work permits) and visas. If you wish to apply for a spouse visa to go to the UK, for example, you have to prove that your marriage is genuine. Photos, Facebook posts, rings, wedding images, emails and bank statements — all have to be offered up in evidence. You have to sit an interview and even then, with all the supporting documents in order, the spouse is not guaranteed their visa. Should the age difference between husband and wife, for example, be deemed to be too large, then it’s possible the application might be turned down. And this is despite the couple being legally married.
This scenario has occurred countless times with mixed nationality couples living in Vietnam. And by international standards, the British authorities are lenient. Other countries take a much stricter line.
Vietnam is in part far easier in this respect: being married to a Vietnamese national entitles the non-Vietnamese spouse to visa-free entry to this country. The powers that be should be commended for making this process so easy.
However, visa-free entry only goes so far: it doesn’t entitle the foreign spouse to work here. Unfortunately, it is most often the foreign partner in the marriage who is the main breadwinner for a mixed nationality family in this country. The lack of 2+2=4 makes them jump through the work permit hoop, a complex process at the best of times.
Marriage between couples of different nationalities is difficult on many levels, not just the official one, and the moves to prevent ‘sham’ marriages are worthy. However, when they are proven to be genuine, the non-Vietnamese partner should have a far easier path to gaining working status. After all, the ability to support one’s family is not just a necessity, it’s a right. — Nick Ross