Visa application challenges for the Modern Family

Modern family structures call for creativity from visa application teams. The following story reveals some of the challenges in fitting new family constellations into the old, rigid forms of visa applications.

The story of Nicola started like any other family relocation. Making my first call I met a nice guy on the other side of the line; looking forward to his family’s coming move from Switzerland to Singapore and excited to find out how to best kick off this adventure. Nothing in the call prepared me to what was coming, and with my Singaporean past we embarked on a lengthy conversation full of information exchange about neighborhoods, schools, and good restaurants. To summarize, I promised to promptly initiate a House Hold Goods survey, send temporary accommodation options, and oh – of course, initiate visa application services. I ended by reminding that the later was the most important one, as without visa approval the move can’t be

It was only a few days later that the first sign of troubles landed at my desk. A four word response from Nicola to the welcome email of our visa team in which he was asked for a basic list of required documents, one of which is his marriage certificate. The four seemingly innocent words of his reply were “we are not married”. And this sentence, which in a modern world, full of new age families of all types, would not get much attention, was like a blinking red light to our visa team.

Emails started shooting back and forth. Asking for more information of the nature of the relationship, and at the same time alerting all correspondents that at this point this visa application has changed its status from a simple standard one to a complicated, special case. Well, we were soon to find out just how complicated things were still going to get.

In reply to our visa team’s question Nicola explained that he and Matilde have lived together now for more than a year. They shared a house rental agreement and some utility bills and even had a document proving their joint relationships from the Swiss government. However, in her reply, our visa expert had to explain the second complication in this story. As the couple were living in Switzerland, an approving document for common-law relationship can only be granted by the Swiss government. However, in order to apply for his partner’s Dependent Pass, Nicola, a Canadian citizen, would need to present such document from the Canadian government. Unfortunately, as we learned from Nicola’s application to the local Canadian consulate, such document can only be granted while living in Canada.

But troubles were not ending there. The next application on discussion was for Matilde’s son – Paul. Six years old Paul, who was the result of a short unhappy marriage, was under full custody of his mom. Paul hasn’t met his father since he was a baby, and after getting her signed divorce paper, proving her unquestionable custody, Matilde never thought she would have to see his father’s face ever again.

Family visa application challengesJust as with his mom’s application, Paul’s application was flashing a red light in the face of our visa team. Managing to arrange for a Long Term Visit Permit for Matilde based on her relationships with Nicola (a lesser valued visa level compared to a Dependent Pass, not allowing any form of employment and encompassing many other limitations) allowed our team to get a similar LTVP for her son. However, as part of its limitation, LTVP, we learned, will not allow Paul to study in Singapore. Turning six this summer, in order to become a first grader, Paul will have to switch his visa to a Student Pass, granted by his new school. Comforted by this clear and seemingly easy procedure we all concluded that after arriving in Singapore the family will search for a school and then care for Paul’s change of visa status. It was then when our visa experts had to again raise a red flag and mention that for Paul to get a student pass, Matilde must get a letter of consent from his father. “We have no relationship with the man” was the reply, to which the visa expert’s answer was: “well then we will have to pray that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority accepts our reason for not being able to produce this document”.

Nicola’s story is not over yet. So far Matilde and Paul had their LTVPs approved and happily arrived in Singapore together with Nicola. But the complications keep rising and with them my understanding that although the world seems to progress in its view of new forms of families, immigration laws are still lagging far behind. As new constellations of two fathers, two mothers, non-marital relationships, and shared custodies of non-biological children become abundant, visa teams are required for more flexibility and a lot of creativity in order to fit these new settlements into the old, rigid forms of visa applications.

By Dr Taly Goren, a long time traveler between nations and continents,
relocation specialist, parents groups facilitator, mother of two adolescent TCKs,
and the wife of a Hi-Tech Expat frequent flyer.