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“Didn’t you say your oldest son is ready for marriage?” asks Ruth, a Canadian mother.

“Yes, and we’re hoping there’s a nice girl out there for him,”  answers her long time friend, Gloria.

“My cousins in New York have a daughter who just came back from abroad.  I think she’s 20 or so and wants to get married.  A great girl, I hear.”

“That sounds great, maybe we should set something up so they can meet.”

“Wonderful.  You never know.  I’ll get back to you.”

The couple met, fell in love, and got engaged (with the family’s approval, or course).  It was a great match.  The ceremony was in Jerusalem.  The plan was for them to live in the USA (where the wife’s family lives and where the husband – a Canadian – plans to eventually go to grad school).  They fly back together and arrive at Newark airport, excited about starting their life together (after the sheva brachos, of course).    The U.S. Immigration Officer at the port of entry asks them for their citizenships.  The husband answers “Canadian.”  The wife answers “American.”  They each show their passports.  The Officer notices the gorgeous diamond on the wife’s hand, and asks “are you newlyweds?”  Giddy, the couple nods, and says, “Yes, and we plan to live in the US.”

Then suddenly, their life dreams are shattered.  The Officer looks at the husband and declares “since you intend to reside permanently in the US and you don’t have a visa, she can come, but I can’t let you in.  You need to go back to Canada.”

The Jewish tradition of setting up our children for marriage is over 3,000 years old. Commonly known as “shidduchim” in observant homes, this beautiful timeless custom is at the base of the formation of Jewish families everywhere in the world.  In fact, prospective spouses who are “matched” up often come from different countries and even, continents.  Cross-border dating has become common, especially with the aid of internet dating-sites and long-distance phone technologies.

Unfortunately, rarely do people consider the realities of cross-border migration.  Immigration laws can have a real effect on the plans of a couple to marry and live together.  As in the illustration above (which was a real case, by the way), a newlywed couple can be forcibly separated for a year or more while the correct visa comes through, allowing the immigration of one spouse.

The answer?  Plan ahead.  There are many possibilities for prospective spouses to legally immigrate prior to, or after marriage.  Fiancé visas, student visas, work visas, and even sponsorship applications at foreign consulates (depending on time issues) are only some of the many options available to migrant spouses.  People either leave this critical issue to the last minute, consult with unlicenced “immigration specialists,” or simply forget to deal with the issue at all.  It is imperative to consult with an immigration lawyer long ahead of the marriage to look over the issues.  An experienced, licenced, immigration attorney will not just fill out the paperwork; he or she will consider the entire situation of the couple and advise as to the fastest and least costly route for them.  A good immigration lawyer will be able to “craft” a legal, custom-made plan for the family, which will pass the scrutiny of the immigration authorities.  And most importantly, by establishing a rapport with an established law firm, you rest assured for the long term that future questions about travel and relocation will be answered, as the need arises.  The $1,000 to $2,000 dollars spent, on average, with an immigration attorney are well worthwhile, especially when considering the money spent on wedding ceremonies.

Given the real threat of terrorism worldwide, border authorities (especially in the US and Canada) are on high alert, carefully scrutinizing each and every visitor.  When I was a child, I recall driving over from Canada to the US to go shopping for a few hours.  Those days are now gone.  Many know, in fact, that by 2007, passports will be required for all US-Canada travel.

In today’s world, the institution of shidduchim faces new challenges.  It’s not just about making a good match anymore, it’s about planning ahead so the match can stick.  A new slogan may soon be heard in our circles: “If it’s a good shidduch, call the immigration attorney.

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