Thank you so much for writing in to us at AlterHéros. First of all, congratulations on getting your F1 student Visa; we’re sure that was a task all on its own! Now, in terms of answering your questions, the advice you will find here will remain general since we are not experts on American Immigration issues and do not wish to give you the wrong information. Your best course of action would be to contact the US Embassy in Tunisia to find out more: http://tunisia.usembassy.gov/contact-us.html . However, Brad studied in the US on an F1 student Visa and stayed for a few years after his education to work as well, so he’s fairly familiar with the process.
It’s very nice to hear that you found love when you met your boyfriend! Now your main problem is figuring out how you can stay and live with him in America. Unfortunately, even if you do decide to marry your boyfriend, you will not be able to apply for a green card. The tricky thing about same-sex marriage or civil union is that it is only state recognised. Since immigration is governed by federal law in the US (which does not recognise same-sex marriages), you will not be considered eligible for a green card. Since green cards and citizenship is administered by the federal government, until same-sex marriage is recognized at a federal level, a US a spouse cannot sponsor their partner for a green card unless they are of the opposite sex. Hopefully that will change, but we have no idea of knowing when that will be. This also applies to marrying in Canada; though your marriage is recognised in Canada as legal, it will not be in the US and you’ll run into the same problem.
If you wish to stay in the US after your visa expires, you will have to apply for a green card through different channels, such as obtaining a work Visa, or through what they call, “Political Asylum”. However, for this option, you will have to prove that you have undergone persecution in your native country due to your sexual orientation.
Your student Visa will last the duration of your education (however long your program is). When you near your graduation, your smartest bet would be to apply for an OPT work authorization, which makes you eligible to work for up to 12 months in an field related to what you have studied. One note: you cannot use an OPT for just any job you come across, it needs to be in the realm of what you studied. Here’s a link to some frequently asked F1 and OPT questions:
The next step after the OPT would be the H-1B Visa: a non-immigrant Visa that allows a US company to employ a foreign worker. Individuals cannot apply and an employer must petition for them. You need a relevant US-college degree or equivalent, so since you are a student this would probably be the smartest route. You can look up “H-1B” and there are plenty of resources online to read about it.
You can apply for a green card after 5 years of residency. This is shorter if you are married to a US citizen (3 years), or if your residency was received through asylum (4 years). Here’s some more info on green cards:
If, however, both you and your partner wish to move to Canada after your studies (where LGBTQ persons have the same legal rights as heterosexuals; a great place to live if you ask us at AlterHéros!), you will both have to apply to become permanent residents or you will have to have someone sponsor you. Since this process is more involved (you AND your partner will have to fill out documentation), you can check out the Canadian website for citizenship and immigration for more information:
You may also want to contact someone at the Canadian Embassy in Tunisia if you have further questions:
For now, we will leave you with these websites to look over so that you can gather more information on your situation (see below). Since your boyfriend is living in Philadelphia, he can also try getting in touch with someone at the school you will be attending to ask about Visa issues; they should be able to provide more specific help regarding your F1 Visa. He (or you) can check at your school about OPTs and H-1Bs and they can set you in the right direction regarding those – the offices for international students would have pamphlets and information on different working Visa options (OPTs and H-1Bs, etc). Then concentrate on the Green Card later when you may be in more of a position to apply for it. Since it’s good for the next three years, continue to do as much research as possible early on so that you can start filling out applications; processing and getting approval can be a long wait and you want to make sure everything is in place before your Visa expires. If your studies and skills are in demand in the US, you would be best off using those as your ticket in.
Hopefully this isn’t too discouraging, but keep in mind that the Visa system in the US is very complicated. Again, it is best if you contact the proper officials to ensure a smooth transition from Tunisia, and hopefully a permanent residency status. However, please feel free to write to us again if you have any other questions or if you would like to give us any updates about the process. We wish you the best of luck and a safe trip to Philadelphia!
Kay-Wo and Brad,