Dear Lydian: The Politics of Love — A Short Tutorial on Visas and Immigration  — By Jennifer Shipp
Myanmar Southeast Asia

Dear Lydian: The Politics of Love — A Short Tutorial on Visas and Immigration — By Jennifer Shipp

Burmese citizens can only travel to a small selection of countries visa-free. And getting a visa isn’t always easy. Often, in fact, for Burmese citizens it’s a process that involves an interview and the final determination can take months. As American citizens, Lydian, John, and I had never really considered how this fact could affect our lives. In fact, systemic political oppression like this affects a LOT of people, particularly couples who fall in love across borders (people from different countries). In order to be together, Lydian and Naing Naing have to hop from country to country every 30 to 90 days. Lydian can’t settle for longer than 30 days in Burma and Naing Naing can stay no longer than 90 days in a very few visa-free countries (Mexico, the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Canada are not among these countries). The visa problem looms large, but it’s only one facet of the red tape that faces Lydian and Naing Naing as they try to put together a plan to just be in the same country together.

When I wrote this email, Lydian and Naing Naing were in Singapore waiting to file an intent to marry. They had to wait for 15 days in one of the most expensive (and boring and polluted) cities in the world to sign up for a date online to get married. But Naing Naing’s Singapore visa runs out every thirty days so inevitably they have to go on a visa run after they file their intent to marry because the wedding date can be no sooner than 21 days after they file intent to marry. And after that, they have to submit their documents to the Mexican Embassy, translated and apostilled (or in this case, “legalized”) and then wait another 30 days.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, John and I contact lawyers and supposed “immigration experts” in both the U.S. and Mexico. But it’s hard to find people you can trust in this business. There are a lot of wolves in sheeps clothing.

As I study this material, I’m aware that this issue isn’t just something that affects our family and in fact, it’s a hot topic up north at the border between the U.S. and Mexico too. In fact, the word “immigration” when uttered in either the U.S. or Mexico is almost cliche (it could only pertain to the busiest border in the world between the U.S. and Mexico).

Hi, Sweetie!

So…as usual, after sleeping on it, I have some new thoughts on things. I appreciate your input. It would make sense to go back to Bagan during that waiting period after Malaysia but before your wedding. You’ll have your wedding clothes and we could even arrange a small (not legal) ceremony in Bagan perhaps (I need to check on that and make sure that’s legal to do a non-legal ceremony before the legal one?) And I still think it makes sense to go to Ecuador (or Georgia? Or Armenia?) after the wedding to wait for the Mexican temporary residency permit.

So that being said, here are the insights I came up with overnight:

In terms of VISAS and government approval/regulations there are 3 types of people in the world. It wouldn’t hurt for you and Naing Naing to understand these things:

1) Rich people who are employed in their home country

2) Poor people who are employed in their home country

3) Digital nomads–people who work online

People in the first category get all kinds of privileges in terms of visas. They’re the world’s favorites in terms of travelers. They go to a country as tourists and spend lots of money on stupid shit. They have to go back home because home is where their job is.

The people in the second category get the fewest privileges. They tend to cross borders for economic reasons (usually to make money and send it back to the home country in the form of “remittances”). So they COST the destination country money. These people have a hard time getting visas.

The people in the third category tend to come from privileged countries like the U.S. or Europe. People in other countries have trouble becoming Digital Nomads. Below, I’ll explain why (keep reading):

There are 4 categories of COUNTRIES. These categories roughly correspond to the Popular Kids/Jocks, the Nerdy Kids, and the Stinky Kids in junior high school. Let me explain:

1) The U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia are the Popular Kids. China is also a Popular Kid, but maybe a Popular Kid who’s got his own clique that’s competitive with the other group of Popular Kids.

2) Countries like Estonia, Romania, Georgia, and Hungary that have figured out that they can make “special rules” for certain groups of people (like Digital Nomads) to bring in some extra money fall into this category.

3) Oil countries and Arab countries  – These are Afluenza Kids for the most part. But, they’re also kids who are related to the Afluenza Kids (like Egypt for example) –I think they’re guilty by association in part because they do things their own way and they have enough money to do whatever they want however they want to do it. (Not sure, but they’re definitely not in the IN Crowd)

3) Myanmar/Burma and all the countries that have bilateral visa-free relationships with Myanmar would be the Stinky Kids. They’re poor countries where there’s been oppression or war recently. They’re less developed and less involved in the political bullshit going on in the rest of the world.

Obviously, if you were in junior high, it would be best to be “in” with all of these groups on some level. In reality, if there was a major world war or some changing World Order, it would pay to have some relationships with all of these countries. The Stinky Kids, in effect, could become the Popular Kids at any time. You just don’t know, especially if you’re just little people like us.

Okay…so, in most countries, there are certain VISA REQUIREMENTS. These requirements tend to be the same in all countries, but they’re more strict in the Popular Kid Countries than in other places. Citizens of Popular Kid Countries have more passport privileges–their passports are more powerful. It’s not fair, but junior high isn’t fair….anyway, the visa requirements for all the NON-Popular Kid countries are, for the most part, as follows:

1) Economic solvency – usually this involves a certain amount of money in the person’s bank account or a certain level of monthly income or both. Most of the time, they look at 3 months to 1 year of bank statements. The number of monthly bank statements is roughly proportional to the amount of time the person hopes to spend in the country. A person with lots of money OR the capacity to make money in the destination country by stimulating the economy with a new business will be welcomed to the new, destination country–they’ll get a visa. A person with no money will be turned away because immigration officers will see that person as someone who wants to make money and probably send it back to the home country in the form of remittances.

2) Reason to Return to the Home Country – People who fit the profile of a person who would return to their country of origin are considered to be “tourists” and the destination country sees that person as someone who will SPEND money in the destination country, not COST money (in the form of welfare or whatever). People who fit the following profile look like people who plan to return to their home country:

– They have a job in the home country

– OR They own a business in the home country

– They own land in the home country

– They have family in the home country

There’s some overlap here. For example, a person who has a job or owns a business in the home country needs to make a enough money with the job or the business to be considered “economically solvent”.

At the same time though, you can see how Digital Nomads don’t fit this profile at all. Most of them are NOT economically solvent, they don’t have job, and they don’t own land. Some don’t even have family connections to the home country. That’s why Digital Nomads tend to only come from countries with powerful passports (the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Schengen countries). Passport holders from other countries have to present a profile that they’re  economically solvent and that their going to return home. They have to present this profile over and over again, every time they apply for a visa.

Does that make sense?

It’s not really fair that you have to think so hard about these kinds of things just because you fell in love with a young man from Burma, but such is life. And I don’t believe that this problem is really about what it seems to be about. It’s very Romeo-and-Juliet except where you’re smart enough not to swallow poison or stab yourself in the chest before you come up with a solution to the problem.

In all our years of traveling, I’ve never seen the underside of government with such clarity as I have over the past 3 weeks studying visa and immigration laws. Why can’t people move across borders as they please? Yes, I know people are territorial and wars can start when the lines aren’t sharply delineated, but sometimes people fall in love across borders too…

Anyway, try to understand the basics and help Naing Naing understand too so that you guys are ready the next time a border crossing agent tries to separate you two. We’re going to figure this visa/immigration problem out, or we’ll just fucking move.

Love you,

I’m gonna read your other emails now…


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