New visa rules in theory or practice?

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Jorgen Johansson
More than a year ago, new immigration rules were supposed to make it
easier for business-men and lovers of foreign nationalities in
Latvia. But getting a visa or permission to marry one's sweetheart
might still prove to be difficult.

"As of Jan. 1, 1999, the rules for visas and marriage have changed.
You don't need so many documents any more. Foremost it was changed
for business people on how to establish companies. They were
dissatisfied with all the paper work," Ilze Briede, head of the
Immigration Department, said.

The biggest change is that one will not be asked to present criminal
records any more when applying for a residence permit.

"The business-men were complaining to the Interior Ministry, so they
suggested we change the rules for visas, and marriages came along in
the package," Briede said.

However, there are still problems to be solved.

Andreas van Deelen and his wife Diana van Deelena met in a pub in
Riga's Old Town on Jan. 24, 1997.

"I was there for the first time," Diana van Deelena said.

Andreas van Deelen laughed and said Diana hated foreigners back then.
Van Deelen was stationed in Latvia with the Dutch Marines. He was
supposed to stay for six months, but he managed to stayfor a full

"I had a chance to stay for a year, and I took it," van Deelen explains.

In December 1997, Andreas van Deelen went back to his native Holland.
Still, both he and Diana knew they would meet again, although not how
or when.

For a while they stayed in touch by calling, faxing and writing
letters. Then they met up in Holland where Andreas proposed marriage
for the first time. Diana accepted and went back to Latvia.

"Andreas called and asked 'where do you want to live, Latvia or
Holland?'" Diana van Deelena said.

Andreas van Deelen sighed and said Diana had answered "Latvia" as he
had been hoping all the time.

"I basically said good bye to everything, family, children and work,"
Andreas van Deelen said.

In Latvia, the couple started to work on the documentation needed. In
the meantime, Andreas van Deelen was looking for a job.

Inese Bumbiere, head of Riga's Ziemelu district marriage office, said
only four documents were needed when one gets married in Latvia today.

"You will need a valid passport, birth certificate, health
certificate and a family status certificate. All the documents have
to be translated into Latvian with a seal from the Foreign Ministry,"
Bumbiere said.

Renars Danielsons, second secretary in the counselor department of
the Foreign Ministry, confirmed one will need a ministry seal.

"This is just a matter of formalities," Danielsons said. "It happens
quite often that couples come here to get their documents stamped."

Diana compared the paper work needed for a residence permit with and
without a marriage certificate. She found there was a big difference.

"We compared the amount of paper work needed for a residence permit
and saw that with a marriage certificate it would be easier," van
Deelena said.

Still, fewer documents did not mean fewer problems.

"There were loads of papers. The paper stating that he was divorced
was not enough. We needed a paper where it said Andreas was free to
marry another woman," Diana van Deelena said.

While struggling with their marriage office, they found out they
could take their documents elsewhere. Riga has several marriage
offices from which to choose.

"We changed marriage offices which is perfectly legal. They just
asked us a few questions, and everything was OK," Andreas van Deelen

Getting married is not entirely cheap. The documents one needs and
all the translations add up.

"Altogether we paid 400 to 500 lats just for the documents to get
married," Andreas van Deelen said.

Recently Andreas van Deelen and his wife celebrated their first anniversary.

Andra Bernsons, bartender, has a slightly different story. She found
her love, Kerry Long, over the Internet through a chatroom. Chatting
over the Internet is basically like making a phone call except the
messages are written and posted where replies can come instantly from
people all over the world.

Bernsons and Long were to get married last summer. They were waiting
only for the wedding rings Long had ordered in Pennsylvania.

"We got the package and opened it together with friends and family
members. Inside was a small note, written in Latvian, stating it had
arrived in Latvia, the goods were damaged and the boxes opened - no
rings," Andra Bernsons says and sighs.

"The pack was not insured, so we couldn't get anything back for it.
It was two wedding rings and my engagement ring."

Bernsons and Long then tried to get him a visa so he could stay
longer than the 90 days he was allowed. They have been engaged for
two years, but have met face to face only three times over periods of
90 days, never longer.

"We tried at the Foreign Ministry, but we couldn't get hold of the
person we needed to talk to," Bernsons said.

Long had to go back to the United States where he tried to arrange
for Bernsons to come and stay with him. She was denied a visa.

"We couldn't understand the system in Latvia, so we turned to the
[United] States. We were not planning on staying here, anyway. The
situation here in Latvia was not good for us. Kerry found it very
difficult here. He needed to be of use toLatvia to get a visa.
Marriage was not enough," Bernsons said.

"Kerry was getting in touch with every talk show there is in the
United States, with congressmen, and even Hillary Clinton. She moved
to New York, so we don't know if that letter ever got through to her."

The changes in Latvian immigrations, however, has lit a spark of hope
for Bernsons. She rubs her engagement ring as if it were a lucky
charm. It is a thin gold ring with a small diamond.

"The ring is all I have now, and I never take it off. I haven't taken
it off since January when Kerry slipped it on my finger," Bernsons
said and smiled.

"We call each other husband and wife. We just don't have the papers
for it, that's all."