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There is a quiet, barely noticeable virtual revolution taking place in the world of dating and marriage, transforming society in a way we could never imagine.   

First there’s online dating, then comes love (maybe), followed by the K 1 Visa (if you’re lucky)!

In the prehistoric era before Match.com (1995) popularized the concept of meeting someone through a laptop screen, marriages were made through flesh and blood introductions initiated by friends, parents perpetually worried about their offspring’s single status, workplace colleagues, or blind dates. The circle was small and not very diverse. After all, your friends were likely to introduce you to someone more like yourself,  or, your workplace was stocked with people like you. 

With the introduction of sites like Internationalcupid.com, Match and Tinder, and social media platforms like Facebook, online dating has grown with such speed that today, one third of all marriages in the U.S start with an online connection to a complete stranger. The explosion of online dating sites, including sites for international dating, has brought the world to the lonely single’s doorstep–– compare the small pool of minnows consisting of people-like-yourself who inhabit your universe of work and home, with the massive ocean of fish from all over the country and globe that lives inside an app in the palm of your cell phone.  These sites have the potential to do what centuries of human history hasn’t–make love and marriages across racial, ethnic and cultural barriers.

Researchers studying the social impact of this tidal wave of virtual lonely hearts have found that the diversity of relationships in the U.S. has grown exponentially since 2014, when online dating spiked to new heights. And many of these relationships, conceived on the web, remain stable over time.

 Joseu Ortega Ph.D, an economics lecturer at the Queens University, Belfast, and Philipp Hergovich, Ph.D. at the University of Vienna, have analyzed years of data and published their results in an article aptly titled, The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration Via Online Dating.

“Its social integration on an unheard of scale before,” says Ortega. “Many of these couples would never have met, even 10 years ago.”

A vigorous contribution to this diversity is made by international dating sites. If you’re remembering murky catalogs of mail order brides, think again. Today’s popular international dating sites are sophisticated, allow for feedback, and answer criticism posted online. They make background checks for potential sexual predators and warn users about how to spot a scam. (Scammers tend to be slippery as eels though, and many have a way of wriggling through security nets.)

So, what happens after the happy couple floats back to the earthbound realities of passports and international borders? The K-1 or fiancée visa is the next step. This is a visa granted to the fiancée of a US citizen on the condition that they wed within 90 days of his/her entry into the US. 

The popularity of the reality show, 90-day-fiancé, is a reflection of how comfortable people are with the world of online, international dating.  A scroll through their site, which features serial episodes of multiple couples who discovered each other on international dating platforms, found several who had “tied the knot” within the allotted 90 days, and some had even had babies!

For example, the series featured the “Desi Super Scammer” Sumit, a 30-year-old Indian who met Jenny, a 60-year-old American grandma online and declared he was in love. Jenny believed him. Several declarations of mutual love and a trip to India later, Jenny discovered that Sumit wasn’t a British-born Indian male model looking for love, but a call center employee in Delhi, who still lived with his parents. Jenny forgave his child-like deception and was still willing to give him a chance, when she also discovered that he was secretly married. 

Amazingly, even this pithy revelation didn’t explode the tender romance, as Sumit begged forgiveness and pledged to divorce his wife and introduce Jenny to his parents. And so Sumit the Scammer and Jenny the Grandma carried on through several episodes of the show.

A large number of K-1 visas are requested from India.  “Before 2016, a couple like Sumit and Jenny would have had a reasonable chance of getting a K-1 visa for him,” says Ben Ives, Founder and CEO of RapidVisa, one of the largest online portals which deals with K1 visas. “With the Trump-era, it’s become a lot harder to get a fiancée visa.”

“There has been a considerable push-back against granting visas to non-European countries, particularly Muslim majority states. One of the problems Indian applicants for a K-1 face is the fact that the average American doesn’t understand the diversity of India and assumes most people from the sub-continent are Muslims.” 

“And India is the only country in the world where parents get involved in the K-1 visa process,” says Ben, with a smile. “They will pay for it, or do all the paperwork, ask questions about the process, etc.”

RapidVisa introduced me to Priya, one of their International marriage and fiancée visa success stories. Priya is a British-Indian woman married to an African-American US spouse in the military. 

“They did some thorough vetting when we applied for my fiancée visa,” Priya recalls. “We had to tell them how we met, details about the relationship, nicknames, show tons of photographs, etc. I think my own family gave me a tougher time than the embassy, though—they didn’t know how I would adapt to the cultural differences between the UK and the US. 

It took a bit of time adjusting to the different system here–getting a social security card, insurance etc. Apart from that I was welcomed with open arms.  In fact, I’ve felt more discrimination in the UK than I received in the United States.”

“I knew I had really arrived,” Priya said with a laugh, “when someone from my husband’s family remarked that my English had improved considerably since I had come to the US.” 

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal

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