By Tami Faram
It seems rather old-fashioned for couples to
have to ask permission to be married. And many still do
out of respect for each other's parents. But Sailors who
plan to marry someone from another country must go beyond
traditional parental approval and get an official "stamp
of approval" from the U.S. Marines and other agencies.
What the Marines and Marine Corps Want
Before Illustrator Draftsman 1st Class Ronald Hill married
his wife, a native of Japan, he had to obtain the official
Secretary of the Marines instruction and a "Request for Authorization
to Marry." The instruction, provided by his commanding officer
in the Pacific, is a checklist of information, policies,
and procedures regarding marriage to a foreign national.
Though the instruction and forms Hill obtained were specific
to his command, Sailors and Marines deployed anywhere can
get similar information - each command will provide its
own written instructions.
Marines typically follow the same process as Sailors. First,
they must submit to their company officer or officer in
charge a request for approval of marriage. From that point,
each Marine command may have different provisions that must
For example, according to the Commander, Marine Corps Bases,
Japan, once a Marine makes a marriage request, he or she
must appear in person at the nearest Legal Service Support
Section to obtain an Affidavit of Competency to Marry. And
according to the Marine Corps command in Japan, the applicant
must translate the Affidavit of Competency to Marry into
Japanese. Applicants marrying Japanese nationals must get
a blank form of notification of marriage (called Konin Todoke)
from City Hall and complete it in Japanese.
Two witnesses over the age of 20 (of any nationality) must
sign and witness the Japanese forms, and then the couple
must get a marriage certificate that includes an English
Other provisions within various Marine Corps commands include
certain age requirements, filing applications for immigration
visas, providing tax identification numbers, obtaining physical
exams for both individuals, and attending a Marine Corps
Sailors might not have to attend a premarital seminar,
but Marines chaplains and certain commanders will suggest it
before a couple marries.
For Sailors, the basic marriage form is a one-page special
request chit that requires the couple's names, addresses,
places of birth, the Sailor's rank, and whether the Sailor
has been married before.
Cmdr. Ann Delaney, deputy assistant Judge Advocate General
for Legal Assistance in Washington, D.C., says there are
other things to consider within the Marines instruction (SECNAVINST
5510.30A) before marrying a foreign national.
According to the instruction, "If you hold a security clearance,
marriage to a foreign national could jeopardize that clearance
until a determination is made regarding the security risk
that is presented, depending on which country your prospective
spouse is from. A security risk may exist when an individual's
immediate family, including cohabitants and other persons
to whom the individual is bound by affection or obligation,
are not citizens of the United States.
"Having a financial interest in a foreign country may also
present a security risk."
The Marines's Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN
5352-030) also includes financial concerns that
must be addressed. Sailors will often need to prove financial
ability to prevent the spouse from becoming a public charge
and get a notarized written consent from the parents or
legal guardian of either party if under the legal age for
marriage in the state, territory, or country in which the
marriage is to take place.
DM1 Hill, now serving on the flagship USS Blue Ridge, (http://www.blueridge.Marines.mil/)
has been married to his Japanese wife for two years now.
He says that for them the Marines's marriage approval process
really didn't take very long.
"In the military, any time you request something, there's
a normal process time of three days," Hill explains. "The
actual request letter falls under the same time requirements.
The process becomes lengthy when you're waiting for blood
test and physical exam results.
"That's because the blood tests are sent stateside unless
you pay to have them done at a Japanese hospital," Hill
adds. "And the Commander, Naval Forces Japan, will only
accept the results from one hospital in this area. The process
only took six weeks, which in my opinion was not long at
Because Hill's wife and their two children remained in Japan
after their marriage, there was no need for her to obtain
a U.S. visa before they wed. But if a marriage between an
American and a foreign national is performed in the United
States, or the spouse-to-be plans to live in the States
after marriage, he or she is required to get a visa before
entering the country.
The process to get a visa may require more time for some
couples. According to Russ Bergeron, chief press officer
for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in
Washington, D.C., a Sailor must get an INS petition for
his or her betrothed to immigrate to the United States.
The individual can apply for either a fiance or immigrant
"Sailors must be aware that just because you've married
someone, it doesn't give them automatic immigration status,"
Bergeron says. "There is a process you have to go through.
So it's not something you can do at the last minute."
He further explains that a couple should be prepared to
wait three to six months from the time they get their visa
application until approval to immigrate is given. Once the
initial petition to marry is completed, the Sailor will
go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to get a visa application
for his or her spouse-to-be.
Bergeron says that if the marriage were to be performed
in the United States, the couple would need to prepare a
fiance visa, which allows an individual to remain the country
for 90 days, during which time the marriage must take place.
Otherwise, the visa will expire and the fiance will have
to return to their country. Once a couple is married, they
will then petition the INS for a change in immigration status
and file for a legal immigrant visa so the spouse can remain
in the country.
If a couple chooses to marry in a foreign country, they
still have to apply for a U.S. visa before they can enter
the United States as husband and wife. Bergeron says that
the INS and State Department both make it their duty to
watch out for fraudulent marriages, so a couple must be
prepared to prove that they have a bona fide relationship.
He suggests that if a Sailor has an ongoing relationship
with a foreign national and hopes to later have that individual
enter the United States, it's a good idea to keep letters,
e-mail, and airline tickets to document their relationship.
There are situations in which individuals are denied visas
- for example, when individuals have a criminal backgrounds
or have a communicable disease such as HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.
And Bergeron says that, although no new policies have been
issued since September 11, 2001, there is much more scrutiny
and a heightened sense of security, which means that all
forms and visa requests are even more closely examined than
before the tragedy.
Preparing the Paperwork
The INS provides
further information about immigrant visas and paperwork,
and also provides links to actual forms to download.
State Department provides information about policies
of other countries, getting visas, and required fees. Some
countries require little with regard to approval for marriage,
while others require an American to obtain local approval
that might even occur on a tribal level. The Travel Warnings
/ Consular Info Sheets (http://www.travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html)
section gives further information about other nations and
travel safety issues.
For Ronald Hill and his Japanese-born wife, little paperwork
was required from her government.
"Actually, none of the items she needed to provide from
the Japanese government posed a problem," Hill says. All
she had to provide was her family register, or Koseki Tohon."
But on the local level in Japan, Hill did have to answer
some questions regarding his intentions.
"I think the concerns were that I wouldn't go through with
the marriage," he says. "The Japanese hear a lot of rumors
about American military men that make the older Japanese
community skeptical. There's also the concern of how well
their daughter will adapt to life in America."
All the officials interviewed say there's really nothing
that can prevent a couple from being married. But when it
comes to the military, if a Sailor doesn't get the special
request chit for marriage, he or she may find that the new
spouse will not be eligible for military benefits.
"Without the paperwork, where DEERS (Defense Enrollment
Eligibility Reporting System) is concerned, it might take
much longer for the spouse to obtain benefits," says Delaney.
And according to DEERS,
something as simple as a home address being outdated or
not included on a form could be enough to deny health benefits
to a couple, so do keep DEERS updated to reflect new information.
After the wedding, the Marines also will define the Sailor's
spouse as a Command-Sponsored Dependent, an Acquired Dependent,
or a Noncommand-Sponsored Dependent.
Command-Sponsored Dependent - A dependent who is entitled
to travel to overseas commands at government expense and
is endorsed by the appropriate military commander to be
present in a dependent's status. Command-sponsored families
have full access to post and base exchanges, commissary,
medical care, schools, and other facilities. They are authorized
to live in government housing or, if that's not available,
to receive financial assistance with their rent.
Acquired Dependent - A dependent acquired via marriage,
birth, adoption, etc., while serving a restricted or unaccompanied
tour. Acquired dependents are entitled to transportation
from port of entry to new permanent duty station.
Noncommand-Sponsored Dependent - Also called "hardship"
or "remote" tours, the family members do not accompany the
Sailor on this tour.
Certain marriage instructions provided by the Marines also
suggest that Sailors who choose to "bypass the requirements
will be denied command sponsorship of their family member
until such time as certain requirements of this instruction
Also, if a Sailor married to a foreign national refuses
or fails to provide for entry of family members into the
United States or territory of residence, the family members
will not be granted logistical support from the command.
In addition to the websites listed above, many of the Marines's
Fleet and Family Support Centers (FFSC) provide
information on marriage to a foreign national and information
about certain cultures and customs. And for a foreign-born
husband or wife, the FFSC also provides help in adapting
to their new lives in the United States, as well as to their
roles as military spouses.