Marriage On The Test Bench: The Marriage Interview When Applying For Family Reunification In Panama
There are times in my legal practice when I observe clients frustrated with the bureaucracy of certain legal processes in Panama. It is for this reason that today I want to tell a personal anecdote since I am probably one of the few lawyers in Panama that have been an attorney and an applicant in an immigration process at the same time.
My wife is Austrian and in 2011 after many years of living and working around the world, we decided to return to Panama. This same year we got married in Austria and later on, we applied for her residence permit in Panama. At this time the option of the "Friendly Nations" visa did not exist yet, so we opted for a residency application under the "Family Reunification - Married to a Panamanian” category.
The basic requirements for this migratory category are similar to the others: a complete copy of the passport, apostilled police record, a health certificate (among others), payment of government expenses, and above all proof of the marriage bond. That is to say, marriage certificate (duly registered in the Civil Registry of Panama), birth certificate of the Panamanian spouse, copy of the Panamanian spouse's identification card (authenticated by the Civil Registry of Panama), letter of responsibility, and proof of marital address.
In the first application, a temporary residence permit is granted for the term of two years and after this term, it is possible to apply for permanent residency in Panama.
What color is your spouse's wallet?
A curious and mandatory step in the whole process is the "marriage interview” (unless the couple has two children in common). I recommend watching the movie "Green Card" with Gérard Depardieu and Andy MacDowell, which by the way is one of my favorites because in the practice the process of the marriage interview in Panama does not differ much from that romantic comedy.
The date of the interview is assigned by the immigration authority in Panama and there is a catalog of (personal) questions that the candidates have to answer (separately). Among them for example the color of the marital mattress (and who bought it), the last gift you received from your spouse (and on what occasion), the color of the wallet of your spouse, of the toothbrush, of the towels in the bathroom, the favorite food, assigned tasks in the household, etc.
The whole process takes about an hour and if the answers to the questions do not match, the application for the residency will be automatically rejected. It should be noted that the interview must be done twice. Once in the first application and the second time for the application of the permanent residence permit.
“So test therefore, who join forever…” (Friedrich Schiller)
In the first marriage interview, the officer wanted to know when (on exactly what date) and in which specific place my wife and I met. It seems like an easy and logical question, but sometimes practical life does not fit the legal norm. Since my wife and I have known each other since 1999, I do remember it was by the end of that year, but I would be unable to say on what date exactly. But mostly to this day my wife is convinced that we first met at my younger brother's prom, while I am sure it was at my parents' house.
Do you have children? Why not?
Even more surreal was the second marriage interview two years later. By that time my wife was already six months pregnant. It was obvious that she was expecting. The first question in the interview was: "Do you have children? Yes or no?" My wife looked at the officer and answered with a "Not yet.” - “Do you want to have children? Why don't you have children yet?" were the next questions. My wife took a deep breath, and said very calmly, "I'm pregnant. The reason why we don't have children yet, is because the baby hasn't been born yet".