Archived Story

Immigration reality show has real potential

Published 9:53am Friday, January 17, 2014

Column: Things I Tell My Wife, by Matthew Knutson

“I’m glad we’ve never had to have an airport reunion,” I told my wife while watching the new TLC show “90 Day Fiancé.”

The concept of the show focuses on engaged couples from different countries who plan on getting married and living together in America. Each couple has received a K-1 nonimmigrant visa from United States Citizens and Immigration Services, which allows the U.S. citizen to bring his or her future spouse to America for up to 90 days prior to their wedding.

As soon as Sera and I heard the title of the show, we knew we’d have to watch. Sera never had to use a K-1 visa because she’s been in the country on an education visa, but we’ve become fairly knowledgeable about the various options during our immigration journey. The first episode debuted on Sunday and featured four couples going through the marriage and immigration process. It was fascinating.

Fascinating in a this-is-great-reality-television sense. It’s hard to believe this hasn’t been made before. Combining the complexities of immigration, filing government forms, merging cultures, one spouse being homesick and the inevitable traditional marriage stress, and you’re bound to have emotional breakdowns and “good” television.

Sadly most of these couples, and I do believe they are real couples, seem ill-prepared for marriage and the immigration process.

One couple mentioned the longest they had been in each other’s physical presence was two weeks. Sure, begin your relationship online, but eventually it should transfer to something in-person if a lifelong commitment is being made. Years of purely online dating someone cannot prepare them for the vast complexities that come with a traditional marriage, and a 90-day K-1 visa is not the time to learn the fine details and quirks about your future spouse. I wouldn’t even recommend an American couple get married in the same situation simply because there are some things you can only learn from someone in person.

Another couple had a fiancé who still lived with his parents and expected his future wife to live with them as well. Now, there are probably some legitimate reasons for this, but they didn’t exactly present any of them in the first episode. What the episode did focus on was the lack of interaction between his fiancée and her future in-laws before she arrived in the country. Not everyone has to like their in-laws, but you should at least know them if they will be involved in your future life.

Realizing the large distance between me and my future in-laws, I quickly added Sera’s dad as a Facebook friend so he could at least get to know me through that venue. (We eventually met several times before Sera and I became engaged.) In 2014, there are plenty of ways to get to know someone at a base level without having to actually see them. For one couple to avoid this and then have to live with her future in-laws was idiotic.

Finally, these couples have shown no signs of actually planning a wedding. Previews for next Sunday’s episode hinted at stress coming from wedding planning on such a tight timeline. I’d imagine most K-1 visa holders have a simple wedding to make things official and then plan a traditional wedding later on, but I don’t think that’s what we’ll be getting with TLC.

If these couples don’t have the foresight to start planning one of the major events in their lives before they are both in the same country, it might be a sign you’re not ready to commit the rest of your life to someone.

If at the end of 90 days all four couples successfully marry, I’ll be surprised. At least one of the couples bought a round-trip ticket for the potential immigrant just in case things didn’t work out. How can someone take such big steps toward commitment while having an escape route in full view?

I’m looking forward to seeing how this show proceeds forward; hopeful it turns its focus more on the complications that come with the immigration process and cultures combining and less about documenting people preparing for marriage as if the only hard part would be for someone to have to return to their home country.

I think it’ll get to a quality show eventually. For now the show is wrapped up in romantic airport reunions between couples that are still discovering their identities, something of which I thankfully cannot identify.


Matthew Knutson is a marketing specialist at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. Find him online at