Love in the Time of Immigration Laws

This column was published in Business Bhutan on 27th June.

My sister who studies abroad is a frequent recipient of advice to marry ONLY a Bhutanese boy. I don’t know if marriage is the most important thing on her mind right now and who knows? She might even fall in love with a girl. Life is full of endless possibilities. But that is beside the point. The point is the big elephant in the room. Why are we not keen on Bhutanese marrying foreigners? I initially assumed that it was a somewhat xenophobic attitude, but now I find it IS more an inconvenient life when one is married to a foreigner.

I have a few friends whose spouses are from across the border- all pendulous relationships of thirty days of loving and thirty days of longing. Our immigration laws are such that non-Bhutanese partners shuttle back and forth between their countries and Bhutan every thirty days. If only it got easier with every trip. It doesn’t. A non- Bhutanese husband once spent five hours at an entry post going through files to prove that he had not overstayed his visit and was returning after his thirty day “cooling period” (as his Bhutanese wife likes to call it). He went through 70,000 randomly filed immigration forms before he found his own proving that he was indeed returning. Five hours and 70,000 forms later, all he received was a sheepish apology. No efforts were made to ensure his entry into the country would be easier later on. I feel sorry for the next man or woman who will have to go through those files because the forms were apparently put back in the same disorderly fashion.

Many Bhutanese and foreigners have to wait long, often years, for their marriage certificates. Hence, their long-term and loveless relationships with the Department of Immigration. Imagine being in love and being asked if you photoshopped your partner in a photograph by an immigration officer? The officer is just doing his/ her job, but it does not make the question any less insulting. Imagine having to produce all your documents including a letter from your Gup confirming your marriage every time the love of your life visits? Relationships are difficult even without these complications. I am filled with admiration for my friends and other couples who are bravely trying to make their relationships work despite the odds stacked up against them.

Out of curiosity, I called Immigration to find out how many Bhutanese were married to foreigners? I was requested to ask so in writing. I even personally delivered the letter, but I was denied any information. Not only is marriage to foreigners inconvenient, it is an off-the-record thing too as I discovered today.

7 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Immigration Laws

  • The bhuranese community believes in life after death ..have faith in god n scared of unseen demonic activities…we believe that all things happening are in continuation to our previous life…so why r we not seeing this marriage from that point….love has no barrier…black n white ..rich n poor…so y this problem in marrying foreigner…of course if the law states it then i have no comnent…

  • Although Bhutanese at home are made to feel PROUD of being different from other breed of mankind on the globe, others travelling abroad on various businesses quickly discover no difference at all other than language and culture, and the familiar opinion of difference soon cools down. They realize that OTHERS are equal and same breed with whom espousal relationship also works equally well. Things are simply MADE DIFFICULT, more difficult than any possible difference from person of another nationality.
    This is for the purpose of sparing ourselves from ABROAD IDEAS becoming LOCAL through building relationship and immigration. Its simply FEAR OF FEAR that cannot be avoided and yet doubts make victims out of potential lovers of the Bhutanese that could contribute in nation building.

  • Good article, the problem really came with the 90’s issue, people (couple of different citizens) before that have had mostly definitely easier life. Good that you brought this up, now we have move on from the burns of 90’s issues. We should certainly look into this matter, as this may affect us all…some one or the other is/will be married to a foreigner, and the sooner we tackle this immigration laws, the better for us all.

    • 90s problem has different back ground. It cannot and should not be used to patch concerns about certain other issues like this one. Bhutanese have the duty (not mere rights to BEG but duties to DEMAND and be responsible for any action) to inquire and move ahead with rest of mankind, especially the national population who cannot and should not be divided due to certain fears originated due to intended offenses against them. Let us not talk about it as the CORE ISSUE is different and is not applicable to answer the query of the writer.
      Our VALUES should not change to accept homosexual marriages as possibility mentioned by the writer. That is more important to consider as FOREIGN PRACTICE and exclude from our ordinances, leveling it as DEGENERATIVE and hence CRIMINAL ACT. Peace.

  • I stand IN for this article.

    RULES are RULES, but when rules are made, people should be made to understand why they stand in place instead of Just saying, “that is the rule and you might as well follow it.”

    A Right to Information should be in place, so that people do not suffer for the mistakes the government made in the past and do not want it to be repeated.

    And of all reasons, it is no LAW maker or any individual’s right to tell someone else that, they CANNOT, SHOULD NOT and NEVER should LOVE an outsider or even worse, MARRY one.

  • I agree with all views for simple reason.. right to express is fundamental right under the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan. However, I genuinely feel for those couples but what I do not understand is, why come to Bhutan, if there is so much problem or such a law? Why wait one month out to come back to Bhutan??? Each one has a country that he or she belong to and I do not believe that staying or living in ones own country could be called waiting or there is always an option, invite the Bhutanese spouse to his or her country.

    I believe the answer to such problems in our country lies in the questions I ask above and while I openly express my disagreements, when ever there are such cases, I also do believe that Rules are there to benefit the citizens and a citizen sometimes become the victim.

  • Thank you Namgay Zam for raising this issue.

    Immigration rules have affected us a long time before your sister ventured abroad. My mother too was hinting me that I not only marry Bhutanese, but with specificity to Sharchop lass. Perhaps she silently heard about my liking of a sharchop girl then, and more so, my mom herself is fluent in sharchop.

    For decades, mom has had spent time in the eastern Bhutan accompanying my father, who was a police constable. She got married in 1965, and has a marriage certificate from that time, and was born in Bhutan in 1950. Since her father was a carpenter, there was no land tax receipt before 1958 to support Certificate of Origin in 1990 census.

    Now, mom is in her dying bed in ICU at JDWNRH, with no nationality. I am abroad married to a foreigner and would like my kids to see their ‘angay’ before her sleep. This is simply not possible with what you have highlighted in this article.

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