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.