On the surface, “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” seems like a novel idea for a reality television series. Viewers have the chance to understand how couples met each other before applying for a K-1 visa.

But the new spinoff from TLC’s “90 Day Fiancé” has veered far from reality. So much so, in fact, that many viewers are considering skipping the rest of the season:

One complaint is that the show fails to represent stories from the majority of visa applicants, a criticism that has long plagued the original series.

Additionally, the new spinoff is being criticized for highlighting cases that often raise red flags for the U.S. immigration office instead of representing the “reality” of the majority of K-1 visa applicants.

In an interview with Dearly, Alma Rosa Nieto, an immigration lawyer with more than 30 years of experience, explained that K-1 visa applicants have a “higher threshold to prove to immigration that this is a valid relationship” than other visas.

Some of the cases that raise red flags for immigration officers include couples with vast age differences, couples with different races or religions, and couples who met online:

“If you have any of those factors in your case, we have to bolster the application by doubling or tripling evidence.”

Many couples on the show would apparently raise a red flag at the immigration office, as none of the couples have met in person, several have vast age differences, and a few don’t speak the same language.

Nieto said that during her career she’s worked predominately with couples who have met in the U.S. or while traveling abroad.

For couples who haven’t met in person, she encourages a meeting before applying to avoid being denied:

“In my personal experience, the largest percentage of applicants I’ve seen are people who have met in person. Although I am starting to see some applicants that haven’t met, and I’m coaching them on either the person that’s abroad get a tourist visa to come visit or the U.S citizen travel. It can easily be rectified. Now we have ability to travel around the world. [I s]trongly suggest that my clients meet.”

She noted that a few K-1 visas are denied after the immigration office conducts a background check. As previously reported by Dearly, one of the “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” cast members, Paul Staehle, has a criminal history.

Nieto pointed out that while the immigration office does check criminal backgrounds during the application process, many crimes will not impact the K-1 visa application:

“If the crime has anything to do with sexual predating and is listed in the Adam Walsh Act, the petitioner is prohibited from filing an application for a green card for a family. If they have rape charges or sexual predator charges, it would inhibit the immigration service from approving someone. However, if the person had theft crime or DUI in the pasts, it shouldn’t have any bearing on whether not the application is approved.”

Since Nieto hasn’t watched the show, she couldn’t compare her experience to the series. But she did note that there are many common misconceptions about the K-1 process that she often has to clarify for clients.

One misconception is that the K-1 visa is easy to attain. Red flags are one way that a visa application can be delayed or denied, but also couples without red flags who follow the guidelines set by the immigration office can get denied for failing to submit enough evidence of a relationship.

Nieto explained that the onus is on the applicants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they aren’t simply marrying for the visa:

“People often fail to meet the threshold to convince an officer that this is a bona fide relationship.”

After the K-1 visa application is submitted, it can take a couple of weeks before it is reviewed.

For many long-distance couples — on the show and in real life — the distance can be strenuous. On the show, with only a few episodes left in the first season, some of the couples have already decided to call it quits before submitting an application.

For instance, reality star Patrick returned from Paris after learning his fiancée, Myriam, had another boyfriend. At the airport, his mother held back tears and told him:

“Next time find an American girl, okay? I’ll help you.”

When it comes to “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days,” it appears that many international relationships blossom online and die awkwardly during the trip abroad. But for many happily married former K-1 applicants, including myself, it’s just another portrayal on the show that is far from reality.

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