My story: mixed-race couples are Europeans by half

Article published on Feb. 12, 2009
Article published on Feb. 12, 2009
St Valentine celebrates love. And love, as everyone knows, has no colour, or language, or race blah blah blah. But what happens when we marry someone from Africa rather than fall in love with someone with a European passport? If love is blind, is bureaucracy stupid? A couple tell their story

I don’t like writing in the first person – in these cases, subjectivity becomes inevitable – but I’d like to anyway just this once, because I believe it’s important to be a witness to a reality common to many people in my situation. I’d like to talk about how difficult life is for European people who live with, or more often marry (and let’s get this right from the start : one marries for love, but in some situations, getting married is a matter of urgency) non-Europeans from the southern atmosphere.

The struggle against fake marriages

Most people will probably be aware that as a result of more stringent laws on European immigration, there are now more obstacles to the recognition of the union of so-called ‘mixed couples’. Very often, matters drag on for long periods of time all in the name of the struggle against fake marriages. My partner and I decided to get married a year ago in Italy, where I was born. We thought that by marrying here, he would acquire more rights, and that consequently our daily life would be simpler.

He is African: so status verification gets underway, the bureaucracies of our respective countries get to work and demand to see all necessary documents, such as birth certificate, court records etc; these need to be translated and authenticated via several public institutions. We then get married, and the time comes for my husband to receive his residence permit for family reasons. Other checks are therefore set off: two policemen visit the house, and then two plain-clothes police. They need to verify that we do live under the same roof. With the new permit in our hands, which arrived a few months after our marriage, we leave for France, where I have the opportunity to do an internship in a sector in which I wanted to work. Times are hard for new graduates. I was 27 and it’s not easy finding work, so going somewhere else looks like a good idea.

Reality: free movement in Europe doesn't count for those who have been married to a European for only a year

But unfortunately we hadn’t reckoned with reality; free movement in Europe only counts for those who are long-term Europeans, not for those who have been married to a European for only a year. So no entry visa for my husband. We can only request one if we can show that we have enough funds to support us: but I have come to France precisely because I’m in a precarious situation, I’m only an intern. One last try: my husband is seen by the French consulate in Rome to ask for a visa from Italy to enter France. His request is granted, all he has to do is produce several documents, send for some certificates from Africa which will expire in three months (even his birth certificate, even though you are only born once). Everything has to be done as soon as possible, which is not easy as anyone which has experinced African bureaucracy can imagine. The worst surprise happens during the interview with the functionaries at the consulate: we have to prove once again that we are a legitimate married couple. My husband is subjected to questions on our private lives, where we met, who married us  - questions which obviously the authorities from the other side of the Alps deem necessary in order to spot imposters. And the answer? We’ll let you know. 


Can we hold onto the hope that my husband will get his visa, and that with it we will be able to work in our beautiful Europe with no frontiers, in which two countries, so close in many ways, do not trust the validation of a marriage validated by the other? We have no right to an answer just yet. After all, we are only European by half.