Part I -- Introduction
This report is in response to the Congressional request under
Section 652 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
(IIRIRA) that the Attorney General, in consultation with the Commissioner of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Director of the Violence Against
Women Office at the Department of Justice, conduct a study of mail-order marriages. The
report includes a review of INS records for quantitative data as to the number of
marriages facilitated by international matchmaking businesses as well as evidence of
domestic violence or marriage fraud in the petitionable relationships which result between
U.S. citizens (USCs) or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and the foreign-born women
recruited by these companies. The report also contains a literature review of related
In the course of the study it became evident that a vast array of
information already exists on the subjects of mail-order marriage, domestic violence, and
marriage fraud, including: academic research; national, European and international
conference papers; documents and multi-media data produced by non-governmental
organizations specializing in trafficking issues; data from agencies providing services to
victims of domestic violence; and data from local, state and Federal law enforcement
agencies. This attention to mail-order marriages reflects growing concern regarding the
global recruitment and transportation of women in a variety of exploitative ways. The
information on trafficking suggests that mail-order brides may become victims of
international trafficking in women and girls. The global magnitude and impact of this
traffic in women are already well documented.
While not all mail-order brides would be considered trafficked, public
policy is shifting to reflect the need to protect people from the exploitation and
violence that results from all forms of trafficking. The Department of Justice is actively
investigating and prosecuting domestic and international trafficking cases. In January
1998, the Department created a Working Group on Trafficking in Women and Children to
examine public policy alternatives, enhance investigation and prosecution, and improve
outreach for victims and witnesses. The Working Group's findings and recommendations will
be presented to the Attorney General in the coming months. Elsewhere, Austria currently
holds the European Union Presidency and is using the presidency to focus attention on
trafficking issues. An East-West Conference on Trafficking in Women was held in Vienna in
October 1998 as part of that initiative. In Russia, which has become a growing source of
women for trafficking purposes in the 1990’s, the government is working closely with
European non-governmental organizations developing strategies to create less favorable
conditions for trafficking. Olega Samarina, Deputy Director of the Russian Department of
the Matters of the Family, Women and Children, spoke at an international conference in
November 1997 at which she outlined the importance of monitoring the agencies facilitating
the recruitment of women to be sent abroad. She also acknowledged that the problem is
exacerbated by the lack of quantitative measurements. Without any such data, all concerned
acknowledge that it will be extremely difficult to propose any effective solutions.
With this in mind, but on a smaller scale, the Service's study sought
to review applications for immigration benefits filed with INS for evidence of any
correlation between the marriages resulting from mail-order businesses and either domestic
violence or marriage fraud. Concerns about a link between the immigration law and domestic
violence were reflected in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994. This important
milestone created a framework of protection and assistance for victims of domestic
violence and recognized the unique barriers that immigrant women and children face when
they are victims of family violence.
Domestic violence cuts across all class, racial, and cultural
cleavages. It has been determined that domestic violence occurs in almost half of the
homes in the United States. Each year, more than one million individuals seek medical
assistance for injuries caused by battering. In all, it is estimated that 3 to 4 million
individuals are battered each year. The National Domestic Violence Hotline established
under the VAWA operates a 24-hour, 7-days a week, toll-free telephone line, which has
provided information and assistance to over 200,000 callers since its inception in
February 1996. Of these, 46 percent were from victims of domestic violence, 16 percent
were from a family or friend of a victim of domestic violence, 12 percent were from
advocates and the general public, and 3 percent were from batterers themselves. In
addition to those who have been directly battered or abused, there are the children,
colleagues, neighbors, police, medical staff, teachers and social workers who witness the
abuse or are called upon to respond to these problems. It is shockingly clear that the
actions of these batterers affect each and every one of us.
As a result of the VAWA, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has
been addressing some of the ways in which spousal abuse may be an immigration issue as
much as it is a gender issue and a criminal justice issue. On March 26, 1996, INS
published interim regulations establishing a self-petitioning process for battered spouses
and children of USCs and LPRs. In partnership with the advocacy community, the Service is
informing the public about the relief that is available and educating INS personnel about
the dynamics of domestic violence and its impact on the victims. The number of battered
spouses and children seeking relief under the self-petitioning process is small but
increasing. In fiscal year (FY) 1997, nearly 2,500 self-petitions were filed with the
Service. For FY 1998 over 3,300 self-petitions were filed by battered spouses or children (see chart).
This report focuses specifically on a potentially vulnerable subset of
the U.S. population--immigrant women who marry U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
as a result of meeting through an international matchmaking organization (IMO). Mail-order
marriage is not a new phenomenon--it is an inseparable part of North American history and
the settlement of the United States. As immigrants moved to this country and established
permanent homes, relatives in their country of birth arranged marriages with local
women--often performing proxy marriages. Even today, within many cultures and religions,
traditions exist in which the formal practice of introducing, chaperoning, and fostering
these arrangements is customary. In a modern context the use of such methods to find a
partner has less favorable connotations. Objection to the "wife-import" business
has developed slowly, in part because little is known about the businesses or the
Concern over this issue reflects the lack of power the foreign-born
woman has compared to either the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in these
arrangements and the lack of regulations governing the way in which the international
matchmaking organizations conduct their business. The phenomenon is not unique to the
United States. Western Europe, Canada, and Australia are witnessing similar patterns with
regard to the use of these agencies and the domestic violence that can result. Polarized
views exist of the relationships and marriages that result from the use of IMOs.
At one end of the spectrum is the view that the mail-order bride
business is an international personal ad service used by "consenting adults [and]
competent people." In 1989, the Swedish Government appointed an Ombudsman Against
Ethnic Discrimination to conduct a 9-month investigation into mail-order bride businesses.
The Ombudsman concluded that the business was neither unethical nor unlawful:
"Even if a woman who comes to Sweden is treated like a slave
and the man uses, abuses and violates her rights, it is not easy to cast the blame on the
marriage broker.... Some people simply prefer meeting their partners through an agency.
Just because the agencies make money is not enough cause for condemnation. Neither is the
fact that some may choose partners on the basis of nationality. It would be too difficult
to decide on where to draw the line in a free society."
The other end of the spectrum challenges the inequities of these
transactions and identifies the mail-order bride phenomenon as an international industry
that often trafficks women from developing countries to industrialized Western countries.
Unlike dating services or personal ads, the mail-order bride transaction is "one
where the consumer-husband holds all the cards." In using these services, the male
customer has access to and chooses from a pool of women about whom personal details and
information are provided, while the women are told virtually nothing about the male
customer--or only what he chooses to reveal about himself. Each woman is aware that the
male customer is seeking that one special woman and is eager to satisfy his expectations.
Her own objectives may range from something as simple as seeking a loving partner to
something more specific such as finding a partner who will facilitate her legal
immigration to the United States.
Browsing through the IMO catalogs and web-sites reveals that many of
these businesses are doing much more than just providing a name and address referral
service. In fact, some of the web-sites are sophisticated concoctions providing both video
and audio representations of the recruits. Other services-for-a-fee are available and
include organized social gatherings, travel arrangements, and assistance with immigration
paperwork (which may fall under the unauthorized practice of law provisions). A recent
documentary produced by the Global Survival Network (GSN) reveals how mail-order bride
businesses are used as fronts to recruit and traffick Russian women to Germany, Japan, and
the United States for the sex industry. Specifically, GSN reports that traffickers have
become interested in sending women to the United States because fiancée visas are easily
The Global Survival Network quotes an estimate that 200 mail-order
bride companies arrange between 2,000 and 5,000 marriages in the United States each year
(see below for the estimate developed for this report). Many of these are U.S.-based
companies with Russia-based operators offering a wide range of services, depending on the
amount of money the customer is willing to spend. As an example, one marriage agency which
specializes in Russian women charges customers a $1,850 membership fee which buys the
right to view photos and videos of 400 women. GSN found that at least 8 U.S.-based
mail-order bride companies operate in Moscow alone. The usual format is that the company
publishes a catalog listing hundreds of women of various ages and includes a physical
description and a brief statement of background. These are available either through
printed material or via the Internet. For an additional payment, customers may select
video presentations of the women described in the catalog. The company may then organize a
package tour for a group of customers to travel to Russia to meet a wide selection of
women and girls. (An additional result of the lack of regulation is that the companies
frequently advertise minors to the clients.) As many as 2,000 women may show up for the
"mixer" party for a group of only a dozen men. The company seizes the
opportunity to photograph the women for the catalog and videotapes the evening's
activities for use on late night cable infomercials.
The male customers, according to the IMOs, are generally financially
secure, yet they frequently seek relationships with women from impoverished countries
where women are often denied equal education and employment opportunities. The fact that
the male customer is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident makes him more attractive
to a foreign-born bride, who may come from a society in which women are pressured to take
steps that are not beneficial to them as individuals (e.g. to become a prostitute,
overseas domestic worker, or mail-order bride) in order to support family members. As a
citizen or LPR, the male customer holds both real and imagined power to allow a bride to
enter the United States lawfully and to threaten deportation once she is in the United
In between these two positions are other explanations for this
phenomenon, but any attempt to regulate the industry must start by recognizing that
women's immigration experiences are part of a complex global story.
Since 1992, marketing of women from the newly independent states of the
former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the number of international matchmaking
businesses have grown dramatically. In response, a more organized form of protest has
emerged, with leading women's organizations speaking out aggressively against what they
have termed "trafficking in women." This has in turn generated enormous media
interest and reporting on the mail-order bride industry. Local and national newspapers are
filled with examples of the deadly ramifications of domestic violence and immigration. In
March 1995, a woman was shot to death in a Seattle courthouse lobby. She was 25 years old
and 7 months pregnant; she had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines as a
mail-order bride and was seeking a divorce from her abusive spouse. The assailant was her
husband. She had only lived with him for 10 days before she moved out due to his violence
and abuse. He was seeking to have the marriage annulled and to recover the more than
$10,000 he claimed to have spent to bring her to the United States. In addition to killing
his wife, he also killed the two women accompanying her.
This type of gruesome incident may happen again somewhere in the United
States. The pervasiveness of domestic violence in our society has already been documented,
and with the burgeoning number of unregulated international matchmaking organizations and
clients using their services, the potential for abuse in mail-order marriages is
Although research and analysis have been published on this issue,
limited facts and statistical data exist which can be used to measure what is being
witnessed today. Increasingly, we hear stories of exploitation and abuse from immigrant
women who are brought to the United States and find themselves in abusive marriages.
Conversely, the INS has received complaints from men who see themselves as victims of a
conniving mail-order bride, who, perhaps in collusion with the IMOs, is only too well
aware of the immigration laws and the benefits to be derived through marriage to a U.S.
citizen or lawful permanent resident. Once in the United States these women make it clear
they have no intention of remaining in the marriage and perhaps even manipulate the spouse
in order to take control of his financial and material assets or to ensure the future
immigration of their family members.
In response to these troubling reports, the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, passed in September 1996, included a provision
(Section 652), requiring the Attorney General to conduct a study of the mail-order bride
industry. The study was to collect data regarding the number of mail-order marriages and
determine the extent of marriage fraud and domestic abuse within such marriages and
whether additional measures are needed to reduce the incidence of abusive and fraudulent
marriages initiated through international matchmaking businesses. The statute also
required international matchmaking organizations to provide information to the recruits
about U.S. immigration law, suggesting that these organizations may in some ways
facilitate abusive and fraudulent marriages in part because the women have little or no
knowledge of immigration law and procedures.
On July 16, 1997, INS published an Advance Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register. The objective of the public notice was to
gather as much information as possible from divergent sources. The INS has limited
knowledge of this industry beyond what is reported in the press and does not gather any
information directly relating to this industry through the immigration forms and
procedures through which U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents petition for their
spouses or fiancé(e)s.
The comment period yielded a mixture of responses: individuals who have
used IMOs with both favorable and unfavorable results; owners of IMOs who defended their
right to conduct such businesses, with some acknowledging the need for regulations, but
fearful that severe regulatory action would drive all of these businesses off-shore;
advocacy groups representing battered immigrant women; and academics who have conducted
research in this field. While the public comments will be fully addressed in the proposed
rule, we provide a limited example of some of the comments below.
A commenter from one IMO stated,
"As far as abuse is concerned...it seems logical that since men
soliciting the help of the IIS/MA are almost exclusively well educated, have middle to
upper class lifestyles, and have a higher than average paying job, that they are less
likely to beat their wives than a lower class, uneducated, lower income American male. I
would be surprised to find that my hypothesis is unsubstantiated by statistics."
Another commenter representing an IMO argues that,
"The overwhelming majority of the men who use such services are
sincerely wanting to find a woman with old fashioned values to love and cherish....The
proposed regulations are obviously a ploy of the feminists to eventually abolish such
services. The feminists do not want to see men happy. The INS should not be the puppet to
the feminists' strings (sic). Until the day women in America can understand and accept the
true meaning of feminism there will be a continuing flood of American men who will look
overseas to find that 'real' woman."
Other commenters included husbands and wives who met through IMOs
writing joint letters to inform us of their happy and successful marriages.
"My wife and I were introduced over ten years ago through
[XYZ]....After years of correspondence and several trips to each others' country we fell
in love and were married. The results are three beautiful children and a wonderful life
Another commenter began his letter,
"My prayers have been answered. I am able to tell an interested
audience of my sad, sad experience, gullible me, with a 'mail-order bride.'"
The letter then goes on to provide great detail about his misfortunes
at the hands of the woman he met through a mail-order bride agency.
A woman who met and married a U.S. citizen through an international
matchmaking organization wrote to say,
"Now we are going to educate the entire world in the abstruse
immigration laws? Spend the money on higher priority matters. Most folks can handle these
other matters themselves. 'No sparrow shall fall' government is not what the American
people want. It seems that you are putting a safety warning label on Americans."
An unregulated international matchmaking industry presents numerous
opportunities for exploitation. These are relationships fostered by for-profit
enterprises, where the balance of power between the two individuals is skewed to empower
the male client who may be seen as "purchasing" a bride and a woman who has
everything to gain from entering into this arrangement and staying in it, no matter what
As a result of the public comments and the findings of this report, INS
has drafted a proposed rule to implement the statute by educating and informing the
public. This information about the immigration law and the rights and obligations under
those laws is directed at the IMOs, the women they recruit and the clients who use these
agencies. INS is considering developing a brochure to address these issues. Congressional
response to this report may lead to additional steps in regulating this industry.
Part II – Data Collection and Statistical Analysis
Marriages Involving Alien Spouses and
U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents: The Context
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for U.S.
citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition for their non-citizen spouses to join
them in the United States as lawful permanent residents. In many cases, the spouse is
already in the United States in a non-permanent immigration status. A large share of the
count of immigrants each year results from the immigration of these spouses. In FY 1997,
the most recent for which final data are available, 170,000 of the total 796,000
immigrants were the spouses of U.S. citizens, and 32,000 were the spouses of LPRs, for a
total of more than one-fourth of all immigration (see Table 1).
Immigration of Spouses by Gender and Selected Category
Spouses of Citizens
Spouses of Permanent Resident Aliens
*Excluding 2,548 immigrants who adjusted status under
the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and 195 whose gender was
not recorded on the electronic data file.
The absolute number of spouses, male and female, in the immigration
stream has been growing over the years, roughly keeping pace with the general growth in
immigration. From 1971 through 1997, the proportion of spouses was between 20 percent and
30 percent of all immigrants. The maximum proportion of 30 percent was reached in 1985,
just before the passage of the Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986. Since that time the
proportion has returned to around 25 percent.
While the majority of the persons immigrating as spouses are women, a
substantial minority are men. In 1997, the total number of women directly immigrating
through marriage was 132,000, or 66 percent of the spouses (Table 1). Among the spouses of
U.S. citizens in 1997, 105,000 of the 170,000 (61 percent) were women. A much higher
proportion of the 32,000 spouses of LPRs were women: 28,000 (87 percent).
An alternative is available to U.S. citizens under a law enacted in
1970. Citizens may petition for their alien fiancé(e)s to join them from abroad for the
purpose of marriage. Under the terms of the law, the fiancé(e) is issued a nonimmigrant
"K" visa, which is valid for 90 days. The couple must marry within that time,
and then the alien spouse must apply for LPR status as the spouse of a citizen. If the
couple fails to marry, the fiancé(e) must depart. During the 1970's and 1980's, a yearly
average of 5,300 persons became immigrants through this route. During the 1990's through
1997, the yearly average has been 6,400, of which about 79 percent are women. The law
makes no comparable provision for LPRs to bring in their fiancé(e)s.
The failure of the couple to marry within the 90-day period of
admission with the K visa may indicate that fraud was involved or that abuse developed
soon after the fiancé(e) arrived, although other explanations are, of course, possible.
Approximately 1,100 more fiancé(e)s arrived per year on average in the 1970's and 1980's
than adjusted to permanent resident alien status, and in the 1990's the average yearly
excess of arrivals over adjustments has been 2,200.
Information on Marriages Based on Mail-Order Introductions
As mentioned earlier, Section 652 of the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) directs the Attorney General, in
consultation with the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization and the Director of
the Violence Against Women Office of the Department of Justice, to conduct a study of
mail-order marriages. The purpose of this study is to determine, "among other things:
(1) the number of such marriages;
(2) the extent of marriage fraud in such marriages, including an
estimate of the extent of marriage fraud arising from the services provided by
international matchmaking organizations;
(3) the extent to which mail-order spouses utilize section 244(a)(3) of
the INA (providing for suspension of deportation in certain cases involving abuse), or
section 204(a)(1)(A)(iii) of such Act (providing for certain aliens who have been abused
to file a classification petition on their own behalf);
(4) the extent of domestic abuse in mail-order marriages; and
(5) the need for continued or expanded regulation and education to
implement the objectives of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the Immigration
Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 with respect to mail-order marriages."
The Attorney General is directed to submit a report to Congress setting
forth the results of the study described in numbers 1 through 4. The findings are
presented below in the order outlined above.
(1) The Number of Mail-Order Marriages
The U.S. Government does not collect data on the number of
marriages in which the parties have been brought together by an international matchmaking
firm. Further, information on how the couple met is not requested of U.S. citizens or LPRs
petitioning for the immigration of a spouse on INS Form I-130. The petition for a
fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen (INS Form I-129F) does ask this question, but the
answer is not captured electronically. The accuracy of the responses has not been
evaluated, and under-reporting of meeting through a matchmaking agency would seem to be a
significant possibility, since it might be perceived as a factor in a decision to deny the
petition. The parties might also be embarrassed to disclose this fact.
In view of the absence of official information, it was necessary to
estimate the number of marriages resulting from mail-order agency introductions for this
report. INS researchers considered several approaches. One approach would have been to
review a sample of the files of all female immigrant spouses in a recent year, in order to
ascertain whether they contained enough information to classify them as having met the
U.S. citizen or LPR spouse in this way, and to derive an estimate of the total number of
mail-order marriages from the sample. Section 652 of IIRIRA quoted an estimate of
unspecified origin that "2,000 to 3,500 men in the United States find wives through
mail-order bride catalogs each year." At that level, the mail-order bride business
would have accounted for 1.5 percent to 2.7 percent of the 132,000 female spouses referred
to above who entered in 1997. This proportion is so small that a very large sample would
have been required to produce a statistically valid estimate. The cost of conducting such
a study would have been prohibitive. In addition, files from a random sample of all cases
(as compared to a targeted sample) were unlikely to contain the kind of evidence necessary
to identify them as mail-order marriages.
As a second approach, INS contracted with an academic expert, Robert J.
Scholes of the University of Florida, who has published previous research in this area. He
had studied the issue in 1996 by conducting a survey of the mail-order firms, asking how
many women are listed each year as potential brides, and how many marriages take place as
a result of their services. With INS support, he updated this earlier research. The
resulting report is included as Appendix A. It contains a description of the mail-order
marriage industry, a general characterization of the men and women who register for
introduction services, and estimates, among other things, of the number of such marriages
involving U.S. men.
In his earlier work, Professor Scholes (1997) estimated that as of
1996, the number of marriages resulting from mail-order agencies annually was 4,000. In
his most recent study in the spring of 1998, he estimated the number to be within a range
of 4,000 to 6,000. He attributes this increase to the growth in the number of women listed
annually, from about 100,000 in 1996 to 150,000 currently. He believes that two factors
are primarily responsible for this increase: rapid growth in the part of the industry
featuring women from the former Soviet Union, and equally rapid growth of e-mail
"pen-pal" clubs. The e-mail clubs are generally free of charge for the initial
contacts and make their profits by selling travel packages to meet potential spouses, or
by providing immigration assistance or other related services. A sample copy of an order
form from one of the agencies is included in Appendix A.
Matchmaking services that brought women in search of husbands together
with men who had settled on the frontier are part of American history and lore. In its
more modern incarnation, this industry dates back about 25 years, when one agency
supplying a printed catalog made up the market. In 1994, Glodava and Onizuka (1994)
estimated the number of mail-order bride companies at about 100; they described an
industry still relying on printed catalogs. A few firms dominated the industry; many more
were small operations run from post office boxes. As of May 1998, Professor Scholes
documented more than 200 e-mail listings (Appendix A), some of which also supply material
in print. Current technology makes it possible to operate these businesses on the Internet
as the equivalent of post office boxes only a few years ago, and agencies relying only on
print seem to be a thing of the past.
Because the agency response rate to Professor Scholes' survey was
extremely low, and few agencies appear to keep good statistics, the tentative nature of
the estimate of 4,000 to 6,000 marriages per year must be emphasized. However,
knowledgeable INS staff believe that this estimate is a reasonable range, and that it
represents a logical increase over the estimates made earlier, given what is known about
the growth of the mail-order bride industry. At this level, mail-order marriages account
for 2.7 percent to 4.1 percent of all immigration involving female spouses. In the broader
context, 4,000 such marriages yearly would represent only 0.4 percent of all immigration
to the United States in 1996.
The fiancé(e) petition is believed to be a common avenue for the entry
of mail-order brides. Accordingly, the INS Vermont Service Center (VSC) collected data
from petitions filed at the VSC during the month of February 1998 (see Appendix B). All
fiancée petitions adjudicated during that month were reviewed for evidence that the
parties had met through a commercial service. Of a total of 741 new fiancée petitions
reviewed during that period, 41 or 5.5 percent were classified as definitely or probably
mail-order introductions. If this percentage is representative, about 282 of the 5,100
women who currently become LPRs each year after entering as fiancées were mail-order
introductions. Applied to the estimate of 4,000 mail-order marriages in 1996, the fiancée
visa route represented about 7 percent of them. At this rate, mail-order marriages are
twice as prevalent among fiancées as among all immigrant wives.
(2) Marriage Fraud
Just as it is difficult to know with certainty the number of
marriages contracted through the services of the mail-order bride industry, it is even
more difficult to establish what proportion of these marriages are fraudulent. Section 652
of IIRIRA attributed to INS an estimate that the rate of marriage fraud is 8 percent; the
source and accuracy of this estimate has not been established. By definition, successful
instances of marriage fraud are not discovered by INS. One must also remember that fraud
may take two basic forms. First, the marriage may be one in name only, for the sole
purpose of securing immigration benefits; often money is exchanged in these cases. Second,
the immigrant may feign interest in the U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, only to abandon him or
her after the marriage. In either type of fraud, the immigrant may be a woman or a man.
In view of the barriers to establishing how many mail-order marriages
involve fraud, INS elected to sample administrative records that were expected to have a
high incidence of proven fraud and to examine them to see what proportion of the
questionable marriages could be attributed to the mail-order bride industry. In effect,
this technique asks what proportion of fraud cases originate through the mail-order bride
industry rather than what proportion of mail-order cases are fraudulent, since no sampling
frame of mail-order cases is available from administrative records. A targeted sample like
this can be selected and reviewed efficiently and at low cost. The sampling frame for this
analysis was cases denied removal of conditional immigrant status for cause in FY 1994,
under the Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986. More detail about the sampling methodology is
presented in Appendix B. This technique was chosen to provide a rough estimate of the
incidence of marriage fraud and the extent to which mail-order introductions are found
among those cases. The reader should note that a sample of case files denied under the
Marriage Fraud Amendments is not an appropriate tool for estimating the prevalence of
mail-order marriages in the general immigrant population, and it was not used in this way.
In FY 1994, the last year for which detailed data were maintained, INS
reviewed 96,033 applications for removal of conditional status and removed the conditions
on 90,243, or 94 percent. This means that 94 percent of the cases were judged to be valid
marriages. Most of the cases denied were for failure to pursue the application to remove
conditions. Only 717 of the 5,790 denied or closed cases (12 percent) were denied for
cause. Of the cases denied for cause, 266 (37 percent) were foreign-born wives of U.S.
citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Based on a sample of these 266 women (see Appendix B), INS
researchers estimate that a minimum of 4 percent to a maximum of 9 percent of their
marriages were arranged through the international matchmaking industry. INS researchers
believe that the lower bound estimate of 4 percent is the most probable, based on the
assumption that cases that could not be examined or classified were distributed in the
same way as those whose files were examined and classified.
INS researchers then examined the sampled case files for documented
evidence of fraud. Based on this review, 1 percent of the 266 conditional cases denied for
cause were estimated to have been both arranged through the mail-order industry and
to have involved fraudulent intent. Cases where a mail-order marriage deteriorated and the
spouses traded allegations of fraud were also seen, but these allegations were not
supported by evidence in the files. At a rate of 1 percent, then, this study did not
demonstrate a significant role played by the matchmaking industry in marriage fraud.
(3) Adjustment of Status by Mail-Order Spouses Under the
VAWA Provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act
Section 204(a)(1)(A)(iii) of the INA, enacted in September 1994,
provides for abused spouses to petition for permanent resident alien status on their own
behalf (and for their children), supplementing the regular procedures which rely on the
abuser to petition for them. The provision was in effect early in FY 1995, but no
self-petitioning abuse cases were reported in that year. During FY 1996, 27 spouses gained
immigrant status through self-petitioning, and in FY 1997, 178 were reported.
INS researchers selected for review all of the 27 self-petitioning
cases involving abuse in FY 1996, to look for any evidence of mail-order
arrangements. The abused spouses came from 14 countries, with the most common being Mexico
(6 persons) and the Philippines (4 persons). No mail-order introductions were
found among the 1996 group. INS was unable to sample the FY 1997 cases, because a complete
sampling frame was not available at the time the study was conducted. Instead, INS
researchers reviewed all self-petitioning spousal abuse cases in the active caseload early
in FY 1998 (described in Appendix B). The number of these petitions is continuing to grow.
Of nearly 400 cases reviewed, most of which had already been approved, 2 cases, or 0.5
percent of the total, involved mail-order matches. Both cases involved women from the
former Soviet Union.
Although the data available for review at this time show very few
mail-order brides among those who have used these provisions to date, the number of
self-petitioners does not reflect the full extent of domestic violence in mail-order
marriages. There is every reason to expect the number of abused spouses, potentially
including mail-order brides, who qualify to self-petition to increase in the future, as
awareness of the VAWA provisions grows and organizations that provide immigration
assistance and counseling to abused women learn how to present cases effectively to INS.
Section 244(a)(3) of the INA, also enacted as part of VAWA, provides
for abused spouses to obtain suspension of deportation (now called cancellation of
removal) under conditions similar to those described above. These cases are not identified
as a discrete category of immigrants, so a count of them is not possible. INS estimates
the figure to have been very small, based on the fact that only 5,812 persons obtained
suspension of deportation for all reasons in FY 1996 and that a cap of 4,000 was placed on
that category by IIRIRA for future years. Even if INS could identify the battered aliens
who received cancellation of removal, we could not necessarily identify those who met
their spouses through mail-order agencies.
(4) Domestic Abuse in Mail-Order Marriages
Most of the data advanced on this topic are anecdotal. The
Department of Justice does not distinguish foreign-born persons from U.S.-born persons in
its crime statistics on domestic violence. The Commonwealth Fund estimated in 1993 that 7
percent of American women who are married or living with someone are physically abused in
a year's time, and it is usually assumed by experts that the incidence is higher in
mail-order marriages. The argument that immigrant women in mail-order marriages are more
at risk of abuse seems plausible, given the discrepancy in power between a USC or LPR and
his immigrant spouse.
In view of the absence of direct data, INS again used administrative
records to develop estimates of domestic abuse in mail-order marriages. Two approaches
were taken. First, the sample of the 266 cases of women denied removal of conditional
immigrant status for cause in FY 1994, described above under the section on marriage
fraud, was reviewed for evidence of abuse as well as for fraud. INS researchers estimated
that 1 percent of these marriages resulted from mail-order introductions and later
resulted in documented spousal abuse. No cases were observed in which mail-order marriages
were combined with both fraud and abuse. As before with regard to fraud, cases were
seen in which the spouses traded allegations of abuse that were not documented in the
file. More information on this sample is provided in Appendix B.
The second approach to an estimate of domestic abuse was facilitated by
the centralization of the filing and adjudication of all applications for permanent
resident alien status under the self-petitioning provision at the INS Vermont Service
Center (VSC) in June 1997. INS researchers reviewed all approved, denied, and pending
applications located in the VSC in January 1998. In addition, an INS Adjudications Officer
with expertise in abuse cases reviewed all new claims processed there in February 1998 for
evidence that the parties had met through mail-order firms. A detailed description of
these samples is included in Appendix B. As above in the section on marriage fraud, this
approach asks what proportion of abuse cases originated as mail-order brides, rather than
what proportion of mail-order brides are abused, because no sampling frame of mail-order
As described in Part 3, during the last week in January 1998, INS
researchers conducted an extensive review of 370 cases of spouses whose self-petitions had
been approved for LPR status under the VAWA provisions. Two of them were marriages
resulting from mail-order introduction services; both spouses were from Russia. The
researchers also reviewed 26 cases which had just been received on which no action had
been taken and 34 cases for which a notice of intent to deny immigrant classification as a
self-petitioning battered spouse had been prepared, for a total of 430 cases. No
mail-order bride introductions were found among the proposed denial cases. Overall, 0.5
percent of the sample of self-petitioning cases were found to be mail-order brides.
The screening of all new self-petitioning cases reviewed in February
1998 yielded a similar result. Of the 740 new petitions reviewed in the VSC in February,
INS researchers classified 5 or 0.68 percent as definitely or probably mail-order
introductions. Both of the administrative samples based on self-petitioning cases result
in the conclusion that less than 1 percent of the abuse cases now being brought to the
attention of the INS can be attributed to the mail-order bride industry. Since the number
of these self-petitioning abuse cases to date has been very small, it does not yet present
a sound basis for generalizing to the total population of spouses. While the amount of
abuse of foreign-born spouses documented in these claims is alarming, there is no
empirical evidence in the INS records indicating the mail-order bride industry is
responsible for bringing together most of those couples.
It is not possible to estimate the number of mail-order marriages in
which abuse has occurred but the alien spouse has not taken advantage of the
self-petitioning provisions in the law.
(5) The Need for Regulation and Education
Although international matchmaking organizations as such are
currently not regulated by law in conducting business in the United States, they are
accountable for violations of Federal criminal statutes if they are involved in marriage
fraud or trafficking in women. The following laws already address fraud in immigration
whether practiced by these organizations or others:
• Immigration regulations covering marriage fraud (INA Secs.
204(c), 237(a) and 275(c); [8 U.S.C. 1154, 1227, 1325c]),
• Visa or other document fraud (INA Sec. 274C; [8 U.S.C. 1324c]),
• Unauthorized practice of law (INA Sec. 292; [8 U.S.C. 1362]),
• Racketeering laws on acquiring or maintaining businesses through
criminal activity ([18 U.S.C. 1961, 1962, 1963)],
• Making false statements or possessing an identification document
that was unlawfully issued ([18 U.S.C. 1001, 1028, 1546]), and
• Mail/wire fraud provisions prohibiting schemes for obtaining
money through the mail or over the Internet by means of false representations ([18 U.S.C.
When an organization holds itself out as an international matchmaking
organization in order to recruit people for nefarious purposes such as involuntary
servitude or prostitution, it becomes subject to an even broader range of statutes
prohibiting trafficking in human beings, including:
• Alien smuggling (INA Sec. 274(a); [8 U.S.C. 1324a]),
• Importation of an alien for immoral purposes (INA Sec. 278; [8
• Establishing a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading
immigration laws (INA Sec. 275(d) [8 U.S.C. 1325(d)]),
• Involuntary servitude ([18 U.S.C. 1584]), and
• Transporting a person in interstate or foreign commerce for the
purpose of prostitution (The Mann Act; [18 U.S.C. 2421]).
Depending on whether the crime is committed by the international
matchmaking organization or the alien recruit, any number of charges may be brought. For
example, although there has been at least one instance of an international matchmaking
organization committing mail/wire fraud, it is more common for these firms to charge a fee
to assist their clients in completing the required immigration forms. When this fee is
other than "nominal," the firm has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.
(A visa consultant or any other person who is not a licensed attorney or authorized
representative pursuant to 8 C.F.R. 292 may only assist a person in completing preprinted
INS forms in exchange for nominal remuneration, if any, and must not hold himself or
herself out as qualified in the area of immigration and naturalization law and
From the alien recruit's perspective, the most likely violation is that
of obtaining admission to the United States based on a marriage contracted solely for
immigration purposes. Such marriage fraud renders the alien subject to removal. An
international matchmaking organization that encourages or induces the alien recruit to
come to the United States to carry out marriage fraud (or any other violation of
immigration law) could be considered to be engaging in alien smuggling.
In addition to criminal enforcement, public education and outreach are
needed to provide assistance to mail-order brides who are the victims of trafficking or
domestic violence and to ensure that IMOs and their clients comply with U.S. law. INS
plans to provide greater public education on the rights and obligations under U.S.
immigration law of women recruited by IMOs, the clients who use IMO services, and the
agencies themselves. The Department of State has developed a brochure targeting potential
victims of trafficking. The brochure describes the tactics that criminal groups use to
coerce and traffick women, the risks of trafficking, how to protect themselves from the
illegitimate organizations, and how to get assistance in the United States. In 1998 the
brochure was distributed in the waiting rooms of the U.S. embassies in Poland and Ukraine.
The Department of State hopes to expand distribution in the coming year to embassies and
consulates in the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, all of the Newly Independent States,
and the Philippines. INS intends to develop a similar brochure for distribution by the
IMOs to the women they recruit to display in the brochures or sign up for their
matchmaking and pen-pal services.
Summary and Conclusion
Public awareness and concern in recent years have focused on
international trafficking in women and attendant problems of resulting exploitation. In
the United States, Congressional attention has also been drawn to the growing
international matchmaking industry and the possibility that this industry may contribute
to the problems of immigration fraud and domestic violence. Congress directed the Attorney
General to study marriages based on international mail-order introductions and to report
on the number of these marriages and the extent to which they may be responsible for
fraudulent or abusive marriages.
While no definitive data exist, INS commissioned a study of the
industry that estimated the number of mail-order marriages to be in the range of 4,000 to
6,000 yearly as of 1998. Concern about immigration fraud and domestic violence involving
foreign-born spouses is well founded, but the administrative sources of information
available to INS for this study failed to establish that the international matchmaking
industry contributes in any significant way to these problems. The subject is inherently
difficult to study, and few quantifiable sources of information exist. Also, many of the
marriages for which records were reviewed in this study took place in the late 1980’s
and early 1990’s and may not reflect more recent developments.
The number of businesses engaged in some aspect of the international
matchmaking industry is growing rapidly, potentially facilitated by the growth of the
Internet. Likewise, the number of cases in which immigrants have successfully petitioned
for permanent resident alien status without spousal sponsorship, based on a showing of
abuse, has grown rapidly, as immigrants and social service agencies become aware of this
relatively new remedy under the immigration law. These trends indicate a need for
continued monitoring of mail-order marriages. The monitoring could include additions to
the data collected on INS forms and replication of this study at intervals. Education of
vulnerable women on their rights, as directed in the law, is also necessary and is being
implemented in regulation.
Caldwell, Gillian, producer
1997 "Bought and Sold." Washington, D.C.: Global Survival Network (documentary
Glodava, Mila, and Richard Onizuka
1994 Mail-Order Brides: Women for Sale. Fort Collins, Colorado: Alaken, Inc.
Scholes, Robert J.
1994 "Mail Order Bride: Gilded Prostitution and the Legal Response." University
Journal of Law Reform, Fall.
1997 "AF ISO WM: How Many Mail-Order Brides?" Immigration Review, No. 28,
Last Modified 3/4/99