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A mail-order bride is a woman who lists herself in catalogs (online or otherwise) and is selected by men for marriage. In nineteenth-century America, mail-order brides came from well-developed areas in the East to marry men in Western frontier lands (see history section). In the twentieth century, the trend was towards women living in developing countries seeking men in more developed nations. In the twenty-first century, the trend is now based primarily on internet-based meeting places which do not per se qualify as mail-order bride services. The majority of the women listed in the twentieth-century and twenty-first-century services are from Southeast Asia, countries of the former Soviet Union and (to a lesser extent) from Latin America. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union large numbers of eastern European women have advertised themselves in such a way, primarily from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. Men who list themselves in such publications are referred to as "mail-order husbands".
The term "mail-order bride" is both criticized by owners (and customers) of international marriage agencies and used by them as an easily recognizable term. It has been pointed out that there is a discrepancy between how international adoptions are regarded ("saving a child") and how international marriages are regarded ("buying a wife").
Mail-order brides work with "international marriage agencies."
An international marriage agency (also called an international introduction agency or international marriage broker) is a business that endeavors to introduce men and women of different countries for the purpose of marriage, dating or correspondence. Many of these marriage agencies are based near women in developing countries (such as Ukraine, Russia, Colombia, Brazil, China, Thailand and the Philippines). International marriage agencies encourage women to register for their services, and facilitate communication and meetings with men from developed regions of North America, Western Europe, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This network of smaller international marriage agencies is often affiliated with web-based international dating sites that are able to market their services on a larger scale, in compliance with regulations such as the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act. Experian, a market research firm, reports that the top 10 international dating sites attracted 12 million visitors in March 2013, up 29% from March 2012. One of the biggest international dating sites, based on the market share, is AnastasiaDate. International dating sites provide a wide variety of online communication, including instant messaging, email letters, webcam-based chat, phone translation, virtual gifts, live games, and mobile-based chat. International marriage agencies are frequently referred to as "mail-order bride" agencies. However, many consider the term "mail-order bride" derogatory and feel it demeans foreign women by comparing them to commodities for sale and by falsely implying that (unlike local women), they exercise no judgment over the men they meet and would marry anyone from a relatively wealthy country.
Services offered by marriage agencies typically include:
There are at least two historical roots of the mail-order bride industry that emerged in the 1800s in frontier America: Asian workers in the frontier regions (although Asian workers were scattered throughout the world), and American men who had headed west across the United States to work out on the frontier.
North American men found financial success in the migration West, but the one thing that was missing was the company of a wife. Very few women lived there at this time, so it was hard for these men to settle down and start a family. They attempted to attract women living back East; the men wrote letters to churches and published personal advertisements in magazines and newspapers. In return, the women would write to the men and send them photographs of themselves. Courtship was conducted by letter, until a woman agreed to marry a man she had never met. Many women wanted to escape their present way of living, gain financial security and see what life on the frontier could offer them. Most of these women were single, but some were widows, divorcées or runaways.
Asian men also worked through mail-order agencies to find wives as they worked overseas in the 1800s. Key variables determining the relationship between migration and marriage were demographics, legal policies, cultural perceptions and technology. Imbalances between the number of available women and the number of men desiring partners created a demand for immigrant women. As a result of this imbalance, a new system of "picture brides" developed in predominantly male settlements. In the early 20th century, the institution of "picture brides" developed due to immigration restrictions. The Japanese-American Passport Agreement of 1907 allowed Japan to grant passports to the wives of immigrants to America. With immigration of unmarried Japanese women to America effectively barred the use of "picture brides" provided a mechanism for willing women to obtain a passport to America, while Japanese workers in America could gain a female helpmate of their own nationality.
Economic and social conditions for women in Russia are a motivational factor in finding foreign arrangements. 52 percent of Russia’s workforce is made up of women, yet they often hold low positions of prominence in their home country and work jobs with less respect and lower wage (such as teaching or physician positions); and women earn 43 percent of what men do. Finding a foreign husband gives a woman a chance to leave her country and find better economic opportunities. Marriage is a substantial part of Russian culture, with 30 years being the age at which a woman is considered an "old maid". With 4,138,273 more women than men from the ages of 15 to 64, marriage opportunities are slim at home and worsened by the life expectancy difference between men (64.3 years) and women (73.17 years).
In testimony before the United States Senate, Professor Donna Hughes said that two thirds of Ukrainian women interviewed wanted to live abroad and this rose to 97% in the resort city of Yalta.
Many international brides come from developing countries in Asia. The countries the women come from are faced with unemployment, malnutrition and inflation. Those who marry foreign men tend to be better-educated than most women from their country or their husbands. However, economic factors are not the only driving factor for women in Asia to enter the mail-order industry. Filipino women often entered the mail-order industry in the hope of marrying abroad, and then sponsoring their family for immigration. In some cases women were recruited based on their physical appearance, with an emphasis placed on youth and virginity. This is found among boutique agencies, most of which cater to wealthy men from other Asian nations.
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Since 2003, the Australian Federal Government's resolve to decrease what was deemed "inappropriate immigration" by then-Prime Minister John Howard has gained momentum. Initial reactions to the program were mixed. However, during the January 2004 visit to Eastern Europe by Australian Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Philip Ruddock, Australian-Russian relationships were strengthened while both nations committed to a timetable for reductions in Russian human trafficking into Australia. The Australian public further embraced its government's new policies following the media frenzy of the Jana Klintoukh case. This case first exploded into the public's view when current-events program Today Tonight aired footage of a young Russian-born Australian, claiming she was imported via an Internet site and was used as a sexual slave by her "husband" while being confined to his Sydney home.
In 2005, President Alexander Lukashenko attempted to regulate "marriage agencies" in Belarus and make it difficult for them to operate. He believed that Western men were draining his country of women of child-bearing age. However, as most agencies are being run from outside Belarus (either in Russia, European countries or the United States), he has been unable to stop (or otherwise regulate) this activity.
Canadian immigration laws have traditionally been similar to (but slightly less restrictive than) their US counterparts; for instance, previously not requiring the Canadian citizen to prove minimum-income requirements (as has been a long-standing requirement of United States immigration laws). While there is still no formal requirement for a minimum salary, the sponsor must provide evidence of income in the form of their most recent T4 Income printout from the Canadian Revenue Agency as an attachment to their IMM 5481 Sponsorship Evaluation. Until recently (2001) Canada's immigration policy designated mail-order brides under the "family class" to refer to spouses and dependents and "fiancé(e)" class for those intending to marry, with only limited recognition of externally married opposite-sex "common law" relationships; same-sex partners were processed as independent immigrants or under a discretionary provision for "humane and compassionate" considerations. In 2002, the Canadian Immigration Law was completely revised. One of the major changes was conjugal-partner sponsorship, available for any two people (including same sex couples) who have had conjugal relations together for at least one year. Canadian immigration authorities frown upon conjugal-partners sponsorship for heterosexual couples, and now require the couple to marry before a visa is granted (unless serious reason can be demonstrated why the couple is not yet married).
There have been reported instances in which foreign spouses have abandoned their Canadian sponsors upon arrival in Canada or soon thereafter, often collecting public assistance which the sponsor is obligated to repay. In some of the cases, federal immigration authorities have made no attempt to revoke fraudulently-obtained landed immigrant status or deport the claimants, treating cases where one spouse is duped by the other as low-priority and difficult to prove.
A two-year conditional residence requirement (like that in force in Australia and the United States) was proposed in 2011 and is now applied to new arrivals.
This South American country is attracting more mail-order bride agencies in recent years, including ColombianSweethearts, ColombianCupid and AmoLatina. As well, online dating agencies such as Match.com have developed a presence in Colombia.
According to immigration statistics from the U.S. Homeland Security, Colombia has ranked in the top 10 of countries since 1999 from which fiancées have emigrated for the United States. As well, the number of Colombians being admitted to the U.S. between 1999 and 2008 using fiancé visas (including children) has increased 321 percent.
A dissertation by Jasney E. Cogua-Lopez, “Through the Prisms of Gender and Power: Agency in International Courtship between Colombian Women and American Men,” suggests various reasons for this growth, including continuing cultural inequality between the sexes despite equality being codified in the country’s laws (honor killings were not made completely illegal until 1980).
Because of the large number of Colombians wishing to leave their country by marrying foreigners, a black market for marriages to foreigners has developed, with some people allegedly paying as much as 20 million pesos ($10,000 US) to illegal groups.
According to Colombia Decrees No. 2668/88 and 1556/89, passed in 1988, foreigners are allowed to marry nationals in the country provided they supply the proper paperwork, including a birth certificate and proof that both parties are not already married. A notary is required, but because the laws are open to interpretation, the requirements can vary from notary to notary.
The Philippines prohibits the business of organizing or facilitating marriages between Filipinas and foreign men. The Philippine congress enacted Republic Act 6955 (the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law) on June 13, 1990 as a result of stories in the local media about Filipinas being abused by their foreign husbands. Because of this, Filipinas often used "reverse publications" – publications in which men advertise themselves – to contact foreign men for marriage to Filipino women.
Successful prosecution under this statute is rare or non-existent as widespread deployment of the Internet in the mid-1990s brought a proliferation of websites operating outside the Philippines which legally remain beyond the reach of Filipino law. One Montana site profiled in a ABS-CBN News report entitled "Pinay Brides" circumvented the restrictions by characterising its role as that of a travel agency.
The New York Times reports, "Every month, hundreds of South Korean men fly to Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal and Uzbekistan on special trips. An agent escorts each man to see many women in a single day, sometimes all gathered in the same hall." Although these marriages can be successful, in some cases immigrant wives are mistreated, misunderstood and separated from their Korean husbands. One method men use when choosing young girls as wives is "Like a judge in a beauty pageant, the man interviews the women, many of them 20 years younger than he, and makes a choice". The British newspaper The Independent reports, "Last year it was reported that more than 40,000 Vietnamese women have married South Korean men and migrated there." Cambodian women are also popular with Korean men seeking foreign brides, but in March 2010 the Cambodian government banned marriages to South Korean men.
The Korea Times reports that every year, thousands of Korean men sign up for matches with Filipina brides through agencies and by mail order. Based on data from the Korean government, there are 6,191 Filipinas in South Korea who are married to Koreans. After contacting a mail-order agency, the majority of Filipina mail-order brides met their husbands by attending "show-ups," a meeting in which a group of Filipina women are brought to meet a Korean man who is looking for a wife. At the show-up the Korean man picks a prospective wife from among the group, and in a matter of days they are married.
An anthropological study on Filipina wives and Korean men by professor Kim Min-jung of the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Kangwon National University found that these Korean men find it difficult to marry Korean women, so they look for girls in poorer countries with difficult economic circumstances. The Korean men feel that because of the difficult circumstances from which the Filipina women come, cultural differences and the language barrier, they "will not run away". Further, she said, Korean men characterize Southeast Asian women as friendly, hardworking (due to agrarian backgrounds), "docile and obedient, able to speak English, and are familiar with Korean patriarchal culture".
A recent study by matchmaking firm Bien-Aller polled 274 single South Korean men through its website concerning motivations for marrying non-Korean women and found that men choose foreign brides primarily for one of four reasons. "According to the poll, 32.1 percent of the men said they felt the biggest benefit of marrying foreign women is their lack of interest in their groom's educational background and financial or social status. The next best reason was their belief that foreign brides would be submissive (23 percent), make their lives more comfortable (15.3 percent), and that the men would not have to get stressed about their in-laws (13.8 percent)."
In June 2013, The Philippine embassy in Seoul reported that it had received many complaints from Filipinas who have married Korean men through mail-order, frequently becoming "victims of grave abuses." The Philippines police rescued 29 mail-order brides on their way to marry South Korea men whom Chief Superintendent Reginald Villasanta, head of an organised crime task force, says were "duped into promises of an instant wealthy life through marriage with Korean gentlemen." The women were advertised in online and offline "catalogs" to South Korean men. In many cases however, victims were fed false information about the background of their future spouse and family, and suffered abuse from the South Korean men, which led to "abandonment of the marital home, separation and divorce", the task force statement said. Villasanta said.
There have been several murders of mail-order brides in South Korea. "On May 24, 2011, a South Korean man stabbed his Vietnamese wife to death while the couple’s 19-day-old baby lay next to her. The man, a farmer, had been matched up with his foreign bride through a broker. In 2010, another Vietnamese woman was killed by her husband a week after they were married. In 2008, a Vietnamese woman jumped from an apartment building to her death after being abused by her husband and mother-in-law."
In November 2009, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz warned Filipina women against marrying Korean men. He said in recent months that the Philippine Embassy in Seoul has received complaints from Filipina wives of abuses committed by their Korean husbands that caused separation, divorce and abandonment. As language and cultural differences become an issue, the Filipina women are regarded as commodities bought for a price.
On June 4, 2001 Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as Turkmenbashi) authorized a decree that required foreigners to pay a $50,000 fee to marry a Turkmen citizen (regardless of how they met), and to live in the country and own property for one year. Authorities indicated that the law was designed to protect women from being duped into abusive relationships. In June 2005, Niyazov scrapped the $50,000 and the property-owning requirements.
U.S. immigration law provides protection for brides once they arrive. “In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act... Section 652 of this legislation specifically addresses the mail-order bride industry.”
On January 6, 2006, President George W. Bush signed the "International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005" (IMBRA) as part of the H.R. 3402: Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005. The requirements of the law are controversial, and some commentators have claimed that it presumes that American men are abusers.
In enacting IMBRA, Congress was responding to claims by the Tahirih Justice Center (TJC), a woman's advocacy group, that mail-order brides were susceptible to domestic abuse because they are unfamiliar with the laws, language and customs of their new home. The TJC insisted that special legislation was needed to protect them. The TJC asked Congress to consider several notable cases mentioned in the Congressional Record. Critics of IMBRA claim that the TJC failed to ask Congress to consider the relative amount of abuse between mail-order bride couples and other couples (including the thousands of spousal murders that occurred in the US over the past 15 years).
Two federal lawsuits (European Connections & Tours v. Gonzales, N.D. Ga. 2006; AODA v. Gonzales, S.D. Ohio 2006) sought to challenge IMBRA on constitutional grounds. The AODA case was terminated when the plaintiffs withdrew their claim. The European Connections case ended when the judge ruled against the plaintiff, finding the law constitutional regarding a dating company.
On March 26, 2007, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper dismissed with prejudice a suit for injunctive relief filed by European Connections, agreeing with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and TJC that IMBRA is a constitutional exercise of Congressional authority to regulate for-profit dating websites and agencies where the primary focus is on introducing Americans to foreigners. Additionally, the federal court specifically found that: "the rates of domestic violence against immigrant women are much higher than those of the U.S. population". The judge also compared background checks on American men to background checks on handgun buyers by stating, "However, just as the requirement to provide background information as a prerequisite to purchasing a firearm has not put gun manufacturers out of business, there is no reason to believe that IMBs will be driven from the marketplace by IMBRA".
Marriage agencies are legal in almost all countries. On Jan 6, 2006, the United States Congress enacted H.R. 3402: Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005. This law, also known as IMBRA, requires certain actions of some businesses prior to selling a foreign woman's address to a US citizen or resident or otherwise facilitating contact, including the following:
In order to bring a spouse into the United States, Form I-130 must be filed, which is an immigrant petition on behalf of a relative. After that, a K-3/K-4 & V-1/V-2 Entry Visa for Spouse must be filed. The Immigration and Nationalization Service advises that “in some cases, it may be to a couple's advantage to pursue a K-1 fiancee visa before getting married. In other cases, applicants may find that it is more cost effective to get married abroad and then apply for an immigrant visa overseas. In many cases, the K-1 visa application process takes just as long as the immigrant visa process”. Couples must remain together at least two years. There were 715 female naturalized citizens between the ages of 20 and 29 and 2,057 women of the same age living without US citizenship according to the 2010 US Census, accounting for 11.3% of the female population of that age bracket. “Despite well over 2,000 mail-order marriages a year, there is no information on the amount of mail-order brides entering the US. The purpose of this law is two-fold: to protect the safety of mail-order brides and to prevent fraud”.