Sunday, December 25, 2005

The International Marriage Broker Act and U Visas

Last week, as many of you know, VAWA was reauthorized (with no time to spare). What many of you may not know, however, is that the International Marriage Broker Act [pdf file] has been attached to VAWA. Some of you may remember that I first wrote about this Act back in 2003, when it was first introduced by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA).

The IMBA will now help foreign brides (aka mail-order brides) gain a bit of control over their future. This law does not ban the existence of these mail-order bride agencies. What it does is help to ensure that such transactions will be somewhat safer for the women involved. In essence, the new law requires (from The National Immigration Project [pdf file]:
  • Requires U.S. citizen filing K petitions to disclose criminal background information. Mandates that U.S. citizens filing K visa petitions disclose criminal background information to international marriage brokers and to DHS/CIS. Relevant crimes include domestic abuse crimes, other violent crimes, and multiple convictions for substance and/or alcohol abuse. DHS will be required to transmit this criminal history information, along with results of any database search, to the foreign fiance or spouse [Section 832(a)].

  • Prevents abusive U.S. citizens from sponsoring multiple foreign fiances and/or spouses. DOS cannot issue a K visa (unless DHS grants a waiver or the domestic violence victim exception applies) if the U.S. citizen has previously filed two K visa petitions, and less than two years have passed since the date of filing of the most recent K visa petition. DHS can waive this bar, but not when the U.S. citizen has a history of committing domestic abuse or other violent crimes [Section 832].

  • Government tracking of serial K visas. Creates government database to track serial K petitions filed by same U.S. citizen petitioner and to notify foreign fiance or spouse of prior K petitions. Notification requirement triggered after petitioner has filed three K petitions within the past 10 years [Section 832].

  • Domestic abuse pamphlet to be distributed to all foreign fiances and spouses. DOS, DHS, and DOJ shall create pamphlet on domestic abuse laws and resources for immigrant victims in the U.S. The pamphlet must be sent to all foreign fiances and spouses. DHS shall also send results from any criminal background checks conducted in the course of adjudicating the K visa petition, along with the petitioner'’s disclosure of any criminal history. U.S. consular officers shall orally inform foreign fiances/spouses of the petitioner's criminal history. DOS and DHS cannot disclose locational or personal information about prior victims of the U.S. citizen petitioner.

  • International Marriage Broker (IMB) Duties. IMBs are prohibited from sharing any information on minors with any person or entity. IMBs cannot give U.S. clients information on a foreign national until the IMBs have searched sex offender registries, collected criminal and family background information, provided background information to the foreign national, given the domestic abuse pamphlet, and received written consent from the foreign national to share her contact information. Violation of these requirements can result in civil penalty up to $25,000.

This law is most definitely a step in the right direction, and will certainly help prevent some of the more serious atrocities some of these foreign brides might otherwise experience. However, as I wrote in my previous post on this subject, it will not prevent or stop all abuse against foreign brides. Many men (and international marriage brokers) will, no doubt, find ways around the law. And, not all abusive men will necessarily have a criminal record. And, or course, some women may still believe his claims that he has changed, or that the charges were due to lies (after all, why should we believe that women from the former Soviet Union or SE Asia are all that different in their desire to believe men who say they love them than American women are?).

Fortunately, there are some other legal recourses that these women can access should the need arise. Immigrant women who are married to an American citizen and experience domestic violence in that marriage can self-petition for legal status through VAWA.

The enactment of VAWA in 1994 has helped thousands of immigrant women (not only mail-order brides) who were experiencing domestic violence. Unfortunately, there were still thousands more women who were not eligible to access these benefits. Women who were not married to their abusers and/or women whose abusers were not US citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) did not qualify for VAWA.

In 2000, it seemed as though there was hope for these women, though. That was the year the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 created two new nonimmigrant visas for noncitizen victims of crimes.

T visas are available to individuals who are victims of "a severe form of trafficking in persons." This includes sex trafficking of persons under 18 years of age, or recruiting or obtaining persons for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion "for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery." Those who qualify for T visas may have nearly all grounds of inadmissibility may be waived, and can adjust to LPR status (Legal Permanent Resident)after three years. The original law stated that an applicant for a T visa willing to assist in every reasonable way in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking perpetrators (although neither actual cooperation nor even the existence of an investigation is required; the victim must merely show willingness to cooperate). However, the latest version of VAWA allows "trafficking victims whose physical or psychological trauma impedes their ability to cooperate with law enforcement to seek a waiver of this requirement." [Section 801(a)(3)].

U visas are available to immigrants who are either victims of or who possess information concerning one of the following forms of criminal activity: rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, hostage holding, peonage, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, unlawful criminal restraint, false imprisonment, blackmail, extortion, manslaughter, murder, felonious assault, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit one of these offenses. The applicant does not have to be married or related to the person committing or soliciting the crime.

However, in the 5 years since The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act was passed (and U visas were created), the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS, formerly known as INS) has yet to publish regulations governing these visas. Which means that no one can actually apply (let alone receive) a U visa yet. CIS has implemented U visa interim relief, which allows an immigrant crime victim to be granted temporary legal status for one year (applicants can reapply on a yearly basis until the regulations have been published, although, there is no guarantee that their applications will be accepted every year).

In October 2005, lawyers for the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles filed a federal lawsuit in October on behalf of nine illegal immigrants who were victims of violent crimes, demanding that regulations for the U visas be put in place.
"It was filed because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is failing to provide victims of crime and people who are cooperating with law enforcement investigations with the immigration benefits Congress five years ago said they should have," Carlos Holguin, general counsel for the center, said of the lawsuit.

"What they give is deferred action, a work permit which is not the same as a U visa, which leads to permanent status," he said. "We've yet to get an explanation as to why they've failed to implement a law that's 5 years old.

Things are getting better for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. But there's still a long way to go.


thistle said...

As someone who's represented a few women bringing VAWA self-petitions, thanks for writing about this--I wasn't actually aware of the new provisions for International Marriage Brokers, so that's good to know.

The other thing that I would note is that while the self-petition under VAWA is a good thing, it doesn't do everything--the other class of women for whom there are special provisions are those who marry men (US Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents) who *do* petition for them, and *then* abuse them. If the petition is filed within 2 years of their marriage, then the permanent resident status that an immigrant spouse is granted is conditional on the couple filing a "joint petition" two years after the status is granted. Like a petition for permanent residence, an abuser can hold the joint petition requriement over a woman's head to try to keep her from leaving or otherwise control her. Battered women can apply for a waiver from the joint petition requirement, using proof very similar to that required for VAWA self-petitioners.

Anonymous said...

The best reason for IMBRA?

Alice said...

Why did the writers of this law explicitly provide a provision in the law that exempts, FriendFinder, AsianFriendFinder, FilipinoFriendFinder, MSN Personals, and other large sites? Why was this provision necessary? They could have just LET IT BE and thousands of foreign women would fall under the law’s protection. The law states that matchmakers that do not match foreigners and Americans as the main part or their business and who charge equal fees to men and women are exempt. But these large mainstream sites allow folks to join for free! The paying member can make the contact. Therefore, thousands of foreign women ( alone has more foreign women members than all international marriage brokers combined) join and wait for American men to contact them.

Can anyone explain this?

GimmieRhubarbPie! said...

Re: exemptions for and other such web sites

"The law states that matchmakers that do not match foreigners and Americans as the main part or their business and who charge equal fees to men and women are exempt. But these large mainstream sites allow folks to join for free! The paying member can make the contact."

Yes. And both men AND women are able to join thes sites for free. Thousands of foreign women join in the hopes that an American man will contact them, but foreign men have an equal opportunity to join for free and wait (mostly in vain) for American women to contact them. offers the same fee/free structure to both men and women. The business structure of (and the other personals web sites) is not the same as that of a marriage broker and they should be exempt from the laws intended to target marriage brokers.

Alice said...

"The business structure of (and the other personals web sites) is not the same as that of a marriage broker and they should be exempt from the laws intended to target marriage brokers."

So then, IMBRA is targeting a specific business structure?

GimmieRhubarbPie! said...

"So then, IMBRA is targeting a specific business structure?"

I feel targeting is a bit strong of a word, but pretty much yes. It looks like it was crafted to apply to businesses who charge a fee to person A in order to introduce person A to persons B, C, D, E, F... charges a fee, not for the matchmaking service, but for the ability to search/reply to other members. And the fee structure is gender symmetrical. I'll wager that it's mostly American men who are paying members, while foreign women opt for the free membership, which looks like the traditional marriage broker practice until you remember that both men and women, foreign and local, are chargd the exact same fees for the exact same level of access. is the Craigslist personals with a spiffy interface and search engine. Craigslist is the same as traditional newspaper personal ads, but delivered via the web. If a newspaper does not have to do a background check on everyone who places an ad, then why should

All of this ignores the fact that these laws, even if extended to, are unenforceable against even the shadiest of marriage brokers operating outside of the USA.

And lastly, what of marriages where the women are already in the USA? Don't they deserve to know the background of their suitor too?

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of opportunities to meet other people free of charge using the internet.

MSN is too powerful with Microsoft behind it. It will continue to operate as before...

Who needs paysites and marriage brokers for dating foreign women?

Just get on a plane, find your wife yourself.

This strange VAWA - MOB bill is crap anyway. Useless and unenforceable outside of the US.

GimmieRhubarbPie! said...

I think you mean to say it's "Feel good" legislation. Does not really do much except allow people to feel good for re-electing the congresspeople who voted for it.

ginmar said...

Bean, there's been a firestorm of comment on my blog about this; the trolls are coming out in force. They're not even trying: they keep referring to women as 'product' and 'outsourcing.'

Anonymous said...

Lets talk about what bad about the law.. Requiring American men to turn over their entire criminal and marital history, how many children he has and their ages, and every place he has lived in the past 15 years. This is just to be able to get a ladies email or postal address.

And what protection does the guy have when the webmaster passes all of this information to a lady he has wants to meet? This is a scammers dream and in this day an age very dangerous. It is a violation of an American's first amendment rights to be required to turn all of this information over just to say hi to someone. And that is exactly what the law says he must do.

Do current laws require me to turn over my entire history to an American lady before I contact her? No. So the foreign national has more protections than an American citizen?

The place for the backround checks is the immigration process, not during the get to know you stage. This law will be challenged and struck down because it is unconstitutional.

ginmar said...

Yeah, because innocent guys are so afraid of handing over their information. The only ones who fear this law are the ones who've successfully hidden their actions previously.

Anonymous said...

Question from a posting above:
Do current laws require me to turn over my entire history to an American lady before I contact her? No. So the foreign national has more protections than an American citizen?
Yes, this is correct. But this is not the problem for an honest man. The problem is, if this woman outside of the USA is really existing, if her profil is true or a scam. How do you know, if you have no rights to request the same information in return from the marriage broker about the woman you intend to contact?
I think, this law will force small marriage agencies to relocate outside of the USA - if this is helpful for the foreign woman is questionable.

Anonymous said...

Question from a posting above:
Do current laws require me to turn over my entire history to an American lady before I contact her? No. So the foreign national has more protections than an American citizen?
Yes, this is correct. But this is not the problem for an honest man. The problem is, if this woman outside of the USA is really existing, if her profil is true or a scam. How do you know, if you have no rights to request the same information in return from the marriage broker about the woman you intend to contact?
I think, this law will force small marriage agencies to relocate outside of the USA - if this is helpful for the foreign woman is questionable.
I hope you have time to read the entire law. It was explain very clearly, either you meet the girl from or any type of internet meeting including the catalogue listing as long as the girl is foreigner, all american men bringing them here will go to criminal background checking conducted by Department Homeland Security BEFORE IT APPROVES YOUR K1 PETITIONS. You will not go through the background checking until you file k1 for someone. In other words they will be no background checking if you are only planning or contemplating in marrying a foreign bride, it will only happen when there's an acutal application fo K1 at USCIS. You have to file petition first before the DHS will check your background. They are not only targetting the mail order brides agencies, the DHS will check everyone's background who files for k1 and when it approves it will forward to the US consulate overseas where the girl resides. The US consulate will only recieves approve petition from USCIS these are men who pass the background check from DHS. Those who fail will be denied, my understanding the petitioner can appeal there case. In my opinion this is not bad considering protecting these ladies.

Anonymous said...

After three years of lobbying, pro bono legal work, and finally getting the law passed, this happens. It was a battle, but now its an all-out WAR!! Those bastards!!!

A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO) against the U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department from enforcing the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) against an IMB in Georgia was issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.

The Order was entered today, on March 08, 2006, with the Clerk's Office for the U.S. District Court. It was signed on March 07, 2006 by Judge Clarence Cooper. This TRO Order enjoins the U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department from enforcing IMBRA against the Plaintiff in the case at hand, European Connections & Tours, Inc., an IMB defined under the law, until such time as Government Attorneys from the Justice Department submit opposing argument and briefs at a hearing on a motion for PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, set for March 20, 2006 at 1:30 PM.

Anonymous said...

The hearing for permanent injunction against IMBRA has been rescheduled for April 3rd, 2006 in a federal courtroom in Georgia.

Alexandra said...

The IMBRA law does not protect women from domestic violence and sexual abuse and has a reverse affect as it entraps women trying to escape such conditions by forcing them to remain in an envrionment where they are guaranteed to get abused.

Read this July 24, 2006 story in Yahoo News titled: "Peru confronts escalating violence against women"

I should know because I am a Peruvian woman and have experienced these horrors personally in my own native country.

It seems to me that American men are far less dangerous to women as a whole than the men of many foreign women's native countries.

I am now happliy living in the United States and married to a wonderful American man who I met on a large dating web site in 2001. He treats me with love, respect and faithfulness and I feel so blessed to have met him.

How could anyone support a law that says it protects women from domestic violence but really encourages a woman to suffer from it? Especially when big dating is "lobbied" out of the law.

To be fair and protect everyone, background information exchange should occur when a couple is considering marriage and not before they meet and exchange "love letters."

bean said...


I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your story is as you describe it.

As I very clearly stated -- no, this law is not perfect, it does not guarantee to keep all women safe from DV and SA, not even in the US. However, your assumptions that this law will force women to stay with abusers in their own country is naive at best. Yes, we have far better laws regarding DV in this country than in many other countries, and that does help a number of women avoid and/or escape violent situations that they wouldn't be able to in other countries. However, enforcement and prosecution of those existing laws (or hell, even knowledge of those laws by law enforcement personnel) is severely lacking. In addition, women still must know about the laws and have the guts to leave the situation.

As far as who has it "worse" -- well, because of the laws, it may be easier for women in the US, I'll grant you that. But, as I pointed out, getting laws enforced isn't always possible or easy. As far as severity goes -- well, keep in mind, this law was first introduced by 2 Washington State politicians after and because of 2 very brutal murders of local women who had been foreign brides (and they are most certainly not the only ones -- just the ones that were in the press at the time). Both of these women may have been saved had they been given the information required by this law.

And, once again, I will point out that the only ones "harmed" by this law are the men who are required to let the women they contact know that they have a history of violence against women.

Alexandra said...

Hi bean,

I am for real and would be more than happy to provide any info to smother any doubt about my credibility.

Yes its true. In Peru, I was a lawyer and worked for a law firm in Lima. I was told by my boss that if I wished to retain my job I could remain "after hours" and do extra work one-on-one with only him. I quit my job because I was not going to do that sort of thing.

I have many lawyer friends (mostly from law school) who needed to prostitute themselves to get a low-paying job.

There are also countless stories in the newspapers about children and women who disappear out of thin air never to be seen again. Some of these people are killed for their body's organs and others forced into the sex industry. I'll forward some articles to you if you wish. Some are in English and some in Spanish.

I am opposed to the IMBRA law because it was not thought out and I believe it hurts more than it helps.

It has to protect everyone and not just some. I have a lot of friends who have profiles on nearly every dating site such as and probably the most popular trying to find a good man.

They always say they are from the United States when they register their profile but only later disclose they are from Peru when they get into communicating more. Trust me when I tell you that there are more foreign women on the large american dating websites than on the ones you would call "mail order brides."

One of my friends now lives in Holland after meeting her Dutch husband online. She now has 2 babies and is soo happy. I have friends from Peru now living in Florida, Montana, Alaska and California as well as Europe and Canada. All met thier husbands online. I could send you some photos of them with thier spouses and babies. You can see in their eyes just how happy they are.

Nearly all of the people I personally know have had positive experiences meeting foreign men online.

There is much more positive than negative which is very sensationalized when it happens.

When I was in Peru I had a boyfriend of five years. I was abused so bad by him psychologically and sometimes physically. I had no idea how wonderful life could be until I met my American husband.

At least in the US if there is a problem, there are many resources to help a woman and most of the police are not corrupt. Forget about that in Peru.

Living in the US has very much changed my perspective of the world and the situation in my country. I am very active within the local Peruvian community here and have more friends than my husband does! Many of them are married to American men too. I'm even friends with the Peruvian consulate here in my state.

Perhaps the immigration service should provide women some resources to help them make prospective friends and connections when they arrive in the US. I know that meeting other Peruvians helped me a lot with the big change I made when I first arrived.

Also provide them with their local consulates contact info so they have someone to call if they are experiencing some trouble. Just a thought.

bean said...

Look, I have no doubt that things are bad in other countries. I have no doubt that in some countries, they are even worse than they are here -- which is why I have never opposed foreign women coming here, either on their own or through marriage. I also have no doubt that there are women out there who have met a husband through a dating service of one sort or the other, or a marriage broker of one sort or the other who are quite happy.

I know that this law isn't perfect -- I think I made that perfectly clear in both this post and the one I wrote before (that I linked to). I do see problems in holding marriage brokers accountable and not other dating services -- but I don't think the answer to that is to hold no one accountable!!!! (Also, because of the failings of this law, if your friends are using sites like, then they are not being "hurt" by this law.)

But here's the thing -- there is a significant difference between marriage brokers and dating services like (at least, for most people). As you, yourself, describe, many of the women who use these services start by saying they are Americans, and only later reveal that they are from another country. Right there, that means that the men they are meeting are looking for a partner, a girlfriend, a wife -- if they find "true love" they may (at least, in many cases, and the cases of your friend's) choose love over country of origin, and may even do whatever necessary to help their new love enter this country as their bride.

That's a far cry from finding a man who is specifically looking for a woman from another country (usually because American women are too strong, too independent, too whiny, too feminist for them). That's a far cry from finding a man who is specifically looking for a submissive woman who won't fight back, won't argue, won't work, won't do anything but serve him. And don't even try to pretend that most of these "marriage broker" agencies aren't marketing the women exactly like this.

And one only need to look at this report [NOTE: .pdf file] to see what marriage brokers will do to protect their own interests and the interests of men (at the expense of women), even when the men are clearly preying on women desperate enough to risk severe abuse, isolation, degredation, and possibly even death.

It's great that you have been lucky -- and the fact that you "have more friends than [your] husband does" is a clear indicator that you are not in the same situation as the women this bill is aiming to protect (isolation being one of the primary initial tactics of abuse). But, to pretend that because you lucked out means that other women will all luck out is ridiculous. And let me guess, had your husband been required to submit to a background check before you met, he would have had nothing to worry about. So, exactly how would this law have hurt him. Or you?

PG said...

I posted about IMBRA and the same misinformed (either honestly ignorant or deliberately lying) sort of commentary was posted. It's just sad that people are getting this het up about a law without appearing to know whom it actually penalizes -- i.e., the marriage brokers. There are no penalties in IMBRA for anyone else's failure to disclose information.

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matchmaker said...

Anonymous said...

Who needs paysites and marriage brokers for dating foreign women?

Just get on a plane, find your wife yourself.
If everything were that simple:) Just imagine YOURSELF coming to an unknown country for the first time without even knowing language. Marriage agencies do provide certain level of protection for men, while visiting. As it is known, men need to come to their mail order bride's country first, otherwise they won't be eligible for filing K1 visa petition.

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David P said...

Too bad the law provides no protection for the American against scam artists in other countries who post fake pictures, ages, info and may not even be female. I only continue conversation with ladies overseas if they can get to a computer with a webcam on occasion. I have found one 'real' lady in Nigeria I am interested in who I know is 'real' due to various 'discussions' we have had and the fact that she is planning to come to the states for school and my being here will be simply an added bonus. I have been conned twice before by 'women' in Russia who supposedly had a visa but the lines on the photo broke where the photo had been superimposed over someone elses on a legitimate visa or travel pass... I distrust any communication from a foreign woman unless she passes multiple tests at this point. And I certainly don't trust 'marriage brokers'.

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Anonymous said...

Truly the The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VAWA) of 2000 has done a great job for the victim immigrants. Hats off to them and thanks to you for posting such a sensitive issue so nicely.

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