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definition - Mail-order_bride

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Mail-order bride


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 countries. In the twenty-first Century, the trend is now based primarily on internet-based meetingplaces which do not per se qualify as mail order bride services. The majority of the women listed on 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.[1] 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". Mail-order husbands come from primarily (in alphabetical order) Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.

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.[2] 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").[3] It has also been noted that "In feminist writing on mail-order brides, women’s and men’s voices remain absent. Instead, this scholarship assumes a one-to-one correspondence between the male gaze on the Web sites and women’s exploitation as domestic laborers in the home".[4]


  International marriage agency

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).[5] 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,Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9] 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.[citation needed]

Services offered by marriage agencies typically include:

  • Introductions
  • Translation of correspondence between clients not speaking a common language
  • Excursions, in which a man is introduced to several women interested in marriage


There are at least two historical roots of the mail-order bride industry that emerged in the 1800s in frontier America: Asian men working 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.

The 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.[10] 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, divorcees or runaways.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[14]

  Mail order brides: motivations, situations, and stories

  Eastern Europe

Women in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other Eastern European countries are common Caucasian mail-order bride candidates. Russian and other East European women are sometimes considered more attractive than West European and American women in appearance, dress and behavior.

  Russian newspaper advertisement

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);[15] and women earn 43 percent of what men do.[16] Finding a foreign husband gives a woman a chance to leave her country and find better economic opportunities. 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).[17]


Many international brides come from developing countries in Asia. The countries the women come from are faced with unemployment, malnutrition and inflation.[18] 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 enter the mail-order industry in the hope of marrying abroad, and then sponsoring their family for immigration.[18] In rare cases women are recruited based on their physical appearance, with an emphasis placed on youth and virginity.[18] This is found among boutique agencies, most of which cater to wealthy men from other Asian nations.

  Country-specific information

(in alphabetical order)


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.[citation needed]


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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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).


This Central American country is attracting more mail-order bride agencies in recent years, including ColombianSweethearts, ColombianCupid and AmoLatina[22]. As well, online dating agencies such as Match.com have developed a presence[23] 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[24].

A dissertation by Jasney E. Cogua-Lopez, “Through the Prisms of Gender and Power: Agency in International Courtship between Colombian Women and American Men,[25]” 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[26]).

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 ($100,000 US) to illegal groups.[27]

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[28].


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) in 1990 as a result of stories in the local media about Filipinas being abused by their foreign husbands. Because of this, Filipinas often use "reverse publications" – publications in which men advertise themselves – to contact foreign men for marriage to Filipina women.

  South Korea

South Korean men commonly arrange for mail-order brides. The New York Times reports, "Every month, hundreds of South Korean men fly to Vietnam, the Philippines, Mongolia, Nepal and Uzbekistan on special trips".[29] Although these marriages can be successful, in some cases immigrant wives are mistreated, misunderstood and separated from their Korean husbands.[29] 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".[29] 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."[30] Cambodian women are also popular with Korean men, but in March 2010 the Cambodian government banned marriages to South Korean men.[31]

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.[32] 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 Filipino 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.[33]

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.[33] 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".[33]

Violence Against Foreign Brides in South Korea 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."[30][34]

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 Filipino wives of abuses committed by their Korean husbands that caused separation, divorce and abandonment.[33][35] As language and cultural differences become an issue, the Filipina women are regarded as commodities bought for a price.[33]


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.[36] In June 2005, Niyazov scrapped the $50,000 and the property-owning requirements.[37]

  United States

Due to stringent U.S. immigration laws, there have been adaptations of the law and immigration process to provide regulation over immigration flow into the country, and 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.”[38] Congress found the following:

  • There is a substantial ‘‘mail-order bride’’ business in the United States. With approximately 200 companies, an estimated 2,000 to 3,500 men in the United States find wives through mail-order-bride catalogs each year. However, there are no official statistics available on the number of mail-order brides entering[39] the United States each year.
  • The companies engaged in the mail-order-bride business earn substantial profits.

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.[40] The requirements of the law are controversial, and some commentators have claimed that it presumes that American men are abusers.[41]

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.[42] 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 by the marketplace by IMBRA".

  Violence Against Mail-order-brides in The United States

  • In September 2003, 26-year-old Ukrainian engineer and mail-order bride Alla Barney bled to death on the floor of her car after her American husband Lester Barney, 58, slashed her throat in front of the couple’s four-year-old son Daniel. Lester fled with Daniel from the scene in the parking lot of the boy’s day-care center; after an Amber Alert was triggered, he turned Daniel over to a friend and was taken into custody by police. Alla had been granted a restraining order against Lester a few months before, and had been given temporary custody of Daniel.[43][44]
  • Anastasia King, a young woman from Kyrgyzstan, was found strangled and buried in a shallow grave in Washington State in December 2000. At age 18 Anastasia received an email from a 38-year-old Seattle man, Indle King, from a mail-order-bride website. He flew to her country, and they were married soon after. Two years later, after considerable strife, Indle wanted another bride. He was allegedly unwilling to pay for a divorce, so he ordered a tenant in their Washington home to kill Anastasia. Weighing nearly 300 pounds, her husband pinned Anastasia down while the tenant strangled her with a necktie. Both were convicted of murder. King’s previous wife (whom he had also met through an IMB) had a domestic violence protection order issued against him, and left him because he was abusive.[45][46]
  • Nina Reiser was a Russian-born and -trained obstetrician and gynaecologist. She was murdered by her husband Hans Reiser, a businessman and computer programmer whom she met after placing an ad in a mail-order bride catalog.[47] She had a restraining order against him during their divorce proceedings. Nina was reported missing on September 5, 2006. That month Hans was detained by Oakland police due to suspicions surrounding the disappearance of his wife, and was later arrested for suspected murder. On April 28, 2008 Hans Reiser was found guilty of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. On July 7, 2008 Hans led Oakland police to his wife's remains with an agreement to be charged with second-degree murder instead.[48]

  Violence against mail-order husbands by mail-order brides in The United States

  • In 2002 Tessie Buhawe Spotts (a native of the Philippines)[49][50] was charged with the poisoning murder of her husband, Alfred Spotts, in Newberry, South Carolina. The couple met through an international magazine advertisement.

  Legal matters for mail-order brides in the United States

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.[51] This law requires certain actions prior to selling a foreign woman's address to a US citizen or resident, including:

  • The man must complete a questionnaire on his criminal and marital background.
  • The seller must obtain the man's record from the National Sex Offenders Public Registry database.[52]
  • The questionnaire and record must be translated into the woman's native language and provided to her.
  • The woman must certify that she agrees to permit communication.
  • A lifetime limit of two (2) fiancé(e) visas is imposed, with a waiver required for the approval of any subsequent fiancée visa.

  Visa regulations

In order to bring a spouse into the United States, Form I-130 must be filed (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.[53] 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”.[38]

  See also


  1. ^ uscis.gov
  2. ^ AM D'Aoust (2009), "Love Stops at the Border": Marriage, Citizenship, and the "Mail-Order Brides" Industry, http://www.sas.upenn.edu/dcc/workshops/documents/DAoust_DCC_Grad_Workshop_paper.pdf 
  3. ^ Lilith, Ryiah (2000-2001), Buying a Wife but Saving a Child: A Deconstruction of Popular Rhetoric and Legal Analysis of Mail-Order Brides and Intercountry Adoptions, 9, Buff. Women's L.J., pp. 225, http://heinonlinebackup.com/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/bufwlj9&section=11 
  4. ^ F Schaeffer-Grabiel (2005), When the mail-order bride industry shifted from using a magazine, http://feministstudies.ucsc.edu/faculty/publications/cyberbrides.pdf 
  5. ^ p194-195 Introduction to Gender: Social Science Perspectives
  6. ^ Paragraph 14 International Matchmaking Organizations: A Report to Congress
  7. ^ IMBRA law: Violence Against Women and Department Of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005
  8. ^ Level of Services (paragraph 13) International Matchmaking Agencies: A Report to Congress
  9. ^ Ukrainian Mail Order Brides (AskMen): Ukrainian Mail Order Brides
  10. ^ Enns, C. (2005) Hearts west: the true stories of mail-order brides on the frontier. Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press.
  11. ^ Jameson, E. (1976). Imperfect unions class and gender in cripple creek. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 1(2)
  12. ^ S Sinke (1999), Migration for labor, migration for love: marriage and family formation across borders, Magazine of History, JSTOR 25163323 
  13. ^ Itta C. Englander, The Search for June Cleaver, http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=itta_englander 
  14. ^ a b Waldo R. Browne (ed.), "Picture Bride," in What's What in the Labor Movement: A Dictionary of Labor Affairs and Labor Terminology. New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1921; pg. 375.
  15. ^ "Russian Mail Order Bride Case Study." Welcome to American University, Washington, DC USA. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.[full citation needed]
  16. ^ Hughes, Donna M. "Commercial Use of the Internet for Sexual Exploitation: Pimps and Predators on the Internet, Globalizing the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children, Part 1." Coalition Against the Trafficking in Women (1999). The University of Rhode Island. Mar. 1999. Web. Nov. 2010.
  17. ^ "Foreign-Born Population - CPS March 2009 Detailed Tables." Census Bureau Home Page. U.S. Census Bureau, 2 Feb. 2009. Web.
  18. ^ a b c Meng, Eddy. "Mail-Order Brides: Gilded Prostitution and the Legal Response." Journal of Law Reform; 28 (1994): 197.
  19. ^ "Belarus News and Analysis", Anna Volk (the reference cited does not actually say this, plus the fact there are more Southeast Asian women going with Western men, than in Eastern Europe altogether)
  20. ^ "IMM 5481E: Sponsorship Evaluation"
  21. ^ "LaViolette - Immigration of Same-Sex Couples"
  22. ^ http://www.thedaily.com/page/2012/04/23/042312-news-colombian-mail-order-1-5/
  23. ^ http://co.match.com/?tcid=1055334
  24. ^ http://www.dhs.gov/ximgtn/statistics
  25. ^ http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1189&context=etd
  26. ^ http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l243-Violence-against-woman---Issue-Of-Honor-killing.html
  27. ^ http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/7021-colombians-marry-foreigners-seeking-other-nationalities.html
  28. ^ http://bogota.usembassy.gov/marriage.html
  29. ^ a b c nytimes.com
  30. ^ a b independent.co.uk
  31. ^ english.chosun.com
  32. ^ koreatimes.co.kr This is only the women from the Philippines.
  33. ^ a b c d e koreatimes.co.kr
  34. ^ globalpost.com
  35. ^ abs-cbnnews.com
  36. ^ eurasianet.org
  37. ^ rferl.org
  38. ^ a b "Russian Mail Order Bride Case Study." Welcome to American University, Washington, DC USA. Web. 10 Oct. 2010.
  39. ^ Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, NACUA § 1 (1996). Web.
  40. ^ "Violence against women", 109th U.S. Congress (2005-2006)
  41. ^ "Mail Order Bride Law Brands U.S. Men Abusers", Wendy McElroy January 11, 2006
  42. ^ "Mail Order Bride in Works", CBS News July 5, 2003
  43. ^ Retrieve Pages
  44. ^ Man accused of stabbing his mail-order bride to death - Courttv.com - Trials
  45. ^ Retrieve Pages
  46. ^ Mail-order bride's dream of a better life ends in death
  47. ^ http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/04/reiser-defense/
  48. ^ Reiser deal ultimately hinges on judge's OK
  49. ^ Lowcountry NOW: Local News - Wife charged with poisoning husband 04/12/02
  50. ^ [1][dead link]
  51. ^ gov-track.us
  52. ^ nsopr.gov
  53. ^ "Apply for Green Card Through Marriage." Apply for US Immigration Services: USCIS, Green Card, US Citizenship, US Visas, Forms. Immigration Direct, 2007-2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.


  • "Romance on a Global Stage", a 2003 anthropology study by Nicole Constable, Professor of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh

  External links



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