International Matchmaking: As Successful As Advertised?

3/2/2005

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As Internet matchmaking services become more main stream, more suitors apparently are expanding their pool of potential mates beyond their country's borders. There are at least 200 matchmaking agencies in the U.S. that broker marriages between American men and foreign women, arranging up to 6,000 unions a year. Unlike domestic dating agencies that offer their services to both sexes, brokers of foreign marriages do not typically target their services to American women seeking a spouse from abroad.

The Better Business Bureau advises those who are considering using an international marriage broker to consider the following:

  • Lack of regulation: International matchmaking agencies are not currently regulated in conducting business in the U.S. or Canada. Their sole accountability is under immigration laws, which prohibit fraud, the recruitment of people for nefarious purposes such as trafficking, involuntary servitude or prostitution, involvement in alien smuggling and establishment of a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading immigration laws.

  • The bride's perspective: Most agencies advertise women from the former USSR republics, like Russia, or Asian countries, like the Philippines, where destitute conditions exist for women. The common motivation of female clients who choose to advertise with the international marriage brokers is usually economic, not romantic. Some agencies allegedly inform women that the men are screened to ensure they are stable and family-oriented. However, background checks, including criminal and marital histories, of the men are not required and are generally not performed.

  • Cost of services: In general, men pay fees to the agency, while women do not pay to be advertised. Costs of services vary. For example, an e-mail address may cost less than $100. Fees for access to photos or even videos are steeper, ranging up to $2,000. Male clients may get access to the agency's online database or to a catalog, mostly consisting of canned details about the women and a photograph. The total cost of using an international marriage brokerage services can exceed $5,000.

  • Screening of clients: A few agencies indicate they interview their female clients. Whether the interview is by phone or in-person is sometimes unclear. Some agencies arrange group tours to Russia that can cost thousands of dollars. When an American man expresses interest in a foreign woman, she will get contact information about the American man.

  • Rate of success: Few agencies keep records of their success in facilitating engagements or marriages. Of those that do, estimates range from zero to four percent. Higher estimates are given for facilitated marriages to men from any country, not specifically the U.S.

  • Immigration rights of the woman: Foreign women who wish to come to the U.S. to marry an American man may qualify for a fiancée visa. If the two do marry, then the female immigrant may qualify for conditional residency for the first two years of marriage, after which she may qualify for lawful permanent residency.

  • When problems arise: Before doing business with an international marriage broker, male clients are advised to know its location, contact information and refund policy. If refund policies exist at all, they vary in terms and conditions. Unlike male clients, the female spouses may experience more than monetary problems. Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, foreign women who are subjected to violence are protected by the so-called battered spouse waiver. International marriage brokers must inform foreign brides about their rights to claim certain immigration benefits if they become victims of domestic violence. A battered immigrant spouse can "self-petition" to adjust her legal status without the help of her husband and before the usual two-year waiting period expires.
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