Are Mail Order Spouse Illegal?
The concept of US men marrying foreign women known as mail order brides has existed for centuries. During this time, people have never stopped asking themselves: are mail order brides legal? International laws give a definitive answer: marriages between men and mail order brides are fully legal no matter where the wedding takes place. The only exception here is the Philippines, where transnational marriages were made illegal in the early 1990s.
However, the law hasn’t stopped Filipino women from marrying foreigners. The only difference is that the marriage ceremony involving a Filipino bride needs to be carried outside of the Philippines. Out of 35,886 foreign women who entered the US in 2019 on fiancée visas, over 7,000 brides were Filipinas. So, are mail order brides legal? The marriages between American men and foreign brides are fully legal and today, you have several ways to meet your ideal foreign bride, whether it’s by visiting the target country or by signing up for a mail order bride service.
The legal aspect of marrying a mail order bride in the US
The US is one of the top countries by the number of transnational marriages with mail order brides, so it makes perfect sense that the rights of foreign spouses are protected by law.
According to the mail order marriage statistics, the number of K-1 visa holders is around 36,000—the data is from 2019, because in 2020, obtaining a K-1 visa became almost impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions. The most popular dating destinations, as we can see from the statistics, are:
- Asia. It was the most visited mail bride region in 2019—more than 15,000 new K-1 holders were from this region (the Philippines, China, and Vietnam are the top-3 Asian mail bride countries). Asian mail order brides are extremely popular in various foreign countries, not only in the US - inter-Asian international marriage agencies are probably even more popular than the ones for American men.
- Europe. With 6,900 K-1 visa holders, this region takes second place (most of them are from the UK, Ukraine, and Russia). Mail order brides from Eastern Europe are typically more traditional while the women from Western Europe are often more similar to American ladies.
- North America. It is the third most popular mail bride region: according to the mail order bride statistics, there were 6,380 K-1 visa holders from NA in 2019 (Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Canada are the leaders).
- South America. The region is also quite popular regarding international online dating and marriages—3,367 K-1 visa holders in 2019 were from SA (most of them were from Colombia, Peru, and Brazil).
- Africa. Africa isn't the most frequently chosen mail bride destination for American men—around 3,300 Africans got a K-1 visa in 2019. The leading African countries in this regard are Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt.
What laws affect mail order marriages?
Sometimes, mail order brides can be young and inexperienced women who leave all they know behind and move to the countries of their foreign husbands. It doesn't matter if they found their partners through marriage agencies or mail order bride platforms - they are only the women who relocate to the country of a foreign husband.
This means that women who have just got married—especially the ones from poor countries and regions like Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe—are extremely vulnerable and dependent on their husbands. Men always have power over their foreign wives, especially if the wives come from poor countries, know nothing about their rights, and are afraid to be deported.
That's the main reason why brides are so vulnerable when they are in a new country—they experience cultural and language barriers, they are afraid that they will suffer if they tell anyone about domestic abuse/violence, etc.
Obviously, this is quite a common situation—and it's not only common in the United States. In 2013, for example, the problem of violence and abuse against Filipino brides in South Korea reached such proportions that even the Philippine Embassy in Seoul warned against trafficking Filipina mail order brides!
And obviously, the US tries to protect foreign brides. Such legal acts as VAWA and IMBRA regulate the mail order bride industry and marriages between American men and mail order brides from other countries. The IMBRA (International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005), for example, requires marriage brokers to perform background checks on American men who want to get a mail order bride.
In this context, both mail order bride platforms (international dating sites) and marriage agencies are the "marriage brokers". This information is revealed to the brides to protect them and to lower the risk of potential human trafficking, abuse, or domestic/sexual violence before selling a foreign woman's address to an American man.
A similar act, VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act (1994) protects mail order spouses from violence and informs brides on their rights. It's a common situation when husbands threaten their mail order brides or wives to deport them taking advantage of their situation—VAWA was created to prevent such acts and to protect mail brides from abusive relationships.
Now, let's be more detailed.
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, which passed in 2005, regulates all sides of a relationship between foreign and potential US spouses. IMBRA includes provisions on background checks for visa sponsors, prohibits marriage to underage women, limits the number of visa sponsorship to 2 per one US citizen, and prohibits applicants with a criminal record from repeatedly filing petitions for fiancée visas.
IMBRA works for any family met on an international marriage agency or on a legitimate mail order bride website.
Another important legal document that protects the interests of US women in general and fiancée visa holders, in particular, is VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. VAWA includes all kinds of provisions on violent behavior and crimes against women, from stalking and domestic violence to rape and the rights of immigrant spouses who are mistreated at home.
How many mail order marriages end in divorce? According to the mail order marriage statistics, the divorce rate in such marriages between an American man and a Russian woman is between 35.8% and 41.3% which is lower than the overall US divorce rate (48%).
The other sources of mail order bride statistics show that the divorce rates for such marriages are about 20%—half of the average American divorce rate! The contributing factors may include the fact that divorce is stigmatized in such popular mail bride countries as the Philippines, Russia, or Colombia.
Mail order spouse legality across the world
What about the mail order bride regulations in other countries? Can Canadian or British citizens legally marry mail order spouses online and take them to their countries? Are mail order brides illegal in these countries? Continue reading to find out!
Are mail order spouses illegal in the US?
Both mail order bride sites and online dating sites are totally legal in the United States. An American man can meet any woman from Eastern or Western Europe, Asia, Latin America, or any other region of the world through online dating sites and mail brides platforms. Mail order brides entering the US can get either a K-1 visa (if they haven't got married yet and plan to get married in the US) or a CR-1 visa (if they have already got married to their American husbands in their country).
We'll talk about the differences between these two visa types later - all you need to know here is that mail order spouses are 100% legal in the US (provided that your relationship is real and genuine).
Are mail order spouses illegal in the UK?
Are mail order spouses illegal in the UK? No! British men can meet mail order spouses on dating/mail order bride sites legally, too. They can either get married in the UK or outside the country—in all these cases, mail order spouses will be able to get a UK visa and enter the country later.
The rules are similar to the US rules and laws regarding people who have met on mail order bride services. A man must be a British citizen or must have the Right of abode (permanent residence, something like a green card). A bride can enter the country on a fiance visa, too—this visa only lasts for 6 months and a foreign partner of a British citizen must apply for another immigrant permission to stay in the country after 6 months (it's possible to switch it to the Spouse visa, though— such a way is very common among immigrants in the UK).
The applicants must have a lot of documents and correspondence to prove their relationships with British citizens are bona fide (genuine) - exactly like in the United States. The main difference is the price - while a K-1 visa costs around $2,000, applying for a spouse visa in the UK costs more than $5,300.
Are mail order spouses legal in Canada?
Canada is one of those countries that attract women living in Asia, Europe, and South America. There are lots of mail order bride services that connect Canadian men with foreign ladies—but the question is: are mail order spouses illegal in Canada? No, they are 100% legal—Canadian laws regarding mail order brides are quite similar to the ones the US and the UK have.
Thus, Canadian citizens can marry foreigners abroad or in Canada, mail order brides can enter the country through the Family Sponsorship program and obtain permanent residency later—the requirements are quite similar to the ones they have in the United States.
Mail order bride legality and how to legally marry such a bride
When you want to marry a foreign mail order bride and you have already met the woman you want to make your future wife, you have two options. The first one is to visit her home country, get married there, obtain a marriage certificate, and bring it back to the US along with your new wife, who will then be recognized by the US government as your legal spouse. This option works in all kinds of situations, provided that you don’t mind getting married abroad.
The only exception is the Philippines where you cannot legally marry a local woman: you need to bring her to the US or a third country to undergo a legal marriage procedure.
The other option is meeting a mail order bride on a legitimate mail order bride service and bringing her to the US on a fiancée visa. Once a mail order bride enters the US on a fiancée visa, you will have just 90 days to marry her. If, after 90 days, you are still not married, the mail order bride may be deported from the US and may no longer be eligible for US immigration programs.
This is the easiest way to get a bride to the US and that's how mail order brides work - most of them enter the US on a 90-day fiance visa.
Types of visas for fiancées
Are mail order brides legal to get a visa? There are two types of visas available to foreign mail order brides and spouses, K-1 and K-3:
- K-1 Visa. The K-1 visa is the fiancée visa, meaning the woman entering the US on a K-1 visa must be unmarried and willing to marry a US citizen within a 90-day timeframe.
- K-3 Visa. The K-3 visa is designed for foreign spouses of US citizens. A K-3 visa is intended to shorten the waiting time for the foreign spouse to enter the US before the US spouse’s immigrant visa petition is approved. The foreign spouse of a US citizen must make an application for a K-3 visa in their own country of residence.
At first glance, both the K-1 visa and the K-3 visa look equally good for mail order spouses—at least until you take a look at the mail order marriage statistics provided by the US Department of State. In 2019, 35,881 people got a K1 visa, and the number of individuals who got a K-3 visa issued in 2019 is 5.
How to get visas for fiancées
You'll probably find a lot of “how to get K3 visa” guides, but the fact is that the K-3 visa is effectively dead and even the USCIS says it's obsolete—as we’ve said, it was created to shorten the time between a decision on Form I-129F and Form I-130. Now, the Form I-130 is approved much faster, so it makes literally no sense to apply for a K-3 visa.The K1 visa (fiance visa) is a perfect option for marrying a foreigner—the K1 visa processing time (i.e. K1 visa application consideration) is faster. More excitingly, the preparation of documents for obtaining K1-visa is simpler. No wonder it is the most frequently chosen visa for legitimate marrying a foreign national.
The K-1 fiancée visa, on the other hand, is granted solely after the US citizen’s immigrant visa petition is filed. There are four steps to marry a foreigner.
- First, you need to file the Form I-129F (the Petition for Alien Fiance(e)). Also, you need to submit a copy of your passport and a copy of the foreign fiancee’s passport, certificate of divorce, sworn statements, and passport-style photos. You will also need to provide evidence that your relationship is legitimate—pictures, flight records, hotel reservations, letters, emails and virtual gifts from dating sites, etc. The fee for I-129 form is $535 (payment by cash isn't accepted). It takes 6-9 months to process the petition and it’s the longest part of the K1 visa timeline. This is also the largest part of the total K1 fiance visa cost.
- Then, the foreign woman will receive a notice from the US embassy with the date of her interview. After this, she will need to file Form DS-160 and print the confirmation page that displays when the DS-160 is completed. The interview is typically scheduled within 4-6 weeks after the notice. The DS-160 fee is $265, and it’s usually paid at the interview.
- Then, your future wife will attend the visa interview—it's free and it doesn't take more than 30 in the majority of cases. The goal of the interview is to make sure your international marriage is bona fide and you will not get paid to marry an immigrant.
- When the K1 visa application is approved, your mail order bride will get a sealed visa packet that must not be opened. After this, she can buy a ticket and enter the US legally on a marriage visa. It's necessary to enter the US within 4 months after the K-1 visa is approved. You have to get married within 3 months of arrival. The whole process for marrying a non-US citizen usually doesn’t take more than 9 months.
Interestingly, mail order brides use the K-1 visa to enter other countries much more frequently than the K-3 visa: in 1994, only 5 out of 8,430 Latin brides entered the US using a K-3 visa. All the other mail order brides preferred to obtain K-1.
Marrying a mail order bride is not all. After getting a K1 visa and marrying a US citizen, foreign spouses need to get a Green card.
- Once married, the American citizen files the Form I-130 ($525, 15-18 months). At the same time, the foreign wife has to file the Form I-485 for adjustment of status. The processing time can take 8-14 months and the application fee is $1,225 (keep in mind that there can be significant delays caused by COVID-19). During the processing time, USCIS checks the background of both spouses and conducts fingerprint checks.
- The American husband must file the Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) to accept financial responsibility for a mail order bride. The financial requirements are simple: the American sponsor must have an annual income that is at least 125% of the poverty guidelines ($12,760 for 1 person in a family, $17,240 for 2 people). There is no filing fee when submitting Form I-864. The Affidavit of Support doesn't expire until the spouse becomes a US citizen or leaves the country.Then, the foreign wife of an American citizen must submit a Form I-693 (report of medical examination) completed by a physician. It's free (no fee), but the exam costs around $300.
- In 2-3 weeks after filing the application, both spouses will have to attend the biometrics appointment (the screening fee is $85).
- After that, the foreign spouse will get a temporary green card (if 2 years have not passed since the marriage). In 2 years, she will be able to apply for a 10-year Green card. If 2 years have passed, your foreign mail order wife gets a 10-year Green card right away, without a conditional Green card. Please, remember that the answer to the question “how long does it take to get a Green card after marrying a US citizen” depends on a lot of factors, particularly on processing time—and there can be serious delays due to the situation. In 2019, the answer would probably be around 14-28 months. In 2021, it can be anything from 14 to 36 months.
Are mail order brides illegal? No. Although mail-order marriages are a somewhat controversial topic in our society, from a legal point of view, men are completely free to marry foreign women, whether in their home country or after bringing them to the US. When done right, marriage to a mail order bride is 100% legal, safe, and able to give you a lifetime of happiness.
F.A.Q.: Mail Order Bride Legality
Yes. It's totally legal to date, meet, and marry mail order brides. Mail order brides platforms (which are essentially international dating websites) are totally legal, too, as well as the United States marriage agencies. American men can meet European, Latin, and Asian brides through mail order brides websites and mail order bride agencies without breaking the law. What's more, you can marry a mail order bride in her country or get her to the US and marry her here - in both cases, she'll be able to become a US permanent resident.
Although mail order marriages are fully legit, it can be difficult to find trusted and reputable mail order bride services online. What helps is reading the reviews carefully and choosing the mail order brides services that have a good reputation and lots of positive reviews. This is the only way to meet international brides without risk of losing your money so far.
Not only do they exist: mail order marriages work! The process of getting a mail order wife has changed since the 17th century when men wrote letters to first mail order brides, but the idea is still the same - and today, like 300 years ago, you can communicate with a mail order bride, meet her, and take her to your country. The only difference is that today, getting a foreign bride is much easier thanks to all those mail order brides sites - today, you only need to create an account on an online dating platform to chat with thousands of mail brides. Tens of thousands of Filipino, Colombian, Ukrainian, and Russian women get K-1 visas every single year - that's the best proof that such a relationship can still work in 2022.