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 spouse illegal? 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? Those marriages 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 an international dating site.
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 order 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).
- Europe. With 6,900 K-1 visa holders, this region takes second place (most of them are from the UK, Ukraine, and Russia).
- 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—3,367 K-1 visa holders in 2019 were from SA (most of them were from Colombia, Peru, and Brazil).
- 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.
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.
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 mail-order 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 mail-order 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.
Are mail order spouse illegal 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 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 there 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 bringing your mail order bride to the US on a fiancée visa. Once your foreign 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.
Types of visas for fiancées and how to get one
Are mail order brides legal to get a visa? There are two types of visas available to foreign fiancées and spouses, K-1 and K-3. 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. 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—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.
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, 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 fiancee 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 fiancee 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 fiancee 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, people 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 have entered the US using a K-3 visa. All the other women preferred to obtain K-1.
Marrying an immigrant is not all. After getting a K1 visa and marrying 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 spouse. 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, she'll get 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 Green card after marrying 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.
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.