Last updated on May 16th, 2019
For many years, the United States had faced the problem of immigrants entering the country based on their marriage or engagement to American citizens, and then being subjected to violence upon their arrival.
The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) was enacted by Congress in response to dangers facing immigrants, as a way to protect immigrants and their rights.
Everyone in the United States, even immigrants, has the right to be free from assault and abuse, and the IMBRA is aimed at protecting a group of people that all too often find themselves vulnerable to such mistreatment.
This article discusses the purpose behind the IMBRA, its various provisions, and what they mean for an immigrant working towards beginning a life in the United States.
What is the Purpose of the IMBRA?
Many foreigners gain entry and permanent residency in the United States through their marriage or engagement to a United States citizen. Such relationships make the foreign citizen eligible for a K-1 or K-3 nonimmigrant visa, and create convenient ways to get into the country.
If a non-citizen marries or becomes engaged to a citizen, the non-citizen may enter the United States legally.
However, this arrangement has given rise to situations where citizens – normally American men – will seek out and contract with foreign nationals – normally women – and promise marriage and free entry into the country.
These women have sometimes been derisively called “mail-order brides,” though this term doesn’t accurately capture the complexities often involved in these situations.
Often, such relationships are arranged by what are termed international marriage brokers (IMBs), whose business it is to put American citizens in contact with foreigners wishing to immigrate to the United States.
They’re a sort of dating or match-maker service, though typically their purpose for providing such services is to facilitate immigration.
Beginning in the 1990s, there were increasing numbers of reports of foreign women who had entered the United States through an IMB’s services being abused, mistreated, and even killed at the hands of their American spouse or fiancé.
The victims tended to be foreign-born women, who were alone and isolated in a country whose language they didn’t speak, and with whose legal system they were not familiar.
The unregulated and shadowy characters of the IMBs and their clients prompted Congress to enact legislation aimed at protecting immigrant women, by making sure that they knew the character of the men they were marrying, and informing them of their legal rights.
What are the provisions and requirements of the IMBRA?
When Congress enacted the IMBRA (codified at 8 U.S. Code § 1375a, and available here), it intended to create a way to protect those who would potentially find themselves victims of domestic violence following their immigration.
First, the IMBRA prohibits the marketing of children. This means that brokers cannot provide services that involve contacting anyone who is under 18 years of age.
Second, the IMBRA creates some obligations that a broker must perform before the broker can put its United States citizen client into contact with a foreign national client.
Among these obligations, the broker must search the sex offender and various criminal registries, compile the criminal and marital history of the U.S. citizen client, and then provide this information to the foreign client in a language that she understands.
The broker must also provide to the foreign client a pamphlet that the United States government has prepared, that explains the rights of foreign victims of domestic violence, and what resources are available for victims.
Finally, the broker must obtain the foreign client’s signature, authorizing the broker to release her contact information to the United States citizen client.
Third, the IMBRA requires the United States citizen to disclose relevant information. When the citizen petitions to sponsor a foreigner for a K-1 or K-3 visa, he must include in his application whether he has ever been convicted of various violent and domestic crimes, and whether he has a history of substance or alcohol abuse.
If the petitioner has been convicted of such a crime, he must supply documentation and court records showing the conviction. This information is supplied to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which itself conducts a background check of the petitioner when it receives the visa application.
The USCIS, in turn, provides the petitioner’s background information to the U.S. Department of State (DOS), which then has the responsibility of disclosing the information to the foreign beneficiary.
Additionally, when the foreign beneficiary goes to the United States consulate for her interview as part of the visa application process, the DOS must make her aware of her petitioner’s criminal background.
This is all part of a system aimed at informing the broker’s foreign client of what she is getting into.
Fourth, the IMBRA puts limits on repeated sponsorship of foreign fiancés and spouses. If a United States citizen has previously filed two K visa petitions, and it has been less than two years since the filing of the latest of those visas, that citizen is not eligible to sponsor an additional visa.
The petitioner may ask the government to waive this limitation, and the government may exercise its discretion in granting a waiver. However, the government cannot grant a waiver to the visa limitation if the petitioner has been convicted of a violent or domestic crime.
Marriage brokers who violate any of the provisions of the IMBRA are subject to both civil and criminal fines, as well as potentially lengthy jail sentences.
What does the IMBRA mean for my visa application process?
The IMBRA has modified the application process for K-1 and K-3 fiancé and spouse visas, and its effects can be seen at several steps in the process. If you are the United States citizen sponsor of a visa, you will need to submit Form I-129F in order to initiate the application process. This form will ask whether you’ve been convicted of a list of violent crimes, including assault, battery, and domestic abuse.
If you are the foreign national beneficiary of the visa, your encounter with the IMBRA will come when you are informed of the results of criminal and marital background checks on your U.S. citizen spouse or fiancé. This will be done through the mail, and at your consular interview. Additionally, you’ll be given an informational pamphlet that the IMBRA requires the government to prepare.
This pamphlet will explain your rights as a foreign immigrant in the United States, as well as the resources available to victims of domestic abuse. It will also warn you of the risks of using a marriage broker to facilitate entry into the United States, and warn of the penalties for marriage fraud.
At each step in the process, the IMBRA is designed to inform and protect foreign immigrants from the risks of abuse and violence that potentially arise when using an international marriage broker.