Mail-order bride

From Academic Kids


Mail-order bride is the term often used to describe women who come to a foreign land from a less developed area after only correspondence or short meeting with their eventual mate. Usually the brides are from developing countries and sent to developed countries like United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and western European countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, or from a less developed area to more developed area in an unevenly developed country such as China.

The term probably originated during the colonial period when men travelled through various empires for financial gain. After establishing their income in a new colony they faced three choices:

  • stay single,
  • marry a local indigenous woman or,
  • seek to have an available woman come from the metropolitan centre; or in the case of economic immigrants that came from an economically depressed region to seek employment, from their mother country.

Often these marriages were arranged by members of the immigrants family 'back home' and the relatives picked amongst available women to find one that would suit their family member thus they would negotiate with the woman before she left with her belongings (and perhaps with her children if she was a widow). Often these women were willing to travel for marriage because of the limited opportunity in their place of origin. This tradition continues amongst first generation immigrants to western countries, most particularly amongst Pakistani, Bangladeshi and East Indian males and females who wish to marry someone of similar social, economic and educational status; indeed many marriages are arranged in India and the bride and groom may not have much if any opportunity to court before the marriage ceremony is conducted.

During the twentieth century this tradition has been used for a (in some ways) similar, yet very different social phenomenon, that of an western male, usually second or third generation immigrant himself, seeking a woman from a more 'traditional' or non-western culture. For whatever reason, these men seek out women from various countries, most notably economically depressed parts of the world, such as countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and non-Muslim women from the other central Asian --stans, or from cultures where femininity is still encouraged and women are expected to take care of their husbands and engage in housekeeping, child rearing and other domestic chores.

The Internet has led to a proliferation of services offering addresses, contact information and romance tours to men willing to pay for information about women who have expressed interest in relocating to various marriage agencies in their native countries.

These men often correspond by mail or email with these women, speak with them over the telephone with the use of translators and eventually after exchanging photos visit the women's country to decide if an engagement is possible. Often after very short courtships the men propose to the women, as they must return home to return to work and hire a lawyer to prepare the visa paperwork.

These women often put themselves up as mail order brides because they feel that they have no other choice. Once they are married and often before they are even settled into their new lives they are beaten by their husbands. The women often live tortured lives that are run by men and they quickly become trapped in a horrible cycle.


Countries of origin

Asia and the Philippines

Historical ties between the Philippines and the US go back many years; the islands were once a US possession, US soldiers fought Imperial Japan during World War II to liberate the islands and two major US military bases were in operation in the Philippines until they closed in the 1990s. Much of the early intermarriage involved US servicemen falling in love with local girls; the current Internet mail-order bride concept is far more recent.

The e-mail order bride ( concept is considered by many to be a threat to the Filipino cultural identity or to bring ladies into harm's way; a Philippine law (RA 6955) goes as far as to forbid a "person, natural or juridical, association, club or any other entity" to "establish or carry on a business which has for its purpose the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals either on a mail-order basis or through personal introduction" or "to advertise, publish, print or distribute or cause the advertisement, publication, printing or distribution of any brochure, flier or any propaganda material calculated to promote the prohibited acts".

As most of the relevant Internet sites are based in other countries, they continue to remain free to operate beyond Philippine jurisdiction.

While the Philippines are probably the most common source of East Asian mail-order brides, second place would go to Thailand. There were many U.S. air bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War, and there were U.S. airmen who obtained Thai wives. In Europe, however, Thai brides seem to be more common than Filipinas due possibly to Europe's closer links to Thailand relative to the Philippines. The tourist spot of Phuket in Thailand, which achieved recent notoriety for being hard-hit in the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami, is a major destination for European tourists.

Other East Asian countries are less commonly considered as sources. Indonesia and Malaysia are Islamic countries and Islam has strong taboos against its women marrying non-Muslim men (although the reverse is still widely practiced). Meanwhile, Vietnam and Cambodia have been isolated until relatively recently.

East Asian mail-order bride services do not just cater to Western men; Japanese and Taiwanese men also often seek brides from poorer regions of that part of the world (see Mail-order brides in Taiwan, below). A more recent phenomenon is the trafficking of North Korean and Vietnamese women into China as wives for farmers who cannot get a Chinese wife due to the sex imbalance in the country.

Former Soviet Union

Wide-scale emigration from these countries is a recent phenomenon, due to the removal of obstacles posed by exit visa controls during the communist era and due to the economic collapse of many eastern European countries. The most common countries involved by far are Russia and Ukraine; women from other Eastern European countries are put on mail-order bride lists much less frequently.

Mail order bride services are so popular in Russia that at least one company – Elena's Models – screens the women for attractiveness, rejecting those whose photos are deemed unlikely to draw customers willing to pay for their email addresses.

Latin America & Caribbean

A number of poorer countries in Central America and the Caribbean have people eager to emigrate to more-prosperous North American countries such as the United States (and sometimes also Canada); only a select few have the means to afford higher education needed to qualify as independent immigrants. The relative ease of family-class immigration represents hope to many who would otherwise not be able to emigrate.

The most common country of origin appears to be Colombia, followed by Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

A new country

Mail-order brides in the United States

In the mail-order bride scenario the male will visit the country on a wedding trip to meet his future bride and propose to her (and in some cases marry if consular processing is allowed) so that they may return to the United States.

In some cases it may be possible for the woman to travel to the United States after applying for a tourist visa at the United States Embassy in her home country. However the State Department has made it very difficult for young single women to obtain tourist visas to the United States from many countries because of the high rates of visa fraud and thus, their only opportunity to come to the United States is by obtaining the sponsorship of a potential spouse or employer.

Until the creation of the K-3 spousal visa in the final days of the Clinton administration, delays to bring a spouse to the US were normally much longer than for a fiancée, sometimes even double.

  • The K-1 visa is intended for a fiancé(e); it is valid for 90 days, after which its holder must either marry or leave the US
  • The K-3 visa is a similar but more recent variant intended for a spouse (already married to a US citizen)
  • The K-4 visa is intended for dependents of a fiancé(e) or spouse

The former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) now the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) reports that approximately 17,263 visas for fiancées were issued in fiscal 2001, about 7988 coming from Asia and about 4714 coming from Europe which includes all of the former Soviet Union states. These fiancées undergo medical examination and police background checks before being allowed to enter the United States. If they do not marry their American citizen fiancé they are required to return to their country of origin and are prohibited from adjusting status if they marry anyone but the fiancé who originally petitioned for their entry.

The status of permanent resident, once granted under these categories, remains conditional for a period of two years; the couple is then expected to apply to have this condition removed. While this is intended to prevent would-be immigrants from abandoning their sponsors immediately after obtaining their green cards, there is still one crucial exception - a battered wife is exempt from this requirement. There are also exceptions if the spouse can convince BCIS that the marriage was bonafide or if the spouse has died. Immigration Letter Weekly ( has excellent information and stories of such cases.

The estimate is about 35% of these immigrants return to their country after determining that the marriage or their immigration to the United States or both will not succeed. It is further estimated by the INS that a majority of the remaining fiancées are divorced within five years, as are most marriages.

Most of the women who enter these marriages convince their future husbands that they are sincere as the formalities of sponsoring an overseas spouse through the family immigration process is complex and time consuming and immigrating to the United States often requires them to quit secure, if low paying, jobs and to forfeit subsidized housing in their home country.

Mail-order brides in Canada

The history of immigration for marriage goes back to the colonial days of la Nouvelle France and les filles du roi, poor girls and women who were encouraged to emigrate from France to populate the colony.

More recently, the picture brides were Asian ladies who were sought in North America by recent Asian (often Japanese) immigrants unable to find local wives for racial or cultural reasons; often the only information provided before an arranged marriage were the letters or small photos which had to serve as his introduction to the prospective bride.

Canadian immigration laws have traditionally been similar to but slightly less restrictive than their US counterparts.

Until recently Canada's immigration policy regarding mail-order brides used the "family class" to refer to spouses and dependents and "fiancé(e)" for those intending to marry, with only limited recognition of opposite-sex "common law" relationships; same-sex partners were processed as independent immigrants or under a discretionary provision for "humane and compassionate" considerations.

In 2002, the Canada immigration law was completely revised and one of the major changes was conjugal partner sponsorship which is available between any two people (including same sex couples) that have had conjugal relations together for at least one year.

Unfortunately, living together for a year is most often easier said than done when a couple is separated by an international border.

Mail-order brides in Taiwan

In Taiwan, mail-order brides are colloquially known as dalu xiaomei (大陸小妹, pinyin: dàlù xiǎomèi, literally: little sisters from the mainland), and are usually from Mainland China or the Philippines. The grooms are generally less educated rural men, who have few prospects of being married to local women. The marriage and immigration are arranged by licensed marriage brokers. This form of marriage is significant as it is the only legal form of immigration from Mainland China to Taiwan. Although from Mainland China, dalu xiaomei are not normally considered members of the Mainlander minority on Taiwan.

Many commentators have pointed out that this immigration is already changing the ethnic composition of Taiwan, in that mail-order brides and their children already outnumber Taiwanese aborigines, and create issues for a society which has not normally thought of itself as an immigrant society.

Some pro-Taiwan independence parties such as the Taiwan Solidarity Union have expressed concerns that these women and their children would form a fifth column as they acquire Taiwanese citizenship. However, these attitudes are not universal even among pro-independence supporters, and President Chen Shuibian of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party made a particular point of welcoming these brides at his campaign activities in 2004.


Unfortunately, there is enough money at stake that many do have a vested stake in portraying a distorted picture. For instance, Arm Candy International, a website promoting Russian mail-order brides, claims, "Essentially, your personal assistant will take care of everything! Total cost for services: $10,500.00 U.S. A beautiful woman to sleep with at night, kiss in the morning, and love all day long, for so little - less than an economy car."

The cash an agency can make by treating love as a commodity to be advertised to sell travel, translation, gifts, flowers and other services far exceeds revenue from selling the addresses themselves.

Unrealistic expectations

Asian women are portrayed by many sites as "submissive, obedient, loyal, soft-spoken, and meek"; on other sites mail-order brides from the Philippines are the ones described as "devoted, cooperative, family-oriented life-time partners" and yet another collection of sites would attribute these qualities to Russian women or women from many other countries. [1] (

At the same time, many prospective brides have unrealistic expectations or limited knowledge about the standard of life in western countries or the women face cultural, linguistic and economic barriers in their new country.

Parody sites love to debunk myths, announcing, "Inside are contained the 'demure lotus blossoms', the 'geishas', the 'oriental sluts'-- whatever you had imagined in your patriarchal, colonialist longings. These women will take you by storm (and will kick your ass)". [2] ( Another parody site announces, "Hi Guys! If you send me money, I'll pretend to be in love with you." [3] (

Outdated and inaccurate information

In some cases, sites carry listings or sell addresses which are years out of date; any immigration advice offered is also best treated with caution as the operators of "pen-pal" services are not qualified to offer legal counsel. Some sites indicated the US fiancé(e) visa to be easier to obtain long after the introduction of the K3 spousal visa, others continue as of 2004 to extoll the virtues of a foreign affair with a Latvian woman as "the women with a Latvian passport can travel without a visa to Europe" - seemingly oblivious to the fact that Latvia itself is a European Union state and has held this status since May 2004.

Immigration fraud

Some relationship scammers sometimes become involved in a sham marriage or green card fraud where at least one of the parties has no real intention to be married but the marriage is only entered into so that the non-American spouse can obtain a visa, work permit and permanent residence in the United States or another western nation.

Misrepresentation - men

While the number of men willing to correspond with these women is high, the number that actually ever bother to travel to these countries to meet the ladies is significantly lower as the lure of meeting an woman in an exotic country quickly turns into the complex logistics of trying to learn about a foreign culture, customs and perhaps a foreign language.

Some men use these services as a diversion, being, perhaps, previously married and having no intention of making such women their wives, and sometimes, key details such as the reasons for previous divorces and existence of previous relationships are not disclosed, like all dating activities the parties need time to develop an understanding of each other, but the circumstances around these long distance relationships make it difficult for either party to learn significant facts about the other party so some of the men may conduct private investigations into the woman's background out of fear and no disclose their lack of trust in this situation.

How is a woman to respond when asked at the consulate when applying for a visa to visit or marry him: "Do you know that he is not a pilot?? Do you know that he doesn't have a job at all at the present??" or "Did he tell you about his first two wives?" When he never told her he was married? She may receive a message or letter from the guy's wife asking her to stop writing to him as he has 3 kids and a mortgage or she may discover after marrying him and losing her job and apartment in her home country that he is a woman beater and expects her to stay locked up in his apartment all day because whenever he sees her talking to another man he goes into a jealous rage.

There is also a growing field of gay men who are turning to the internet to find their significant others and they may also fall prey to misrepresentations by their potential male partners who fail to disclose important facts to them before they immigrate or change their lifestyle for a foreign born mate; this is particular true in countries such as Canada that now allow homosexuals to marry and sponsor their unmarried homosexual partners for immigrant visas.

Misrepresentation - women

Widespread Internet use has also led to relationship scammers similar to the Nigerian 419 scam requesting advance fees but usually for the purpose of helping sick aged relatives based upon sending photos of young models in skimpy clothing. Another variant involves asking for money to cover visa or travel expenses; while visas for citizens of poor countries are most often difficult or impossible to obtain, misrepresentations include the use of forged visa documents to convince a suitor that a lady is free to travel to his country or collusion with dishonest employees within a travel agency in the lady's home country to make travel appear possible.

Immigration fraud is also very possible; if the marriage ever takes place, the outcome is an expensive and very messy divorce.

Fraud by agencies

Often men hire a young girl to sit by the telephone and wait for the marks to call requesting them to send their money via Western Union; sometimes the lady who actually picks up the money from the telegraph service is the scammer's own wife or girlfriend.

In some cases, the agencies place themselves between the two corresponding parties by not providing complete address information or by placing themselves in the rôle of translators in order to gain complete control of correspondence.

There are a number of online blacklists as often the same images and descriptions are used by the same people for multiple ads under different names, listing different locations and info.

Sometimes the lady doesn't exist at all, in which case the photos are either stolen from other websites or produced by paying a model to pose for a photographer in a variety of outfits, most often without informing her of the true purpose of the images.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reported at least one case where the supposed "Russian mail-order bride" was actually a married couple in California using e-mail to trick prospective suitors into wiring money to Russia on the pretext of paying for travel costs. [4] (

One particularly notorious case is the September 11,2001 gangland-style murder of Anatoly Neverov, a writer, photographer and translator from Minsk, Belarus who had exposed one scam too many. [5] (

Spousal abuse & people trafficking

Opponents of "MOBs" or mail-order brides believe the women risk involvement with abusive partners or even criminals, claiming "Women have been tortured and killed. Some men use their wives as prostitutes or for pornography. Clearly, not all the husbands are psychotic, but the incidence of violence against mail-order brides is extremely high." [6] (

As there are other active organised crime scams in which Russian gangsters will claim to offer legitimate employment abroad for poor eastern-European women, then force them into slavery or prostitution, many are wary of meeting someone half a world away from a personal ad.

A recommendation of the European assembly warns that "Today’s slaves are predominantly female and usually work in private households, starting out as migrant domestic workers, au pairs or 'mail-order brides'. Most have come voluntarily, seeking to improve their situation or escaping poverty and hardship, but some have been deceived by their employers, agencies or other intermediaries, have been debt-bonded and even trafficked. Once working (or married to a 'consumer husband'), however, they are vulnerable and isolated. This creates ample opportunity for abusive employers or husbands to force them into domestic slavery." [7] (

Homesickness and divorce

Often these women complain of difficulties adapting to American or western culture. They appear to be much more strong willed than their western husbands believed, as the myth of these women being passive is often incorrect, especially of those from the former Soviet Union where, while women were and remain economically disadvantaged from their male counterparts, the Marxist and Soviet values under which they were trained often make them more assertive and independent than their feminist American counterparts.

Often these men do not have the skills to deal with the complexities of a multi-cultural relationship and the marriages fail, though some are successful.

Ironically, the author of the Russian Wife Handbook boasts, "This is my beautiful wife Lyudmila... In the pages of this little book, I've tried to post the advice I received during the time I was courting this lovely lady over some 3,000 miles of water and land...Lyudmila came here in December of 1998 and we have been together ever since...Lyudmila is scheduled for her citizenship interview on April 6, 2004." He later added one short line, seemingly as an afterthought: "Divorce Started in July of 2004." [8] (


Mail-order bride agencies typically make some effort to refute criticism of their services.

Potential for happiness

The proprietor of the now-defunct marriage agency World Class Service responded to a user exhorting him to quit making matches with Filipinas and "DO SOMETHING THAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SLEEP AT NIGHT WITH????!!!!" by saying, "I have done so: I have married one myself, and I sleep every night with her. This marriage has made her very happy, and it has made me very happy. I only wish all good people could have the opportunity we have been given." The proprietor further argued that men looking for a very submissive, family-oriented wife will enter a happier marriage if they look overseas to a culture that encourages such characteristics.

Indeed, testimonials of happy marriages are frequently featured on mail-order bride websites and constitute one of their most common defenses to criticism. Elena's Models is owned by Elena Petrova, a Russian who cites her own positive experience marrying an American.

Countermeasures against fraud

Mail order bride services claim to have developed effective countermeasures against fraud, including the Black Book of Russian Dating Scammers, first published in 1999. Some firms have been in existence for many years, and offer money-back guarantees to unsatisfied customers. In addition, several free guides are available on the Internet for avoiding scams.

Representation in the Arts

The 2001 movie Birthday Girl is about a Russian mail-order bride who goes to live with a banker in the UK.

External links





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