Issue Brief No. 19PDF Version. »
October 19, 2005


Each year thousands of women come to the United States through International Marriage Broker firms (IMB s). Many refer to these women as “mail order brides.” These women travel significant distances from their families and communities to enter into marriages arranged by IMBs. They are especially at risk of abuse, including violence and even murder. Most enter into marriages without knowing their spouse’s prior criminal record, which may include domestic violence, assault, and murder. Many victims resist seeking help, fearing further abuse or deportation.

Inspired by the case of a client who was paired with an abusive spouse and was misled by the IMB in order to keep her in the marriage, the Tahirih Justice Center has spearheaded efforts to curb abuses related to IMBs. They report that many of the men who use IMBs intentionally seek women whom they believe they could dominate and control, either because the woman does not speak English, would be legally and economically dependent, or is marketed by the IMB as subservient. They also note that some of these men are violent predators who return to IMBs repeatedly to find their next victim.

Domestic violence is a serious abuse and violation of human rights. Immigrant women are among the most vulnerable because they are less likely to have knowledge of legal protections and services available to them. A 2003 survey found that over 50 percent of the providers of legal assistance serving battered immigrant women had helped women who met their abusive husbands through IMBs. As victims in a foreign country, many are afraid and unaware of the rights and protections that US law affords them. Additional safeguards are needed to regulate these businesses and require them to disclose information about their customers to prospective brides.

Washington state responded to the brutal murders of two women by the husbands they met through IMBs, Anastasia King of Kyrgyzstan and Susanna Blackwell of the Philippines, by passing state level regulations. Texas, Hawaii and Missouri followed suit. The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) of 2005 is the first piece of federal legislation and represents a strong step toward enabling the US government to protect the rights and safety of immigrant women who contract with IMBs. IMBRA enjoys strong bi-partisan support and would provide critical information to all women who come to the US on fiancée or spousal visas. Specifically, the bill would:
  • Prohibit IMBs from revealing the personal contact information of a foreign national client to US clients until the foreign client receives the marital and criminal background information on the US client and knowingly consents to having her personal contact information turned over.
  • Require IMBs to give foreign national clients information on the illegality of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, as well as information on the legal protections and services available to victims of such crimes. It would also require the State Department to distribute similar information to all women immigrating on a fiancée or spousal visa.
  • Prohibits U.S. citizens from applying for multiple foreign fiancée visas at a time.


  • The U.S. Congress should pass and implement the strongest possible protections for women arriving to the United States on fiancée or spousal visas. As the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) goes to Conference Committee, Conferees should be urged to support the greatest possible protections for battered women, trafficked women, and women and their children who are exploited and abused through the international marriage broker (aka, “mail-order bride”) industry. An indispensable element of the human rights protections needed for such women is to promote accountability of the IMB industry through regulation.

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