The concept of arranged marriages is almost as old as the institute of marriage itself. Various cultures around the world have at one time or another advocated the arrangement of marriage between two individuals through the medium of a match-maker or other third party. It is within the last century that the "mail-order bride" became a part of the American lexicon. Settlers were moving west, where traditionally men outnumbered the women in the population. Men would correspond with marriage-minded women "back East," become engaged and either marry their brides by proxy or marry immediately upon the bride's arrival to her new home. It is within the last twenty-five years that this practice revived, mainly in Asian nations 1. It is with the collapse of the Soviet Empire that a new market has opened up to Western men. There are many reasons that Russian women are seeking husbands, and why Western men seem to desire Russian wives.
A Russian woman's lot in life is not the easiest. Brutal economic conditions weigh down even the strongest of people. However, Russian women
|copyright Valerie Chittenden 2000. The Griboedeva Canal in St Petersburg|
The New Soviet Woman
Soviet propagandists have always highlighted the fact that 80% of its teachers and doctors are women. 8 Westerners are ignorant of the fact that in Russia these jobs are among the least prestigious. As a former teacher, the author earned 450,000 rubles a month in 1996 while a street sweeper (another position dominated by women) earned almost 1 million rubles a month. Employment and the government today still favors male workers even though they might be less qualified or reliable.9 As a result, women earn only 43% of men's salaries. 10 Due to this favoritism, women are more likely to be laid off; resulting in the fact that 75% of all unemployed in Russia are women.11 Russian women are forced to work full-time and then face the full-burden of domestic work at home. 12 Is it any wonder that Russian women see mail-order bride agencies as an opportunity to finally have a better life? With an American husband, Russian women not only gain the much-sought after goal of securing a husband but now also have the added bonus of an improved life.
"Bring me a ring for I am longing to be the envy of all I can see"
Another cause of the plethora of available Russian brides is that a major part of Russian culture for women is marriage. From the earliest times, marriage was seen as the most important point in a woman's life.13
|copyright Valerie Chittenden 2000|
|My 11th grade class in 1996 Note how the girls outnumber the boys- This is the norm rather than the exception.|
"…find me a find, catch me a catch."
Russian women want something better. A large number of Russian women prefer American men. "'Our [Russian] men treat women like objects…They drink, they smoke, they have bad hygiene and care only about themselves. These Americans don't smoke or drink. They really seem to want to settle down and take care of their family.'"17 But what about these "dream men"? What draws successful Western men towards mail-order bride agencies? The majority of men who participate in these services are white, educated, around 37 years old, and are ideologically conservative.18 These men are tired of "career-obsessed" women and see Russian women as less materialistic and more appreciative of men.19 Many men are just frustrated by the American dating scene. One potential groom describes his searches through bars, clubs coffee-houses, laundry mats and grocery stores with no success.20 Russian women are seen as ideal over other nationalities as they "'have a European face but the patience of an Asian.'"21 Russian women are seen as more feminine and more traditional; while Russian women see American men as more considerate, more ambitious, and less inclined to drunkenness.22 Western men see Russian women as more mature and usually more educated than their Asian counterparts. 23 From the author's own observations, Russian culture puts emphasis in women looking feminine and well-groomed at all times. Is it any wonder then that American men are attracted to the idea of finding an educated, good-looking wife who will appreciate the simpler things in life?
"Match-maker, Match maker, I'll bring the veil, you bring the groom, slender and pale."
The process for finding a mail-order bride can be relatively simple and accessible but not inexpensive. According to some sources, there are over 600 agencies on the internet that provide "introduction services" or match-making for the former Soviet Union.24 One website, (www.rwguide.com) offers some advice in choosing an agency. Its criteria include
"The Love Boat soon will be making another run. The Love Boat promises something for everyone. Set a course for adventure, your mind on a new romance..."
The next step of the process is trying to meet one's prospective choices. The majority agencies offer special "romance" or "love tours" to Russia. For about $3000 -$5000, a hopeful man can expect
|copyright Valerie Chittenden 2000
Innocent Toursists or Mail Order Bride and Groom?
"Yente: Did you think you'd get a prince? Well I do the best I can. With no money no dowry no family background, be glad you got a man!"
So once the champagne has been drunk and the rice tossed out, the newlyweds now must face the daunting task of building a marriage between two virtual strangers. Cultural differences alone can be frustrating. In one example, the new husband wanted his new bride to spend more time with his mother and learn to cook American food as he did not like her Russian cooking. 30 Most of these women speak very little English; making communication often difficult. Many of these Russian women also bring children from previous relationships into these marriages. On one hand, the new groom has an instant family. On the other, he now has to deal with a child or children who have now been uprooted from their country and also speak little English.
Both parties are in extremely vulnerable situations. Russian women are
now in a new country initially at the mercy of their husbands. Lack of knowledge
of immigration and local law leaves these women vulnerable to domestic
abuse. In one case, the wife was told that her husband would beat her or
her child if she did not obey his orders.31 They
were told that if they tried to complain, he would have them deported.
Thanks to recent legislation, this is not the case.32
below) Additionaly, the new groom is also exposed to risk-both
financially and emotionally. At the end of the courtship, most men will
have paid for several addresses or annual subscriptions, translation and/or
interpreting services, a tour and then all the expenses for the wedding
and bringing their new spouse to the US. When the author posted a request for satisfied
grooms on a bulletin board (Planet
Love), I received one reply detailing this man's heartbreaking experience.
He had met his bride and brought her to the US to marry her. Thirteen days
after the marriage, there was a "family emergency" in Russia and his wife
had to rush home (along with $700 from her husband and his $1800 engagement
ring). She never returned, and every time he called the phone was hung
up on him. After eighteen months, she contacted him again and begged for
forgiveness. He took her back and they remained together for almost two
years (which is coincidentally the minimum amount of time you must remain
married to an American in order to remove the conditionality of your visa33
when he returned home and found his wife gone. Another more sinister case
involves one Texan who is believed to have been murdered by his new Ukrainian
wife.34 She was called home for a family emergency
and he followed. There he died from "a fall" and his American children
suspect foul play. The case is still under investigation.
Traffic-The Sexual Trafficing of Russian women
Russsex-The Increase of Prostitution in Russia
Thaitour-Sex Tours to Thailand
Myansex-Trafficing of Burmese Women and Children into Thailand
Nepalsex-The Increase in Prositution in Nepal
Thaiaids-The Spread fo Aids in Thailand
Adopt-The Rising Trade in Chinese Adoptions
Environmental reasons to leave Russia
Komi-The Russian Artic Oil Spill
Mercury-Mercury Poisoning in Russia
Russair-Air Pollution in Russia
Sibnuke-Siberian Nuclear Waste
Ural-Nuclear Contamination of the Ural Mountains
"I Want to be in America..."
Despite all of the potential for disaster, thousands still proceed to look for and marry brides through mail-order bride agencies. You would think that finding a bride would be the most difficult aspect. Instead, it would appear that navigating the maze of INS regulations and procedure can often be more daunting (In fact, some agencies offer their own legal counsel). There are two methods of bringing a mail-order bride to the US. The first is simply marrying her and then applying for a "Petition for an Alien Relative"35. ( Please see this INS web site for more detailed information of the process ). Your bride then has to apply for an Immigrant Visa as well. However this is a conditional visa and the couple must remain together for at least 2 years before they can apply to have conditionality removed.36 The happy couple is then subject to whatever investigations the INS deems appropriate. The other method and the one that allows the potential new brides more freedom is the Fiance Visa. Under this regulation, the couple must marry in the US. The husband must file a petition with the INS. 37 (Click Here For Fiance Visa Info). The couple must have met in person at least once in the last two years before filing. The bride and her children may then travel to the US and has 90 days to marry. If the couple has not married in 90 days, then the bride (and any children) must return to their home. If she wishes to return to the US, she has to reapply for a completely new visa. The Fiancee Visa gives the couple the freedom to cancel at the last minute. If they decide they do not suit each other, then they can easily call things off without having to resort to a potentially messy or damaging divorce. This is not as unusual as it sounds. Some Russian brides have arrived in the US and changed their minds after spending more time with their fiance.38
Under this legislation, "each international matchmaking organization doing business in the United States"41 must provide information, in the prospective bride's native language of immigration and naturalization information, including the battered spouse waiver, the penalties of marriage fraud, and a warning of the unregulated nature of international matchmaking organizations.42 The penalty for organizations violating this regulation can be a fine up to $20,000.
Finally this legislation also required that the Attorney General and the INS compile a report examining the number of mail-order bride marriage, the extent of marriage fraud, the usage of the battered spouse waiver, the extent of abuse in mail-order marriages and the need for expanded regulation.
follow this link to read the INS report in its entirety.
Data for this industry is very difficult to obtain especially when dealing with companies that operate in different countries. The INS does not ask those applying for visas for fiances or spouses how they met.43 This industry is extremely unregulated. There are no central guidelines that determine how a matchmaking agency functions. There is no legislation that I could discover where agencies are obligated to publish the amount of “successful” matches or divorces. Only when agencies violate US immigration law or federal fraud legislation are they penalized. Marriage agencies that promote marriage for immigration purposes are strictly prohibited. Marriage agencies are obligated to provide immigration law information to their brides and the INS has provided this information to its consuls abroad for dissemination.44 The Violence Against Women Act has given mail-order brides the ability to flee abusive relationships without being deported. The report concludes with the statement that more monitoring is required and that the INS continue to gather data on mail-order marriages.
b. Geographic Site: East Europe
c. Geographic Impact: US
The biggest trend in the mail-order bride market has been the explosion of agencies that provide introductions to women in the former Soviet Union. According to the INS report, 51% of mail order agencies in 1998 were for women in the former Soviet Union. The INS performed a small survey on mail-order brides and found that of that group, 46% were from the former USSR. Therefore Soviet mail-order brides are appear to be dominating this industry.
a. Directly Related to Product: Yes, Brides
b. Indirectly Related to Product: No
c. Not Related to Product: No
Related to Process: Yes, Rights
The concept of the mail-order bride raises a holw host of issues regarding the definitions of love, marriage, modern femininity, women's rights and economics. Can two strangers really fall in love and make a lasting commitment based on correspondence and a few meetings- especially when all of this occurs through the medium of an interpreter? Romantic literature would say yes iterature would say yes especially with the medieval tradition of courtly love from afar. How viable is a marriage when one of the partner’s main desires is to flee poverty? Are American men just lonely or are these men looking for someone to dominate and assume conventional female roles? Is there something really wrong with American women? Are Russian women sincerely looking for love or for a provider to support them and their children- a provider that they will cause lasting emotional harm when they desert them as soon as INS regulations allow? Both parties leave themselves extremely vulnerable in this process. Yes, there are happy endings and glowing testimonials; but there are also the battered wives and abandoned men. Is the mail-order bride industry just exploiting the hopes and dreams of lonely people, or are they honestly concerned with compatibility and bringing two people together? The human heart can be fragile. It is difficult to reconcile abstract concepts such as desire for love and happiness with a monetary amount that can be set arbitrarily by agencies.
With the lack of regulation for mail-order bride agencies, there is little financial data available on the success of various agencies. However by looking at various agencies and using the INS data, I have performed some preliminary calculations. The most popular and supposedly cost-efficient method of finding ones spouse is to pay the annual subscription that allows the subscriber access to the agency’s entire catalogue of photos and addresses of prospective brides. The groom then corresponds with the women of his choice (usually through an interpreter, which incurs additional fees). The hopeful groom will then usually take part in a “Romance Tour” to either meet the woman of his choice or meet other prospective brides. In order to obtain a Fiancee Visa from the INS, the couple has to have met in person at least once in two years. This Romance Tour can meet that criteria.48
|Average Catalogue Subscription Price||Average Number of Catalogues Issued Annually49||Approximate Revenue From Catalogue Subscriptions|
|Approximate Number of Romance Tours in 200050||Average Number of Men on Each Trip51||Average Cost Per Person52||Approximate Total Revenue from Trips|
|56||40||$4000||$8.9 Million US|
The author made these calculations using information available. Again this does not include the costs for the bride’s airfare to the US, the cost of the wedding or translation costs. The amount this industry earns is not known persently but must be substantial juding by the success of these agencies.
1Robert Scholes, "Appendix A: The The Mail-Order Bride Industry and Its Impact on US Immigration," [report on-line]; available from www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/repsstudies/mobappa.htm; Internet; accessed March 3, 2000.
2Helen Goscilo,Dehexing Sex: Russian Womanhood During and After Glasnost,(Ann Arbor:The University of Michigan Press,1996), 10.
5Vitalina Koval, "Women and Work in Russia,"Women in Contemporary Russia, ed. V. Koval, (Providence:Berghan Books, 1995), 19.
10 Donna M. Hughes, "Commercial Use of the Internet for Sexual Exploitation,"Pimps and Predators on the Internet-Globalizing the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Children, Part 8 of 16, [database on line], (Coalition Against the Trafficking in Women, March 1999), Internet, available at http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/catw/ppcpt1.htm, accessed February 22, 2000.
13Natalia Pushkareva, Women in Russian History: From the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, trans. and ed. Eve Levin, (New York: M.E. Sharp, 1997), 29.
14Kevin Sullivan, "Blissful coexistence? US Men seek mail-order brides in Russia",The Washington Post, 24 May 1994, section A, page 1.
15"Russia," in the 1999 CIA Factbook, [Internet], available at http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rs.html , accessed March 15, 2000.
17Alessandra Stanley, "Video Valentines to Russia, Seeking Patient Brides," The New York Times,14 February 1997, sec A, page 3.
20Investigative Reports,"To Russia For Love: Mail Order Brides,"(New York: A&E Television Network, 1999).
23Investigative Reports, 1999.
32Elliot Grossman, "Immigrant Brides; Beware *New Law Tries to Warn Women Who Meet Men Through Ads There is a Potential For Abuse," The Morning Call, 10 August, 1997, Section B page 1.
33"How Do I Remove the Conditions on Permanent Residence Based on Marriage?"From The Immigration and Naturalization Web Site, (accessed March 31,2000)Internet,available at http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/howdoi/remCond.htm.
34Investigative Reports, 1999.
35" How do I Bring a Relative to Live in the United States," from the Immigration and Naturalization Web site, (accessed March 31, 2000) Internet, available at www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/howdoi/spouseliv.htm.
36>"How Do I Remove the Conditions on Permanent Residence Based on Marriage?"
37"How Do I Bring My Fiance to Live in the United States?" The Immigration and Naturalization Services Web Site,(accessed March 31, 2000) Internet, available at www.ins.doj.gov/graphics/howdoi/fiance.htm.
38Investigative Reports, 1999.
39"International Matchmaking Organizations: A Report to Congress," Immigration and Naturalization Web site,[report on line],(accessed March 3, 2000), available at www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/repsstudies/mobrept.htm.
40Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Sec. 652, (1996).
43"International Matchmaking Organizations: A Report to Congress,"
46"International Matchmaking Organizations: A Report to Congress,"
49How Do I Bring My Fiance to Live in the United States?"
50Investigative Reports, 1999.
51 The Russian Women Guide, 2000 Calender, (accessed March 29, 2000) Internet, available at www.rwguide.com/calender.htm.
52Investigative Reports, 1999.