The Mail-Order Bride Phenomenon


Contrary to popular depiction in the media and amongst the populace of western countries, the idea of a ‘mail-order bride’ no longer exists in the classical sense; in the 18th and 19th Centuries, women such as the ‘casket girls’ of New Orleans were often ordered through catalogs or sent to colonies by their Governments to marry settlers and maintain the harmony and prosperity of the colony. [1] Nowadays, the term generally refers to women from developing countries that use introduction services such as Anastasia International ( HYPERLINK "" to meet and possibly marry men in first world countries. [2] The common misconception, at least with regard to women in the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union), is that they are coming to this country to escape political or economic turmoil in their own. [3] The following article will dispel the myth of the ‘mail-order bride’ and explain the legal concerns regarding safety and security for both men and women looking to meet someone internationally.


In America, we have “a huge population of working singles who have limited opportunities to go through some elaborate courtship”; this, in turn, has lead to the rise of Internet dating sites in the United States. [4] In Russia and throughout the CIS, many women have no opportunities due to the demographic reality of their countries. In Russia, there are eighty-eight women of marriageable age for every one hundred men; in Ukraine the rate is 87-to-100 and in Estonia and Latvia it is 85-to-100. [5] Culture plays another strong part in why women in Russia seek husbands elsewhere. Since the 10th Century, heavy drinking has been a fact of Russian life noted by many historians; nearly 20% of the male population would be considered alcohol ‘abusers’ by American standards with 5-10% consuming the equivalent of 100 grams of alcohol per day. [6] Needless to say, this kind of consumption equates to extremely high rates of domestic violence; a woman dies from domestic violence every 40 minutes in Russia and every day over 36,000 husbands and partners physically abuse the women in their lives. [7] These facts result in 14,000 women losing their lives to domestic violence per year in Russa compared to 1,200 in the United States which also has twice the population (144M versus 300M); Russian women are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by their partner than American women and 5 times more likely than women in Western European nations. [8]
Male chauvinism and infidelity are also problems. There is an old, Russian saying ‘chicken is not a bird; woman is not a human being’; this is the type of culturally ingrained sexism that Russian women deal with on a daily basis. [9] Moreover, according to the research of Professor David M. Buss of the University of Texas at Austin, with an excess of women to men, Russian men are confronted with less competition for the affection of their female counterparts and pursue short-term sexual strategies rather than seeking commitment. [10] This, in turn, stated Carel de Rooy of UNICEF, leads to a staggering Russian divorce rate of nearly 80%. [11] From all these statistics, the conclusion follows that while economic and political conditions in Russia and former soviet countries are bad, what women who seek husbands abroad are looking for is not a better financial situation but a chance at a stable life and a loving marriage – something that is easier to find in the United States, Western Europe, Canada, or Australia.


Despite the dilemmas facing Russian women, only .5% of the total number of single women in Russia signs up for marriage agencies (meaning signs up not actively searches – many still meet their partner domestically). [12] In addition to this, it is estimated that only 3-5% of women seeking foreign husbands complete their search and worldwide figures suggest only 4-6K marriages occur in this way per year in the United States. [13] Of the women who start their search and actively pursue it, most are over 25, have advanced degrees, and make a decent living compared to the average Russian woman; similarly, the majority of western men looking for foreign brides are also highly educated and have higher salaries with the average age being between 40 and 50. [14] Given this small and peculiar market and the immigration and abuse concerns of groups such as the Tahirih Justice Center ( HYPERLINK "", what is the government of the United States doing to protect individuals using International Dating Services?


There are two basic concerns with this industry – one for the men and one for the women. The men’s concern is being scammed by a woman (or fake woman) into sending money to another country or marrying someone only looking for a green card. [15] While U.S. Authorities vigorously prosecute green card scammers domestically, they can do little to stop fraud in foreign nations where the fact that only 1 in 20 men ever visits the foreign service’s nation pushes them to hire women to answer men’s letters and then pawn off the few men who do visit; in this regard, reputable agencies are left to their own devices and provide advice to their members and list known scammers (who show themselves by requesting money) at sites such as the Black List ( HYPERLINK "" [16]
The other concern is the health, safety, and welfare of women who choose to marry Americans and legally immigrate to the United States. [17] Responding to three well-publicized murders over the last ten years, Representative James Sensenbrenner [R-WI] introduced the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 that was nearly unanimously passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Bush on January 5, 2006. [18] The Act requires an introduction service to collect and disclose the following information before it may provide contact or general information on foreign women to American men:

Every state of residence of the man since the age of 18
His current or previous marriages as well as how and when they terminated
Information on children of his under 18
Any arrests or convictions related to controlled substances, alcohol or prostitution, making no distinction on arrests not leading to conviction
Any court orders, including temporary restraining orders
Any arrest or conviction for crimes ranging from “homicide” to “child neglect”
Any arrest or conviction for “similar activity in violation of Federal, State or local criminal law” [19]

In addition to these legal protections, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (which replaced the INS when the Department of Homeland Security was established) has a lengthy and involved process to procure a K-1 (fiancé) visa for entrance into the United States; this process includes a medical exam, personal interview, and a requirement that the American spouse make approximately $25K per year or more. [20]


Certainly, cross-border dating can be dangerous for women as shown by our Congress’ concern over foreigners’ safety and with human trafficking in women and girls becoming a serious problem currently being addressed by both national governments and private groups such as Vital Voices ( HYPERLINK "" However, international dating can also be dangerous for western romance seekers. Recently, an ABC News story detailed the plight of an Australian man who went to visit a woman he met on the Internet in the African Nation of Mali and was kidnapped and held for ransom. [21] While international dating can be dangerous, traditional dating and domestic Internet dating sites have their dangers as well. On the one hand, domestic Internet sites have the same problems with fraud or identity theft as international matchmakers but also hold the added risks of stalking and physical security/privacy violations due to site members being in close proximity to each other. [22] On the other hand, statistics compiled by the research of Clinical Psychologist and University of Arizona Professor Mary P. Koss now show that 1-in-4 women are the victims of sexual assault (date rape or attempted date rape) while attending college. [23] Considering these statistics, it now seems that foreign women have better protection from domestic violence than American women and that the law treats American men as abusers until proven innocent; at least one feminist, Wendy McElroy agrees, stating “contacting a woman for romantic purposes — internationally or domestically — is not a crime. Those who do so are not a priori criminals who must prove themselves innocent before being allowed an email exchange”. [24]
Despite the legal requirements to run an International Dating Agency, the industry continues to persist. As problems are solved and the forces of globalization shrink the world, reason dictates that this industry will continue to grow. While there are horror stories in this industry, there are also people finding real happiness; as with any new market, there are those who seek to exploit the situation – hurting lives and reputations in the process. However, for any well-meaning and honest entrepreneur, there is legitimate opportunity to make a profit and change lives for the better by providing a safe, reliable service, in line with government regulations, allowing people from different cultures who speak different languages to meet each other and maybe fall in love. In the end, we are all human – citizens of one world and one species. As this view takes hold and artificial boundaries between people disappear, the ability to expand one’s dating sphere from a single city or state to the entire world will become a valuable commodity and international dating, like domestic online dating, will become a more mainstream way to meet a romantic partner.

[1] New Advent, Diocesan History of New Orleans, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 2, 2007).
[2] Elena Petrova, How to Marry a Girl Like Me 5-6 ( 2006).
[3] The Economist, Pocket World in Figures 1 (Economist Books 2004).
[4] Christine Rosen, Romance in the Information Age, The New Atlantis, Winter 2004, available at HYPERLINK ""
[5] The Economist supra note 3.
[6] Martin McKee, Alcohol in Russia, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Mar. 1999, available at HYPERLINK ""
[7] Vital Voices Global Partnership, The Problem of Domestic Violence: Russia, United States and Across the Globe, HYPERLINK " fact sheet.Problem.10.05.pdf" fact sheet.Problem.10.05.pdf (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[8] Id.
[9] Emily Tall & Valentina Vlasikova, Let’s Talk about Life: An Integrated Approach to Russian Conversation, The Mod. Language J., Spring 1997, at 140, 141.
[10] David M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating 1 (Perseus Book Group 1995).
[11] The World Today: Gap Widens Between Rick and Poor in Russia (ABC Radio broadcast Jan. 18, 2005), available at HYPERLINK ""
[12] Petrova supra note 2, at 75.
[13] Maria Cantwell, U.S. Senator from Wash., Statement to the Foreign Relations Committee (July 13, 2004), available at HYPERLINK ""
[14] Petrova supra note 2 at 12.
[15], Marriage for a Green Card, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[16], HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[17] Wendy McElroy, Mail Order Bride Law Brands U.S. Men Abusers,, Jan. 11, 2006, HYPERLINK ""
[18], H.R. 3402 [109th]: Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[19] McElroy supra note 16; see also Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-162, 119 Stat. 2960 (codified in scattered sections of 42 U.S.C.)
[20], K1 Process Flowchart, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007); see also U.S Department of State, Spouse and Fiance(e) of an American Citizen, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[21] ABC News, SA Man ‘duped’ by Internet Dating, Brother says, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[22] M/Cyclopedia of New Media, Online Dating – Dangers, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[23] Laura Sneade, Date Rape: College’s Dirty Secret, 21st Century Student Voice, Apr. 1997, available at HYPERLINK ""; see also University of Arizona, Mary P. Koss Bio, HYPERLINK "" (last visited Nov. 12, 2007)
[24] McElroy supra note 16.