Western companies are making millions in a booming mail-order bride and “romance tour” industry that not only degrades women but also exposes many to domestic abuse. Mail- order bride companies feature women from Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America in catalogues and on Web sites. Many of the women are portrayed as “traditional, family-oriented” and “untainted by Western feminism,” said a recent Washington Post article.
Men pay up to $5,000 for “romance tours” through Russia that include socials, where women typically outnumber the men 5 to 1.
Men who have found a bride through the services can petition the INS for a visa that allows the fiancee to stay in the United States for 90 days. If the couple is not married at the end of the 90 days, the woman must return home. Although the U.S. Congress passed a 1996 bill that requires the agencies to inform the women about marriage fraud, legal residency and domestic violence or face a $20,000 fine, many of the women find themselves with an abusive partner.
Gillian Caldwell, co-director of Global Survival Network, studied trafficking of Russian women to the United States. Caldwell said, “These women are invisible unless some lunatic walks into a courthouse and shoots his mail-order wife.” In 1995, a man shot and murdered his wife, whom he met through a mail-order agency, in a Seattle courtroom.
The INS passed a rule in 1996 that allows women to file for residency on their own if they find themselves in an abusive relationship. However, foreign language barriers and ignorance of U.S. law deters many women from filing.
Leslye Orloff, program development director at Ayuda, a nonprofit legal service for immigrants, said that refugee advocacy groups want to require Americans to provide information on criminal records or any protective orders that may have been issued against them before seeking a mail-order bride.