'Invisible' brides boost economy
Mail-order brides are those who register themselves in catalogues to be chosen by men for marriage. Since the mail-order bride industry forms an essential part of the informal economy in several underdeveloped and developing Asian economies, data misses the economic participation of Asian mail-order brides, making them "invisible" recruits in the process.
Data also shows how Asian brides, especially Filipinos, exist in much larger numbers, in comparison to their European and Latin American counterparts. Many mail-order brides also hail from Vietnam and Thailand. The Los Angeles Times reports that Asian brides seem to be given preference over others because of their "traditional values".
Large numbers of mail-order brides immigrate to the developed nations of the West that promise better living standards. Also, women outnumber men in countries like Nepal and Taiwan. Due to such sex-ratio imbalances, they are compelled to look for life partners elsewhere. Lastly, the criteria for meeting immigration standards in developed countries such as Canada demands one to possess advanced education and skills. To avoid this, certain Asian women have opted for the mail-order route instead, to successfully immigrate.
While most mail-order marriages take place in the United States, other popular destinations for mail-order brides include Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Except for the United States, no other country has laws that directly apply to mail-bride marriages.
Data shows that 4,000 to 5,000 new Americans arrive in the United States every year, employing the "mail-order bride" route. The United States formally recognises the existing mail-order bride industry in its 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
An Australian can bring a foreign bride into the country for marriage if they intend to get married within nine months of being granted the Prospective Marriage visa. The Prospective Marriage visa is, however, an expensive service starting from US$7,000 (245,000 baht), designed to keep a check on immigration flows.
As per Canada's new federal rules, if the foreign spouse's marriage fails to last two years in Canada, he or she may be deported back to the country of origin. This has been introduced to keep a check on illegal entrants since many have misused the mail-order system to side-step Canada's immigration process.
Mail-order marriages cannot be dismissed as an illegal practice within the United Kingdom since a British citizen can marry a woman of almost any other nationality, though it is not an easy process. Ever since Britain did away with the "primary purpose rule" to weed out fraudulent marriage claims by interviewing prospective entrants, immigration by spouses has witnessed a spike by 50%.
However, the status of Asian foreign brides as immigrants and their unfamiliarity with the culture and language of their partner's motherland places them at a disadvantage, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Regulations must, therefore, guarantee the foreign bride's access to family law and immigration lawyers to ensure protection in every step of the marriage and immigration process.
Further, regulations must also require mail-order bride agencies to provide information regarding the penalties surrounding marriage fraud.
This could help regulate immigration flows resulting from mail-order marriages within the participating countries.
Prarthana Sen is a member of the Indian Association for Asian and Pacific Studies and former researcher and regular contributor at Kolkata-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
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