Countries That Send Us Suspiciously Large Numbers of Fiancé Visa Holders

By David North on July 18, 2018

Immigration/marriage fraud is not a major demographic force — but unlike most other forms of illegal immigration it creates huge problems for a number of specific citizens, usually lonesome middle-aged or older men.

We now have some indirect new data on the nations of origin of those creating this problem.

The kind of fraud I am describing happens — sometimes — when the citizen (usually a male) causes the creation of a K-1 fiancé visa to bring a (usually young) woman to the United States; they get married and she immediately turns around and says that he has been abusing her, which leads to a green card for the alien and a lot of grief for citizen, particularly if he tries to fight the situation. In some cases, I am sure, the citizen really abuses the alien. In other cases, the self-petitioner has arrived using another visa.

The logic of why marital abuse — which should, of course, be punished by the courts — creates an immigration opportunity is a mystery to me, but this is how the system works, as we have reported in the past.

The unfortunate byproduct of this system, in many cases, is a filing by the alien who has married a citizen or a green card holder, claiming abuse. This application for a green card is called a "self petition" since she (sometimes he) has no one in the United States to file for her. Because these are filed within the immediate relative category of family migrants, there is no numerical ceiling and no waiting for those aliens marrying citizens.

As is so often the case in the American immigration system, a given nation or nations dominates the practice, just as Chinese dominate in EB-5 (immigrant investor) and student visas, as Indians do in H-1B, as Mexicans do in H-2A and H-2B, and as three Central American nations do among those entering without inspection. In this case, but by a smaller margin, the leading nation in terms of numbers is the Philippines, with a strong supporting role for Laos.

While we are waiting for specific information, which we have requested from DHS, on the nations of origin among the self-petitioners, there is now available data on the distribution of those seeking K-1 visas, a useful proxy; those who arrive on this visa are often among those who file the self-petitions later and, of course, many on that visa go on to have decent marriages. So the questions are: How many K-1 visas come from various nations of origin? And do some nations have much larger proportions of their total visa flow in the K-1 category than others?

We now turn to some State Department data on the issuances of the K-1 visa in FY 2017. In that year, the department granted 9,681,913 nonimmigrant visas, but only 34,797 were for fiancés, or 0.36 percent. The table that follows lists the 16 nations whose nationals used 500 or more K-1 visas.

The Leading Sources of Fiancé (K-1) Visa Holders, FY 2017

Nation Number of K-1 Visas K-1 Visas as Pct. of
All Visas Issued in the Nation
Philippines 6,913 2.94%
Vietnam 2,003 1.56%
Mexico 1,657 0.12%
Dominican Republic 1,563 0.76%
Great Britain 1,214 1.19%1
China 957 0.06%
Columbia 909 0.26%
Haiti 878 2.76%
Brazil 860 0.15%
Canada 855 10.53%2
Ukraine 752 1.06%
India 749 0.07%
Nigeria 685 0.41%
Thailand 629 1.00%
Russia 575 0.28%
Laos 507 18.80%3
Rest of World 13,091 0.38%
Total 34,797 0.36%

Source: Calculated from data from the Visa Office, U.S. Department of State.
1 The percentage shown for Great Britain is overstated because it is a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) nation; Canada is the only other nation on the list with a similar arrangement.
2 Since the overwhelming majority of Canadians do not need visas to come to the United States, the percentage is not comparable to the others on the list.
3 See text.

The Case of Laos. Laos stands out like the proverbial sore thumb in the table. There were very few visas of any kind (all of 2,697) issued there in FY 2017, and of these an astounding portion (18.80 percent) were issued to fiancés. Since the world-wide incidence of these visas is only 0.36 percent of the flow, this means that this little country's proportion of K-1 visas was 52 times the norm. What's going on here?

As we reported before, the Laos situation is the reverse of the typical pattern in the United States; it is clearly the aliens — not the U.S. citizens or green card carriers — who are the victims.

Elderly Hmong males, born in Laos but now resident in the States, apparently are using the K-1 visas to recruit young wives from Laos to replace the elderly Hmong women that they have been married to for decades, sometimes without bothering to get a divorce. The Hmong are a traditional population that was a mistreated minority in Laos; so they allied themselves first with the French, and then with the U.S. military. When we lost the war there, they were in serious trouble and we admitted hundreds of thousands of them as refugees. They did not thrive here like the Vietnamese, and they remain a low-income population, but not so low that some of the elderly males, now on Social Security, cannot make their own use of the K-1 visas.

A Concentrated Problem. Setting aside the situation in Laos, the table shows three other nations as major disproportionate users of K-1 visas: the Philippines, Haiti, and Vietnam, all of which are using four to nine times the normal ratio of these visas; and Ukraine and Thailand, where these visa issuances are more than 2.5 times the norm. Both the Departments of State and Homeland Security should take special precautions — and probably do — when handling K-1 visa applications from these nations, warning both the citizens and the aliens involved about the problems that so often accompany K-1-visa-related marriages.

Similarly, immigration enforcement agencies should be paying attention to at least some of the middleman entities dealing in foreign brides; we noted the unreal claims (more than "99.7% success rates") of one such agency in a recent posting.

Further, the United States should take a leaf from Canada and mount a major educational program warning our residents about the dangers of international marriages, particularly those involving fiancé visas. For example, see this bilingual (English and French) video produced by Immigration Canada on the subject.

Finally, DHS should take a good look at its own records on the self-petitioning spouses to see what patterns exist, and compare those patterns to those of all immigrant spouses. Where significant differences in patterns appear, they should be both publicized generally, and used internally in the adjudication of K-1 petitions.

Perhaps a Diminishing Problem. There are statistical indications that while the immigration/marriage fraud problem remains deadly serious, the numbers may be shrinking. Using two different DHS data sets, measuring two different but related variables, we have the following numbers, which would seem to indicate a downward movement.

The first set of numbers below relates to the start of the process, which sometimes goes wrong; these are the approvals of K-1 papers by DHS. The second set shows the outcome of an all-too-large minority of these cases, when the alien spouse secures a self-petitioning green card. The data were calculated from Table 7 of the Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics.

  FY 2014 FY 2015 2016 FY 2017 FY 2018
DHS Approvals of K-1's 43,563 50,648 47,898 32,998 22,832
Self-Petitioning Spouse Grants of Green Cards 7,293 5,441 4,498 n/a n/a

The reader will notice that, at least in the years 2015 and 2016, there was about one self-petitioning spouse admitted for every 10 K-1 approvals (as opposed to about one in six in 2014). It will be interesting to see as more information becomes available if the downward trend continues, and if the one-in-10 ratio is confirmed.