More on Migration, Marriage, and Money

By David North on October 4, 2010

Just about the quickest way to secure a permanent visa in another nation is to marry someone who lives there.

You do not have to have a good education, or marketable skills, or be persecuted; all you need is a willing marriage partner. Money often helps.

Lots of people come to the U.S. this way. In fiscal year 2009, according to the 2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Table 7) there were 1,130,818 newly arrived or adjusted immigrants, nearly a third of whom were either spouses of citizens or permanent residents, or children of those spouses. (Immigration-creating visas are not confined to first marriages.)

Of the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, a somewhat broader category than spouses of citizens, 60 percent of them were women in that year.

With these numbers in mind, let's turn to three immigration/marriage items that popped up recently.

Protecting Foreign Brides or Korea's Ethnic Purity? South Korea has just adopted a new policy that would appear to discourage the issuance of marriage-created visas for immigration to Korea.

The program was introduced, according to local news reports, following the widely-publicized "murder of a 20-year-old Vietnamese woman in early July by her mentally-ill 47-year-old Korean husband just eight days after her arrival in Korea."

The new rule, effective October 6, says that a Korean male wanting a visa to bring in a non-Korean wife will have to attend a four-hour training session before the visa is issued. There is enough demand for these visas that Korean authorities are putting on these briefing sessions every Wednesday at 14 different locations around the country.

The news story said the training "will extensively cover issues regarding interracial marriage, including legal affairs and prepare them for possible disadvantages,' a justice ministry official told The Korea Times." If the Korean male has a criminal record, that will lead to further complications.

Whether or not Korean women wanting to import non-Korean husbands have to go through the same process was not mentioned.

If the Korean Government's motivation is to protect the powerless foreign brides, the decision is either a bit puzzling or quite praiseworthy. I usually view most governmental policy as being focused on the needs and the wants of the powerful; if so, the South Korean ruling seems to be out of step with that pattern. Those going to the mandatory training, the South Korean men, are males, are voters, and are thus solidly part of the local establishment; the women who would appear to be beneficiaries, and who have no similar training obligations, are not only not voters, they are not yet even residents of the nation.

If, on the other hand, the real motivation of the Korean government is a desire to preserve the ethnic purity of the country, the development is, sadly, easier to understand. Note the references to "interracial marriages" and to "possible disadvantages" mentioned above.

Attractions of Foreign Spouses in Asia. Earlier this year, Agence France Presse ran a thoughtful story about this general subject, with the following lead sentence: "Asian men from rich countries such as Japan and South Korea are increasingly seeking brides from poorer ones like Vietnam and the Philippines – as economically liberated local women get picky."

It went on to say that "it is mainly the less marketable men in the richer countries who look abroad for a wife when they can't find one at home. The story is repeated in Singapore – Southeast Asia's wealthiest society – Hong Kong and Taiwan, and often involves marriage brokers. Marriages between Japanese men and foreign women shot up 73 percent between 1995 and 2006, to 35,993, according to the latest government survey. Most of the women were Filipinas, followed by Chinese."

So here is a situation in which the usual Asian male dominance is accentuated by the fact that the new wife is out of her element, and perhaps not speaking the language of her new home. That factor may have played a role in the recent South Korean ruling.

While some, perhaps many, marriages between U.S. males and non-U.S. women may be within the same pattern, there is also another migration pattern in the U.S., that of fraudulent marriages.

Rewards for Being a Fraudulent Spouse. Recently, back in the U.S., ICE announced the break-up of a large marriage-fraud ring that involved the contrived weddings of residents of Cambodia to U.S. citizens from Kentucky and Southern Indiana. The ring was so active, and so successful, at least initially, that the latest ICE press release deals with the third grand jury action in a row in the case, and involves the indictments of 25 people, some with names like Chin, Chea, and Chum, and others named Hibbard, Mudd, and Ward. Both men and women, from both countries, were indicted.

The reason the Chin-Chea-Chum people were involved related to a desire for an immigrant visa, or to profit from people wanting such visas. The rewards to those with the Anglo names were cash – as much as $15,000 per "marriage," as well as free manicures in the U.S. (a nail salon was the ring's headquarters), vacations in Cambodia (where most of the "weddings" took place), and sex.

The sex was, apparently, not between the people who had the fraudulent weddings – it was with prostitutes in Cambodia. Or as the indictment put it, ponderously, "It was further part of the conspiracy that while in Cambodia, the participating United States citizens were taken to restaurants, markets, beaches, tourist attractions, nightclubs and brothels."

The indictment included a long list of specific alliances designed to produce visas, and most of the individual stories usually ended with a divorce. Some of the stories, however, told of "weddings" that never produced an immigrant, some Cambodians either lost their nerve or did not have enough cash to complete the transactions. Readers who subscribe to PACER, the U.S. courts' data system, can see the full 49-page indictment here.

There are two broad types of fraudulent marriages: in one, like those just described, both parties are aware that it is a sham marriage. They are defrauding the state, but they are not defrauding each other. There is a kind of rough if illicit equity here: one party gets the green card and the other gets the cash.

In the other type, the alien cons his or her American partner. The American believes it is a love match, and the alien knows it is not. These sad arrangements are, by definition, one-on-one events and are not subject to the kind of organized conspiracy ICE broke up in Kentucky.

An angry U.S. partner can, of course, go to the law, but the result, at the most, would be, that the alien schemer would lose his or her green card and perhaps be deported. Unlike the Kentucky-Cambodia ring, the second type of fraud is not a very rewarding field for criminal investigators so we do not hear about it very often.