OECD Meeting Gives Clues on How to Manage (and Limit) Family Migration

By David North on November 20, 2013

Although I am sure it was not designed for this purpose, Monday's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conference on family migration showed that many progressive nations use a wide variety of techniques to discourage immigration-related marriage fraud — techniques routinely ignored in the United States.

The OECD has 34 member nations, 24 in Western Europe plus Australia, Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Turkey, and the United States. It is a club of the industrialized democracies organized to deal with policy formation and related research and is headquartered in Paris.

Monday's conference for immigration researchers and policy types in Washington was co-sponsored by USCIS. OECD has long had an interest in the management of international migration.

This session, like all international conferences on family migration, always contains a predictable ingredient — restrained incredulity on the part of the Europeans present on what a large portion of our nation's total immigrant flow consists of people admitted because they are someone's relatives, rather than because their skills are needed. The Europeans are always too polite to use the word nepotism.

The speakers generally agreed that something like two-thirds of America's primary immigrants were admitted because of family ties, as opposed to needed workers (and a relatively small number of refugees). The ratio for the European nations is about two-fifths relatives.

One articulate European delegate asked yesterday about the arrangement in the United States in which siblings of citizens are admitted as immigrants, because they are siblings, despite the fact that such provisions are just about unknown anywhere else in the world. He wondered what the rationale for such a policy could possibly be.

An American at the podium, not a federal employee, responded in fuzzy terms about our traditions and our high regard for immigration generally.

As the day went on it became evident that, because European nations have few provisions for immigrant admissions of relatives other than spouses (and related kids), a significant question was how those nations manage spousal migration. (There was also much discussion of the impact on families of immigration decisions, both those made by the migrants and by the receiving governments.)

There was also a dialogue on the substantial movements of young women as alien brides, going from poor nations in the Far East (e.g., Vietnam and China) to wealthier ones (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) and the use of some interesting management techniques in those countries. (Gender-wise, this movement is much more lopsided than immigration-related marriage in the United States, where about 60 percent of the migrants involved are women, whereas in the prosperous Asian countries it is more like 90 percent female and, according to one of the speakers, approaching 95 percent in Taiwan )

Here are some of the management techniques used by other OECD countries in connection with visa-creating marriages:

  1. Give a language test to the incoming spouse. In the UK, if the spouse fails, she cannot migrate; in France, those who fail must take French language courses once they arrive in France. In Vietnam, that government (apparently in an effort to thwart trafficking) demands that Vietnamese women about to become alien brides must have some rudimentary knowledge of the groom's language or they cannot leave the country.
  2. Provide language training to the new brides. One of the motivations for these training programs is that it ensures that the bride has a chance to get out of the house, and has a chance to talk to someone other than her spouse, and thus sets up a system for reporting marital abuse if it exists. Taiwan, for example, does this extensively and will even send a linguistic tutor to the home of an alien bride if she is without transportation and lives in a rural area, according to Professor Daniele Belanger of the University of Western Ontario, one of the speakers.
  3. Regulate the marriage brokers. Since many of these marriages in the Far East are arranged through middlemen, some nations regulate this process. In Taiwan, the brokerage agency must be a non-profit.
  4. Set minimum income standards for migrant marriages. One way to reduce the number of marriage-creating visas, and to avoid the importation of poverty, is to insist on a minimum annual income level for the couple and to increase that if children are involved. The government in the UK has done this recently, Tim Harrison, of the UK's Migration Advisory Council, reported to the conference. The new level is equivalent to US$29,946, and this has led to an increase — to 38 percent — in the level of rejections of immigration-marriage petitions, he said.
  5. Demand Home Office notification of certain visa-creating marriages. The Brits, alone I think, demand that marriage registrars give advance notice to the Home Office when certain marriages involving aliens are planned. This allows the immigration police to break up phony marriages before they happen. Currently there is a pending bill in Parliament (introduced by the government) that would extend the notification period. While this law-enforcement technique is often successful, sometimes it misfires, as this Guardian report on a genuine-love wedding indicates.

Over and above these management activities — none of which are used effectively in the United States — the British government has established a Forced Marriage Unit to try to prevent young women living in the UK, whose families are usually from the Indian subcontinent, from being pushed into marriages that they do not want, and that routinely produce a British visa for an older alien male from the same background. This was covered in a previous blog.