As I have argued in a previous Huffington Post blog, people often have many misconceptions about the relationships that Americans cultivate abroad. I pointed out that calling women who meet American men through an international marriage agency or online site 'mail order brides' is incredibly problematic, and worked to dispel the notion that all women involved in this industry are victims of trafficking or domestic abuse. This blog is focused on further dispelling common notions surrounding international marriages based upon data provided to me by RapidVisa, a company that provides online processing for fiancé and spousal visa applications, as well as change of status applications for green card holders.
Based upon data from a sample of 10,000 visa clients, the assumption that the practice is a largely gendered phenomenon is true. Most fiancé and spousal visas filed through RapidVisa are filed by American men marrying a woman from abroad, which accounts for 84% of applications filed. In my own research on the romance tours that companies provide to men interested in more than just online correspondence, Ukraine was the most popular site. Tours were large, with 50 participants compared to 20 in the Philippines or 10 in Colombia. However, most visa applications through RapidVisa are filed from Asia (61%) in comparison to Europe (11.9%) and South America (7.3%), with a large percentage of applications coming from the Philippines.
Therefore, while most people imagine a Russian woman as the typical foreign bride, Filipinas actually dominate international marriages, accounting for 44% of all visa applications. The Philippines is very popular for American petitioners interested in a foreign spouse, since English is one of the major languages spoken there. In comparison, the second most popular country is China, which only accounts for approximately 4.5% of all applications. RapidVisa's data matches U.S.I.C.S. data on where fiancé and spousal visa applications are filed, with the Philippines providing the largest number of applicants. Despite Ukraine and Russia's popularity for romance tours, Ukraine only accounts for 1.84% of visas filed and Russia accounts for 1.76%. Prior to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began in 2014, both countries accounted for larger percentage of Visa applications.
Another common myth surrounding international marriages is that the Americans involved in the industry are much wealthier than the spouses they are marrying, particularly in the case of American men and women from other countries. However, the people that typically utilize RapidVisa services are more working and middle class than elite, with 50% of applicants earning between $15,000 and $55,000 annually. The average income for American petitioners is $56,013. However, over 8% of applicants earn under the federal poverty guideline for a two person household and many of these people must utilize a financial co-signer in order to sponsor spousal or fiancé visas. For retired sponsors that do not earn a steady income, their assets may be leveraged to meet the income guidelines. A typical K1 sponsor with no kids accompanying is required to make $16,020 according to federal requirements. Based on the confusion regarding income guidelines, RapidVisa has created a tool that potential sponsors can utilize to calculate their income requirements for free.
While the men I met participating in romance tours tended to be upper middle class and in white collar careers, significant numbers of American petitioners utilizing RapidVisa's filing services are drivers (trucks, uber, taxi) or retired. Surprisingly, nearly 2% of visa petitioners are unemployed, demonstrating that the international marriage industry does not necessarily cater to wealthy elites, or even upper middle class participants. Thus, many of our stereotypes regarding international relationships are wrong, especially when considering the economic situation of the majority of Americans filing petitions for spousal and fiancé visas.