INTERNET LAW - Does IMBRA Exclusively Regulate Online Dating Sites and Protect Online-Dating U.S. Citizen Brides?

Martha L. Arias, Immigration and Internet Law Attorney, Miami; IBLS Director
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The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) does not 'exclusively' regulate online dating sites (or online marriage brokers) and it is not intended to protect online-dating U.S. citizen brides. Indeed as its name suggests, IMBRA imposes law requirements on 'international marriage' brokers and intents to protect 'immigrant women' that may become victims of domestic abuse. As we stated in our 2007-article titled: Are Online Dating Sites Regulated by Federal Law?, there is no US Federal law specifically regulating online dating sites, yet. Laws specifically regulating online matching sites have been enacted at a state level.

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The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) does not 'exclusively' regulate online dating sites (or online marriage brokers) and it is not intended to protect online-dating U.S. citizen brides. Indeed as its name suggests, IMBRA imposes law requirements on 'international marriage' brokers and intents to protect 'immigrant women' that may become victims of domestic abuse.   As we stated in our 2007-article titled: Are Online Dating Sites Regulated by Federal Law?   (http://www.ibls.com/internet_law_news_portal_view.aspx?s=latestnews&id=1684), there is no US Federal law specifically regulating online dating sites, yet.  Laws specifically regulating online matching sites have been enacted at a state level. 

IMBRA is part of the U.S. Immigration laws (Title 8 to the U.S.C.) and was incorporated within the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2005 (VAWA), a public law introducing important protection for immigrants.  As found in its legislative history, U.S. Congress passed IMBRA to protect immigrant women who could become victims of domestic abuse.  IMBRA establishes specific requirements for both "international marriage" brokers who offer online dating/matching services and U.S. citizens petitioning fiancée visas.   Undoubtedly, IMBRA's rules affect online dating sites but its rules are not intended to exclusively regulate this e-commerce sector.

IMBRA's specific requirements for online "international marriage" brokers (IMBs) includes: (1) IMBs must check the U.S. National Sex Offender public registry and respective state public registry for each U.S. citizen client; (2) IMBs is required to gather mandatory criminal and family background of each U.S. citizen client.  This includes any criminal conviction, domestic abuse case, divorce history, number of children and age, states and countries where the U.S. citizen has resided since age 18, and previous fiancée visa petitions; (3)  IMBs are obliged to provide the above-mentioned information to the foreign client lady.  This information must be provided in the client lady's native language; (4) IMBs must have the client lady sign a written consent authorizing the IMB to release her personal information to the U.S. citizen client.  IMBs may incur civil and criminal penalties of up to $25,000 and up to 5 years in federal prison for each violation of IMBRA's requirements. 

To protect foreign women, clients of IMBs and potential immigrants to the U.S., IMBRA imposes certain requirements on U.S. citizen clients that want to apply for a fiancée visa.  This is the scenario: IMB foreign client lady and U.S. citizen client meet online thanks to the IMB's services.  U.S. citizen wants to apply for a fiancée visa for the benefit of the foreign lady so she can travel to the U.S. and marry the U.S. citizen.  Congress found that in some occasions, these women were subject to physical, mental, sexual, and/or domestic abuse.  Thus, IMBRA intending to protect these potential immigrant women imposed the following:

1. U.S. citizens applying for fiancée visas (K-1 visas), must provide information about their criminal convictions; specifically, those related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, etc, in form I-129 (K-1 application form).

2. U.S. citizens were limited in the number of fiancée visas they can request.  For instance, if the U.S. citizen has already filed 2 or more fiancée visa petitions and at least 1 of them was granted, he has to wait 2 years from the filing date of the last-approved visa petition to apply for another fiancée visa.   Some waivers apply to this rule.

3.  U.S. citizens ready to file their 3rd fiancée visa petition will be notified of and placed in a 'special visa petition database.'  This database was created to identify those who abuse the system. 

IMBRA also impose some requirements on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Consular Offices.  The DHS must publish a domestic violence pamphlet available in 14 languages.  The pamphlet contains information about domestic abuse and rights, marriage and visa fraud, and conditional residency requirements (foreign spouses must be married to their U.S. citizen spouse for at least 2 years before they obtain their permanent lawful residency).  Additionally, Consular offices must provide the foreign client lady with a copy of the fiancée visa application (form I-129) with the information on the U.S. citizen requested by the form.  The consular officer is also required to inquire on whether the relationship was facilitated by an IMB; if this is the case, the consular officer will assure that the IMB provided the foreign lady with information and documents about the U.S. citizen's background.  If this information was not provided, the consular officer may deny the fiancée visa.  

It is clear from the above summary that the main purpose of IMBRA was not to regulate online dating sites per-se.   Instead, IMBRA intented to protect foreign women who meet U.S. citizens though international marriage brokers or online dating sites and could become victims of domestic abuse once in the U.S. as beneficiaries of immigration petitions filed by the U.S. citizen. 

Martha L. Arias, Immigration and Internet Law Attorney, Miami; IBLS Director

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