The International Marriage Broker Act of 2005, IMBRA has been a bogey on the horizon for men and women in long distance relationships who met online at dating websites. This hasn't been a problem for the websites or their clients UP TO RECENTLY, as the IMBRA laws been only partially enforced. However USCIS has been gradually implementing inch by inch some of the procedures as mandated by IMBRA and has taken major actions in 2015 and 2016 to now require couples to identify the websites they used, and provide evidence that the website was exempt from or strictly followed the IMBRA regulations..
The law puts draconian restrictions on how an American is allowed to meet his partner when using an online dating service. Basically every dating service, regardless of where located in the world, is supposed to comply with this regulation if they have American clients. To follow the act's regulations, the dating service must obtain written, and detailed consent from the foreign born person, before ANY form of direct communication with the American is possible.
This confusing act requires the American to provide confidential information about himself to the website. The foreign born "potential date" then views the confidential information, after translation to her/his native language, and finally must sign and date a document, with all this information, if agreeing to allow communications to begin.
When this onerous law came out in 2005 some companies like mine, HeartofAsiaonline.com converted our websites to fully comply with the law. This meant that clients from US and overseas found many more hoops to jump through in order to join our membership and meet their foreign loves. By following the law, my company HeartofAsiaonline.com lost $ thousands each month, as clients gravitated to websites with easier registration and contact processes.
Many other companies abandoned the business altogether. And many companies and businesses especially ALL non-US based services decided to ignore the law. Ignoring the law has paid off for companies such as Cherry Blossoms, Filipino Cupid and so on. For the past 9 years they have continued to collect good US dollars while scoffing at the IMBRA regulations.
Up to now this hasn't been a problem for them or their clients, as the IMBRA laws have not been fully enforced. However USCIS has been gradually implementing inch by inch some of the procedures as mandated by IMBRA.
A BIG CHANGE starting in 2015
The most recent turn of events has been implemented three months ago. Now each time a fiance visa petition is submitted to USCIS and the couple confirms they met at a online dating website USCIS has been stopping processing on their case and sending the following request for evidence (RFE) to the couple.
The evidence in the file reflects that you met the beneficiary through the services of an International Marriage Broker (IMB). You stated you met the beneficiary through xxxxxxx dot com. This website is considered to be an International Marriage Broker as it is a business that charges fees for providing, dating, matrimonial, matchmaking services. or social referrals between United States citizens and foreign nationals. Therefore, you are required to submit a copy of the signed written consent form that the International Marriage Broker obtained from the beneficiary, authorizing the release of her personal contact information to you.
The decision of whether to approve or deny your petition will be based upon the type(s) of evidence submitted and its credibility.
This is quite a problem when the majority of websites have ignored the law. And now the couple (not the website) are in trouble for not complying with IMBRA.
I have helped couples draft various answers to these requests. Sometimes we have a consent form, sometimes we deny the website is an International Marriage Broker, sometimes we just say now we know it was an IMB, but did not follow the rules, and therefore no consent form every existed..
So far of the couples I have worked with, none yet, have had their petitions denied due to using a non-compliant dating service. I believe it is just a matter of time till USCIS takes the next logical step and denies the visa applications of those who violated US law by using websites that violated IMBRA.
I suggest any couple who has met at a dating website should confirm with the administrator of that website whether IMBRA rules were followed or not and if followed obtain written proof.
And of course for any American now going online to find his partner from overseas I strongly suggest you only join dating services that are IMBRA compliant.
By Fred Wahl