International Marriage Brokerage Regulation Act (IMBRA)


This act is meant to protect fiancé(e) and marriage visa applicants from abuse at the hands of a green-card sponsor


A mother and child protected under IMBRA

What is IMBRA?

The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) was put in place to protect fiancé(e) and marriage-based green card applicants — particularly women and children — from abuse at the hands of the sponsoring spouse.

Applying for a marriage green card comes with some probing questions regarding the relationship between the sponsoring spouse and the spouse seeking a green card. The U.S. government needs to confirm that the relationship is real, and that you and your spouse did not get married solely for immigration purposes. Along with questions about important milestones in your relationship, the interviewing officer may also ask some sensitive questions to ensure the safety of the spouse seeking a green card, such as, “Was this relationship brokered?” or “Has your spouse or sponsor ever been physically or mentally abusive?” It’s important to know: these questions are not a reflection on either person individually, or the ethnic or racial background of either.

By the law of the United States, all marriage visa sponsors must undergo background checks and as do all U.S. citizens sponsoring someone through a marriage brokerage service, such as a mail order spouse.


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IMBRA History


Passed in 2005 after the death of two women on marriage green cards at the hands of their husbands, IMBRA seeks to protect those coming to the United States on marriage visas from abuse, and even murder. Immigrants and new Americans present unique vulnerabilities including language barriers, little to no support system, and a lack of awareness of the resources available to them should they become victims of abuse or violence. Additionally, those coming through a brokered relationship, like a mail order spouse, are without social support that others may have once in the United States.

IMBRA requires that the U.S. government provide information about legal rights, the possible criminal background of the U.S. citizen fiancé(e) or spouse, and how to access help if a relationship becomes abusive.

The Act seeks to protect people throughout the process of brokering a relationship. For instance, to protect children, international agencies seeking to connect people remotely, like marriage brokerages, may not provide any information – photo, content information, or other — about anyone younger than 18 years old to anyone in the United States.

Other key provisions of the Act include:

Mandatory Background Checks — The criminal history of the petitioner will be disclosed, regardless of personal preference.

Marriage Broker Disclosure — If a couple met through a broker, this must be disclosed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the broker does not meet standards, it may affect approval.

Note: If a couple met online, they must be prepared to answer questions about the website and their digital dating history.

Serial Petitions Prevention — A U.S. citizen can apply for two K-1 visas in their lifetime. This limit does not apply to spousal visas.

Rejection Due to Previous Violations — A history of certain violent or sexual crimes, such as murder, assault, sexual exploitation, and abuse, automatically disqualify a potential sponsor. Waivers can provide exemption from automatic disqualification, but are very hard to get.

Penalties for Misinformation —If an applicant or sponsor knowingly misrepresents their information, they could face a fine or imprisonment.

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Know Your Rights


Under all circumstances, child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault are illegal in the United States. This is not a state by state issue – all people are guaranteed protection from abuse under the law, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or immigration status. These protections are put in place both in civil and criminal law.

As part of IMBRA, USCIS is required to let people know of their rights and resources. One way in which they do so is by providing the pamphlet, “Information on the Legal Rights Available to immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence in the United States and Facts about Immigrants on a Marriage-Based Visa.”

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Other Protections


It may seem like the civil and criminal protections against domestic abuse and sexual assault are comprehensive, given the language that all people are protected from it. However, in the United States, 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence of some sort, compared to 1 in 4 men. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, a federal law which provides specific resources and protections to women, including immigrant women and women awaiting documentation who experience domestic violence. Under the Trump administration, the law was allowed to lapse in 2018. Bipartisan negotiations took place in 2019, and yet could not reach a consensus on approval. It is likely that under the Biden administration, the law will be revived and reinstated in some form — especially given that President Biden was one of the people who drafted the original legislation.

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