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How IMBRA Protects Green Card Applicants From Sponsor Abuse

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September 27, 2022

Key Takeaways

Several protections are built into U.S. immigration law to shield immigration applicants from different kinds of abuse. For marriage green card applicants and fiancé visa applicants, the International Marriage Brokerage Regulation Act (IMBRA) serves as protection from abusive spouses who are sponsoring your application. This article discusses the history of IMBRA, its provisions, and how it may be helpful for your immigration application.

Table of Contents

What Is IMBRA?

IMBRA stands for International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005. This Act intends to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence from sponsoring spousal abuse. IMBRA was passed into law in 2005 after two women on foreign fiancé visas died from spousal abuse. Many new immigrants are especially vulnerable because of language barriers and a lack of a support system.

IMBRA requires the U.S. government to provide foreign nationals with information about their legal rights. The government must also share the possible criminal history of their U.S. citizen fiancé or spouse and how to get help if they face any abuse.

Key IMBRA Provisions

IMBRA has many key provisions, including:

  • Marriage broker disclosure: If a couple met through a marriage broker, they must tell U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The United States does not allow any brokers to give information about minors under 18 years of age. USCIS may not approve your visa petition if your broker does not meet their policy standards. Also, if you met your fiance online, you may have to answer additional questions about the site and your dating history.
  • Mandatory criminal background checks: The U.S. petitioner must undergo a criminal background information check. For K-1 or K-3 visas, USCIS will share information found about your spouse or fiancé while they process the I-129F petition.
  • Serial petitions prevention: A U.S. citizen can only sponsor two K-1 visas in their life. There must be at least two years between filing the last approved and the current petition. The limit does not apply to spousal visas.
  • Rejection due to previous violations: If your spouse has a criminal history of sexual or violent crimes, this will automatically disqualify them. These crimes could include sexual assault, child abuse, or multiple convictions related to controlled substances. There are waivers, but they are rare.
  • Penalties for misinformation: If you or your sponsor misrepresents any information, you could face a fine or imprisonment.
  • Information of legal rights: USCIS must inform people of their legal rights and resources. It provides an informational pamphlet on immigrant’s legal rights titled “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.” These rights include the right to obtain a protection order and seek divorce. Before your visa interview, the consular officer will summarize the information for you.

Child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault are illegal in the United States. Both civil and criminal law protects people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, race, or immigration status.

Obligations of International Marriage Brokers

International Marriage Brokers, or IMBs, are defined as organizations that charge fees for services or referrals that match people together. They match U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents with foreign nationals.

IMBRA bans IMBs from marketing children. They cannot share information about anyone under 18.

IMBRA also requires IMBs to disclose a U.S. client's criminal and marital history. Before the IMB provides your personal contact information to a U.S. client, they must get their criminal record. They also need to search sex offender registries for their name. They must provide this information and the pamphlet to you, the foreign national client, and obtain written consent before releasing any contact information.

Furthermore, IMBRA creates penalties for the misuse of information. Anyone who misuses information they got through IMBRA could face imprisonment or fines. It also creates penalties for anyone who violates other obligations under IMBRA.

Sections 833(d) and (e) of IMBRA regulate international marriage brokers (IMBs).

Does IMBRA Apply to Your Application Type?

IMBRA covers many kinds of immigration applications, including K-1 visas for fiancés of U.S. citizens, K-3 visas for spouses of U.S. citizens, IR-1/CR-1 immigrant visas for spouses of U.S. citizens, and F-2A immigrant visas for spouses of lawful permanent residents.

For K-1 nonimmigrant status, you, as the fiancé, must marry your U.S. citizen fiancé within 90 days of entering the United States. After marriage, you must file Form I-485 or Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You will then transition from K nonimmigrant status to a conditional permanent resident if approved. You will be a conditional permanent resident for two years. Afterward, if you remain married, you can become a full permanent resident.

For K-3 nonimmigrant status, you can enter the United States while waiting for the approval of Form I-130, a family-based visa petition. Afterward, you can get a green card, and you need to file Form I-485.

For all of these visas, IMBRA gives you the information and tools to protect yourself from violence from a sponsor during your process of applying for a visa. The U.S. government will provide you with a pamphlet about your rights. It will also inform you of your sponsor’s criminal background history.  If your fiancé or spouse has a history of violent crimes, they cannot repeatedly sponsor visas.


Knowing your rights when applying for a green card can be complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the green card application process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit, we may be able to refer you to an experienced immigration attorney to help. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!

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