International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005:

Agencies Have Implemented Some, but Not All of the Act's Requirements

GAO-08-862: Published: Aug 8, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2008.

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The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) was enacted to address issues of domestic violence and abuse against noncitizens (beneficiaries) married or engaged to U.S. citizens (petitioners) who have petitioned for them to immigrate to the U.S., including those who met through an international marriage broker (IMB). IMBRA mandated that GAO study the act's impact on the visa process for noncitizen spouses and fiance(e)s. This report addresses the extent to which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Department of State (DOS); and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have implemented IMBRA, and the extent to which USCIS and DOS have collected and maintained data for this GAO report as required by IMBRA. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed the act and related legislation, analyzed IMBRA implementation guidance and available data on applications filed, and interviewed officials at USCIS, DOS, and DOJ.

USCIS, DOS, and DOJ have implemented two of seven key IMBRA requirements identified by GAO, but five key provisions intended to provide beneficiaries with information about the petitioners seeking to bring them to the United States have yet to be completed. First, although IMBRA requires DOS to mail a copy of the approved petition to each beneficiary, the agency is not currently fulfilling this requirement. Second, IMBRA limits the number of petitions a person may file for a noncitizen fiance(e) unless USCIS grants a waiver of the filing limits. However, USCIS officials told GAO that they do not check all petitioners against records to determine if a petitioner has previously filed a fiance(e) petition. USCIS adjudicators are required to check the record if the petitioner self-attests that he or she has previously filed a petition. By limiting its checks to those petitioners who acknowledge prior filings, USCIS increases the risk that it will approve more fiance(e) petitions than allowed under IMBRA. Third, IMBRA mandates that after two approved petitions, upon filing of a third petition within 10 years of the first, USCIS is to notify both the petitioner and beneficiary of previously approved petitions filed by the petitioner. USCIS officials told GAO that they no longer try to notify beneficiaries because of the difficulty in obtaining accurate overseas mailing addresses. Thus, beneficiaries are left without all required information for making a decision about the person petitioning on his or her behalf. USCIS officials told GAO that they plan to ask DOS to notify beneficiaries during their visa interview with a DOS consular officer. Fourth, the requirement to provide beneficiaries with a pamphlet that discusses the visa application process and available resources if the beneficiary encounters domestic violence or abuse is not being met. USCIS has drafted the pamphlet, but has not established time frames for finalizing the pamphlet. Until the pamphlet is finalized, translated, and distributed, USCIS increases the risk that beneficiaries are not being made aware of their rights or the resources that are available should they encounter domestic violence. Lastly, IMBRA establishes federal criminal and civil penalties for IMBs who violate its provisions. Although DOJ has drafted IMBRA-related regulations regarding how civil penalties would be administered, these regulations cannot be finalized until DOJ, USCIS, and DOS decide which agencies will be responsible for investigating, referring, and prosecuting potential IMBRA violations. Until the agencies resolve these issues and establish an enforcement framework, it will be difficult for IMBRA violators to be penalized. USCIS is collecting and maintaining some of the data for this report as required by IMBRA; however, most of the data are not in a summary or reportable form and other required data have not been collected. For example, GAO could not determine the extent to which petitioners with a criminal history or history of violence have filed petitions because USCIS does not capture this data electronically. USCIS officials told GAO that they are considering modifying their data management system to collect data that is currently not being collected. However, no decisions have been made.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve implementation of IMBRA and to help ensure that beneficiaries receive all IMBRA-required information, the Director, USCIS should develop a timeframe for finalizing the information pamphlet so that it can be translated and distributed as required by IMBRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2008, we reviewed and reported on actions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have taken to implement selected requirements of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) of 2005. We reported, among other things, that USCIS had not finalized an information pamphlet for K non-immigrant visa applicants, including non-citizen fiances, that is to discuss the visa application process, domestic violence and sexual assault services, and beneficiary legal rights and resources among other things. The pamphlet was to be completed and available for distribution 120 days after enactment of IMBRA which would have been May 2006. We recommended that USCIS develop timeframes for completion of the pamphlet. On February 27, 2009 USCIS provided us with a timeline for finalizing the information pamphlet. As of February 2009, the pamphlet was being reviewed within DHS. The timeline calls for DHS to complete its review by June 2009 and beginning in July 2009 for the Department of State to begin to translate the pamphlet into the required languages. USCIS plans to release the finalized pamphlet in September 2009.

    Recommendation: To improve implementation of IMBRA and to help ensure that beneficiaries receive all IMBRA-required information, the Director, USCIS should develop a mechanism, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to implement the IMBRA requirement that beneficiaries be notified regarding the number of previously approved petitions filed by the petitioner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal year 2008, we reviewed and reported on actions the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have taken to implement selected requirements of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) of 2005. IMBRA was enacted to address issues of domestic violence and abuse against noncitizens (beneficiaries) married or engaged to U.S. citizens (petitioners)who have petitioned for them to immigrate to the U.S., including those who met through an international marriage broker. We reported, among other things, that USCIS and DOS did not have procedures in place to ensure that beneficiaries were notified during visa interviews of any previous filings by petitioners, leaving beneficiaries without all required information (previous filings being one piece of information) for making a decision about the person petitioning on his or her behalf. On October 31, 2008 the Department of State issued guidance to its consular officers to notify beneficiaries during the visa interview of previously approved Form I-129F petitions filed by the petitioner. The guidance is contained in 9FAM 41.81 PN3.4 of State's Foreign Affairs Manual.

    Recommendation: To improve implementation of IMBRA and to help ensure that beneficiaries receive all IMBRA-required information, the Director, USCIS should develop a mechanism to check all petitioners for prior filings to determine if a petitioner exceeds the filing limits established by IMBRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) was enacted to address issues of domestic violence and abuse against noncitizens (beneficiaries) married or engaged to U.S. citizens (petitioners) who have petitioned for them to immigrate to the United States, including those who met through an international marriage broker (IMB). To address these issues, IMBRA, among other things, limits how many times a person may petition for a noncitizen fiance(e ). In August 2008, we reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not have a mechanism in place to check all petitioners for prior filings to determine if a petitioner exceeded the filing limits established by IMBRA (GAO-08-862). Thus, we recommended that USCIS develop a mechanism to check for petitioner prior filings. In March 2012, in response to our recommendation, USCIS deployed an update to its Computer Linked Application Management System (CLAIMS), to include IMBRA-related queries that would allow adjudicators to check CLAIMS for any prior filings made by a petitioner and determine if a petitioner exceeded the filing limits established by IMBRA.

    Recommendation: In order to help ensure that penalties can be imposed on IMBRA violators as provided for in the law, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, develop a framework for the investigation, referral, and prosecution of potential IMB violations of IMBRA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of July 2012, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Policy stated that the department has not taken action, in consultation with the Department of State and the Department of Justice, to develop a framework for addressing potential international marriage broker violations of the International Marriage Brokers Regulation Act of 2005. Office of Policy officials could not provide GAO with a time frame during which the department might take action on this recommendation. Therefore, GAO is closing this recommendation.

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