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US paperwork problem delays marriage visas

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Recent changes to an application form for U.S. citizens to marry foreign nationals have delayed up to 10,000 visas. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attempted to make some changes to regulations that would give stronger protection to foreign-born brides and grooms, but several thousand visa applications have been held up due to a missed deadline.

The form change was required as part of a law, enacted in March, to protect foreign mail-order brides from abusive American spouses. The department said Tuesday it would send out additional forms to the visa seekers for more information that should satisfy the new law's protections.

Estimate are that approximately 15,000 foreign women annually meet their American husbands through for-profit marriage brokers, often over the internet. This represents a sharp rise from 1999, when an estimate by the former Immigration and Naturalization Services (now DHS) was released that 30,000 women came to the United States through a marriage broker during the previous five years.

Several high-profile stories of foreign women, usually from Eastern Europe and Asia, being abused or even murdered by their U.S. husbands resulted in Congress approving new protections in December, 2005 for mail-order brides. This included amending the application form for so-called 'fiancée visas' with two new questions: Was the romance arranged by an international marriage broker, and Had the U.S. citizen ever been accused of a violent crime or convicted of three or more alcohol- or drug-related crimes.

President Bush signed the law on 05 January, 2006. Homeland Security was given the responsibility of drawing up the new paperwork. The forms were not finished by 06 March, when the law took effect. The result was that the department put all fiancée visa applications written on the old forms on hold that were received after that date.

About 10,000 applications are currently being held because they did not address the criminal or marriage broker issues.

Chris Bentley, a Homeland Security spokesman works for the department's Citizenship and Immigration Services. "They did not have all of the information needed to determine whether someone qualified or not." Homeland Security said it would send additional forms all the affected couples to get answers to the questions about criminal pasts and marriage brokers, but they are still waiting for the White House Office of Management and Budget for approval of those forms and the new application.

The new applications were approved in an emergency clearance process, but it is not clear when the new applications would actually be distributed to the public.


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