Are proxy ‘Skype weddings’, which allow immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship a cause for concern or just a sign of the technological age?
Skype weddings are enabling immigrants to legally gain American citizenship after exchanging vows online from opposite ends of the globe, the Daily Mail revealed this week.
Some fear that proxy online marriages, which allow a couple to wed in the absence of one or both spouses, could help facilitate sham marriage scams, as well as see an increase in the number of sex trafficking victims.
Immigration authorities are yet to provide any additional inspections to ensure video chat marriages are not misused.
U.S. states which allow webcam proxy marriages include: Colorado, Texas, Montana, Alabama, Missouri, and California. In all other American states, the process is illegal unless one partner is in the U.S. military.
In other countries such as India, England, and Israel, proxy marriages via Skype are legally-binding. Because the U.S. recognizes a legal overseas wedding between an American and their foreign fiancé, many are saying ‘I do’ via Skype and registering the wedding on foreign soil so that the marriage is considered legal.
Punam Chowdhury, an American citizen, married her Bangladesh-based fiancé, Tanvir Ahmmed, via Skype last month from a mosque in Jackson Heights, Queens, according to The New York Times.
In order for the wedding to be recognized in the U.S., their Indian marriage certificate simply states it ‘took place’ in Bangladesh, where it was legally registered, instead of New York, where the practice is illegal.
Hypothetically, if Miss Chowdhury was a Californian resident who wanted to live in California with her new husband, the proxy marriage would have been able to be legally registered in California.
George Andrews, the operations manager for North Carolina company, Proxy Marriage Now, helps to facilitate online global unions – the first step in attaining a U.S. visa or U.S. citizenship for a spouse, he told the New York Times.
His company performs approximately 500 video chat weddings per year, with 60per cent of those marriages not involving a military spouse.
But as this seemingly innocent convenience becomes more widespread, with a lack of red-tape in many countries, it has raised concerns by officials, and even those who conduct or arrange these ceremonies.
A. Uddin, a community activist from Queens, said she stopped helping others officiate proxy weddings after several deceitful foreigners had blindsided lonely Americans to obtain a green card, rather than a partnership.
All people using marriage to apply for American citizenship are first interviewed by Homeland Security or State Department officials, in case of fraud, or even human trafficking.
Even though officials ask newlyweds the details of their wedding during immigration interviews, they generally do not seek specifics on whether it occurred via Skype, which if revealed, would raise a ‘red-flag,’ they said.
Adam Candeub, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law who has studied proxy marriage, said: ‘Part of the reason for having the two people come and appear before a priest or a judge is to make sure it is a freely chosen thing.
‘There are some problems with willy-nilly allowing anyone around the world to marry.’
Some cases involving proxy marriages have enabled vulnerable women to be brought to the U.S., who then find themselves threatened into sex work by traffickers.
Archi Pyati, the deputy director of the Immigration Intervention Project at the Sanctuary for Families, said he has helped many women from West Africa who were married by proxy without their consent, or as children.
However some couples, worried about leaving loved ones without benefits, say the technologically-advanced custom can be helpful.
British-born Sean Murtagh, 24, and Australian Natalie Mead, 30, said ‘I do’ using Skype in 2011, after Volcanic ash in Iceland thwarted plans for their London wedding.
Skype allowed the wedding to be broadcast to family and friends in London – where the marriage was registered.
American’s Samuel Kim and Helen Oh, both 27, also married via Skype in 2011, the O.C. Journal Register reported.
After Mr Kim became ill with a lung infection, he married his finance using a webcam from his California hospital.
Skype commented at the time: ‘While we’d never wish any couple to be apart for their own wedding, we are sure glad that Skype could play such a big role in the wedding of Samiel Kim and Helen Oh from Southern California, who couldn’t be together on their wedding day.
‘Unfortunately, Samiel was in the hospital, but that did not deter Helen from her big wedding day plans with 500 guests. The show must go on, and it did! — thanks to a Skype video call connecting Helen and her soon to be husband, Samiel, while he was at the hospital.’
Proxy marriages are not new. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were first married in her native Austria in his absence, before she met him for the first time in France, and proxy marriages via telephone and telegraph have also been documented.
With the growth in technology, immigrant communities are increasingly using the process, where first or second generation U.S. citizens, such as Miss Chowdhury, are able to marry a partner from their homelands.
And it’s not just U.S. citizens choosing to tie the knot with their physically absent spouses using video chat instead of an alter.
Many use webcam weddings to circumvent restrictive local laws, like those in Israel and other countries, which generally recognize mixed-religion marriages but refuse to perform them.
Israel, for example, recognizes proxy marriages registered abroad between Israelis who were not permitted to marry in Israel.
Others may use proxy marriages to get around the problem of obtaining Fiancé visas or visit visas to meet their partners. People arriving at Heathrow airport on a UK tourist visa are treated with suspicion by immigration officers if they have a partner or fiancé in the country.
EEA national sham marriages have become a major immigration racket, with migrants being charged thousands for pounds for the privilege of Indefinite Leave to Remain and eventually UK naturalisation with no guarantee of success.
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