Russian Mail Order Brides

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Baker, Susie (sbaker@usia.gov)
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 15:26:38 -0500


Russian Women a Fast-Growing Market
November 28, 1998
By DEBORAH HASTINGS

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- On the matchmaker's video, a young Russian
woman
saunters across a bridge in historic St. Petersburg. She wears a clinging
T-
shirt, skintight pedal pushers and stiletto heels.
  ``I really like big cities such as New York or Los Angeles,'' she tells
the
camera, in heavily accented English. ``So I would be very glad to see
you.''
  Her goal is a ticket out of Russia's eroding economy and forbidding
future.
  For at least 20 years, Filipinas have dominated the international
mail-order
bride business. But since 1991, when the Soviet Union's fall unleashed
capitalism and unrest, Russian women have become the industry's fastest-
growing commodity.
  Men pay up to $10,000 to travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg to meet
women
they have picked from catalogues and videos. More than 65 U.S. companies
advertise such services on the Internet. They even offer to send flowers
to
prospective brides, and to put men in touch with women via e-mail.
  In the United States and Russia, these businesses are unmonitored.
Reports of
white slavery, domestic violence and the 1995 case of a Seattle husband
who
shot to death his pregnant mail-order bride have prompted legislators and
women's groups to demand industry rules.
  In 1996, Congress asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to
draft
regulations forcing agencies to inform women about marriage fraud, legal
residency and domestic violence. The INS also was asked to document
immigration fraud and physical abuse involving mail-order brides.
  Congress is still waiting.
  ``We asked the INS to give us a report on an issue that's enormously
important
and they've dragged their feet,'' said attorney Jon Leibowitz, whose
boss,
Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., helped carry the legislation.
  INS spokeswoman Elaine Komis said officials have been slowed by
uncooperative
mail-order bride clients. ``We got nothing that was very helpful in the
way of
how to improve the situation or what could be done in the way of
regulations,'' she said.
  No one knows the number of American-Russian marriages sparked by
matchmaking
services. The INS doesn't keep records on how couples meet. Its legal
responsibility is to determine whether marriages between foreigners and
U.S.
citizens are legitimate.
  Americans often obtain so-called fiance visas for their intended mates.
The
document allows an immigrant to live and work in the U.S. for two years.
After
that, if the foreigner is still married and living in America, he or she
gets
permanent residency.
  In 1991, there were 17 fiance visas issued to Russian women. In 1997,
there
were 1,012.
  A social worker with Atlanta's Refugee Family Violence Project said she
received several phone calls from battered mail-order brides after
writing an
article about domestic violence in a tiny, Russian-language newspaper.
  The women didn't know their rights under U.S. law, said the social
worker, who
said she has been threatened by clients' husbands and asked that her name
be
withheld. None of her clients wanted to be interviewed, she said.
  The St. Petersburg-based Svetlana Agency says it is a legitimate
international
matchmaking service. Two months ago, it opened a satellite office in
opulent
Newport Beach, about 60 miles south of Los Angeles.
  Svetlana Novikova, 29, began her human brokerage house four years ago.
Her
company is one of the most expensive.
  Men are charged a $2,500 membership fee which allows them to see videos
and
photographs. A trip to St. Petersburg, where men can meet as many as 10
women
a day -- including the student on the bridge -- can cost another $2,500.
  Like many of her colleagues, Novikova says she doesn't keep track of
her
clients' marriages or divorces. She says she doesn't know how many
clients she
has.
  ``We provide our services to very serious people who want a very
serious
relationship,'' she said.
  Newport Beach salesman Aldo Almodovar, 28, traveled to St. Petersburg
this
month on one of her package tours.
  ``I'm just basically going to have a good time,'' he said before
departure.
``I've never been to Russia before and the girls are gorgeous. ''
  Paul and Galina Finkelman of Huntington Beach, Calif., were married
four
months ago. They met last December in Moscow, where she had graduated
medical
school and he had come looking for a wife.
  Both were clients of Russian-American Matchmakers, a Virginia-based
service
started by an American who found his own wife through a mail-order bride
service.
  Finkelman, 41, said he had tired of American women who ``seem
interested in
only one thing -- how big is your bank account.'' Mrs. Finkelman, 27,
said she
was weary of alcoholism. ``The problem with Russian men is that they
drink
vodka,'' she said. ``It's not good, you know.''
  He proposed on their third date. She knew some English. He knew no
Russian.
``Language is not a problem. I understand her,'' said Finkelman, who is
studying to become a computer programmer.
  ``Look, I know it's kind of weird. Life is a crapshoot. You just have
to be in
that space where you're ready to make that commitment,'' he said.
  In 1996 Mark Amspoker met a Moscow doctor 14 years his junior through a
matchmaking service, proposed to her a week later, and married her last
year.
  Although he found a wife, the 44-year-old technology writer didn't like
the
service he used.
  So he started his own.
  Since opening last year, Russian-American Matchmakers has signed 60
male
clients, each paying $1,500 in membership fees. The agency lists about
350
women and claims seven marriages.
  Most agencies charge women a small fee of about $20.
  Amspoker says he wants his countrymen to discover what he did.
  ``I went to Russia and I could feel close to these women. I could
connect with
them,'' he said. American women, he complained, ``just don't seem to have
time
to think of settling down and having a family.''
  Like other matchmakers, Amspoker doesn't discuss safe sex or HIV
testing. ``I
don't get into the personal details,'' he says. ``We have this membership
fee
that is fairly stiff and it filters out the fellows who aren't serious.''

  Amspoker says he welcomes industry regulations. He has heard stories of
Russian women being sold into prostitution and has often listened to men
complain they were cheated by matchmaking services.
  ``I think this business has always attracted not the best people,''
Amspoker
said. ``It's so easy to dangle sex in front of a man and get him all
excited
and take his money.''


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