Intermarriage Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Many Americans believe they have the right to marry whomever they wish and to live with their spouses in the United States, even when their marriages are to residents of other countries. This belief and the practice of intermarriage between immigrants and American citizens have helped shape American immigration policy and influenced the composition of American society.

Under early twenty-first century U.S. immigration policies, valid marriages of citizens of the United States of America with foreign-born persons give the citizens the right to petition for permission for their spouses to enter the United States. After approval is given by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, noncitizen spouses may apply for a Visas;K-3[k 03]K-3 visa. This preferential nonimmigrant category has a relatively short waiting period, permits the applicants to apply for work in the United States, and provides the opportunity for Permanent resident status;and intermarriage[intermarriage]permanent resident status. This category of immigration has become a major vehicle for new immigrants to the United States, thanks to the fact that family reunification has become a basic goal of U.S. immigration policy.IntermarriageIntermarriage[cat]FAMILY ISSUES;Intermarriage[02850][cat]ASSIMILATION;Intermarriage[02850]

Historical Patterns of Immigration

U.S. immigration policy, and ultimately the laws pertaining to marriage between aliens and citizens, has evolved in response to the American experience with earlier immigration, fear of change, and a number of major events that have affected U.S. history. Most early immigrants to what is now the United States came from northern and western Europe. After new immigrants arrived, they, in turn, brought in family members who added more permanence to the developing society. However, many immigrants also intermingled with Native Americans and people from countries other than those from which they themselves came. The federal [a]Naturalization Act of 1790Naturalization Act of 1790 focused on the majority immigration group and, as such, applied exclusively to free white people. During the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese workers, many of them gold prospectors and railroad workers, arrived in the United States. Negative American reactions to the presence of this distinctly different group prompted the U.S. Congress to enact the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Japanese and other immigrants were also prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens. However, an 1855 lawgave citizenship to foreign-born women who married American men.

During the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pool of immigrants entering the United States grew more diversified and included large numbers of people from southern and eastern Europe. In response to this new immigration, Congress enacted a series of restrictive laws that resulted in a U.S. quota system based on early migration patterns. These laws banned members of specific ethnic groups from immigrating, including those who were spouses of U.S. citizens.

During the 1940’s, some American military personnel who went overseas during World War II wanted to return home with their spouses from other countries. Under public pressure, Congress amended immigration laws for this purpose. The 1945 [a]War Brides Act of 1945War Brides Act and the 1946 [a]Fiancées Act of 1946Fiancées Act relaxed immigration restrictions by permitting many foreign spouses and children to immigrate to the United States. Previously excluded populations were still banned from immigrating, but in [a]Soldiers Bride Act of 19471947, the Soldiers Bride Act changed that by allowing formerly barred spouses to enter the United States. Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and other foreign-born spouses of American service personnel then began entering the United States under a nonquota system. The [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952;and families[families]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 continued the quota system but granted some Asians immigration privileges and made family reunification a choice method for migration. Nonquota immigrants who came to the United States under this lawleft open quota slots for other immigrants.

Changes following the Immigration Act of 1965

The [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965;and families[families]Immigration and Nationality Act Amendment of 1965 brought sweeping changes to immigration policy, including the elimination of the quota system. Family reunification was now among the highest preferences for legal migration and put foreign spouses second in line after children of American citizens. This new amendment opened the door for foreign-born immigrants from nations that were barred in 1924. Consequently, Latin American and Asian immigration surged dramatically.

During the early 1970’s, American citizens gained the right to petition for their fiancés to be issued nonimmigrant Visas;K-1[k 01]K-1 visas, which permitted fiancés to visit the United States for periods of up to ninety days they actually married. By this time, family reunification was a driving force in qualifying for immigration, but it was causing consternation among some Americans who feared that "Marriages of convenience"[Marriages of convenience]sham marriages, or “marriages of convenience,” would proliferate as a means of avoiding the stricter immigration regulations applying to other categories of immigrants. As a result, the [a]Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986Immigration and Marriage Fraud Amendments (1986) made permanent residency a conditional status that required later proof of marriage validity. Ten years later, the [a]Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 codified the responsibilities of American citizens who sponsor aliens.

In 2000, the [a]Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000Legal Immigration Family Equity Act, or LIFE Act, amended the rules for K-1 visas by permitting citizens and permanent residents to bring their spouses and children to the United States under a long-term resident category. Although this amendment raised some concerns regarding the potential for dramatic increases in immigration, it was also seen as a method of easing family dislocations, improving immigrant assimilation, and aiding social and cultural integration.

Throughout American history, men have used long-distance correspondence to find spouses, also known as Mail-order brides[mail order brides]mail-order brides, in other countries. Modern technology–most notably the World Wide Web;and mail-order brides[mail order brides]World Wide Web and the Internet–and marriage brokers have increased this practice as a legitimate method of migrating to the United States.Intermarriage

Further Reading
  • Bean, Frank D., and Gillian Stevens. America’s Newcomers and the Dynamics of Diversity. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2003. Study of recent immigration and its impact on American society.
  • Constable, Nicole. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and “Mail Order” Marriages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Research on the practice in which American men use introduction agencies to find Chinese and Filipina wives.
  • Cott, Nancy F. Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. Wide-ranging study of the legal and social institution of marriage in the United States.
  • Gordon, Linda W. “Trends in the Gender Ratio of Immigrants to the United States.” International Migration Review 39, no. 4 (Winter, 2005): 796-818. Provides information on recent immigration and the immigration laws that pertain to spousal migration.
  • Jasso, Guillermina, and Mark R. Rosenzweig. The New Chosen People: Immigrants in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1990. Analysis of marriage and family reunification among immigrants in the United States.

Amerasian children

Cable Act of 1922

Child immigrants


Filipino immigrants

Mail-order brides


“Marriages of convenience”

War brides

War Brides Act of 1945

Categories: History