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Cablegate: Vietnamese Brides to Taiwan

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 04 HCM 1494

1. (SBU) Summary: During a December 6 meeting with DPO and
PolOff, representatives of the HCMC Taipei Economic and Cultural
Office (TECO) said that in 2005 they had instituted a system of
one-on-one interviews with prospective Vietnamese brides and
their Taiwanese fiancees in response to mounting fraud concerns.
TECO estimates that some 90,000 Vietnamese women have been
issued marriage visas to Taiwan, but once in Taiwan there is no
effective control or monitoring of the women. One Taiwanese
immigration study found that nearly 50 percent of Vietnamese
brides in Taipei County are not living with their husbands and
are unaccounted for. Preliminary research suggests that these
women have "disappeared" into the unofficial economy. However,
additional monitoring of Vietnamese overseas migration trends
and programs to counsel prospective Vietnamese brides -- for
those headed to Taiwan as well as to emerging destinations such
as South Korea -- is warranted. End Summary.

Vietnamese Brides to Taiwan

2. (SBU) Increasingly common over the past decade, the
phenomenon of young Vietnamese women from poor communities in
the Mekong Delta marrying Taiwanese men has drawn increasing
scrutiny from HCMC officials and media outlets. Over the past
year, local HCMC officials have taken some limited steps to
address the issue. For example, the HCMC Women's Union launched
a self-funded initiative to create a counseling center for
Vietnamese women who plan to marry foreign husbands. The Union
hoped to help the fiancees avoid situations such that faced by a
number of Vietnamese women who unknowingly were married to
disabled men to be their caregivers.

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3. (SBU) Last year, the Women's Union representatives told a
visiting State Department official that from 1993 through May
2004, 41,900 women from Vietnam's southernmost 13 provinces
became overseas brides. A large percentage of these went to
Taiwan. According to the Women's Union data, 69 percent
married men who were at least 20 years their elder; 80 percent
were unemployed prior to marriage; and 75 percent had low
education levels -- some were illiterate. Many did not speak
their future husband's language. On average, the brides'
families received 6 million Vietnamese Dong (USD 375) from
marriage brokers, according to Women's Union statistics.

4. (SBU) To follow up on the issue, on December 6, DPO and
PolOff met with Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO)
Director General Sonny Chen, Deputy Director General Chen
Borshow and Director of the Consular Division Larry Su. The
officials estimated that since 1995, TECO had issued spousal
visas to 90,000 Vietnamese women from its offices in Hanoi and
HCMC. TECO officials first started tracking the numbers of
Vietnamese brides to Taiwan in 1995, when they processed 1,476
applicants. The number rose to 13,863 in 2000, and remained
over 10,000 per year from 2001-2004. The TECO officials stated
that Vietnamese brides constitute 70% of foreign brides coming
to Taiwan, excluding mainland Chinese brides.

5. (SBU) The majority of these brides met their grooms through a
highly evolved marriage brokerage system in Vietnam and Taiwan.
Since marriage brokers are illegal in Vietnam, the brokers
routinely pose as "travel agents" who "facilitate" the travel of
the Taiwanese men to Vietnam. The TECO officials told us that
the typical groom pays USD 6,000 to 10,000 for a "full package,"
which includes one or multiple trips to Vietnam, the opportunity
to pick a bride from a lineup of young women, and any marriage
ceremonies and paperwork needed to complete the migration
process in both countries.

6. (SBU) While the migration of brides to Taiwan traditionally
was a southern Vietnam phenomenon, increasing numbers are coming
from northern provinces, with 1,200 spousal visa applications
received in Hanoi this year, according to Consular Division
Director Su. DG Chen noted that whereas Vietnamese families in
the South may receive some money (typically USD 200-300) for the
marriage of their daughter to a Taiwanese, he has heard that
families in northern provinces pay as much as USD 600 for their
daughter to marry a Taiwanese.

Once In Taiwan

7. (SBU) The TECO officials cited a survey conducted by police
in Taipei County in March 2005 which showed that 47 percent of
Vietnamese brides in that county were not living with their
husbands. The Taiwanese authorities have no statistics about
the current status of these women. Although hard data is
difficult to obtain, the TECO officials said that domestic abuse
can be a problem in these marriages, and cited age differences,
language barriers and cultural norms common to Taiwan and
Vietnam of dominant men and subservient women as contributing
factors. They also noted that no one performs a criminal or
domestic abuse check of the prospective Taiwanese groom prior to
the marriage.

8. (SBU) A limited number of interviews conducted by the
Mobility Research and Support Center (MRSC), a local HCMC NGO,
indicated that perhaps 10 percent of Vietnamese women who
returned to Vietnam from Taiwan claimed that they were in
abusive marriages, although none of those interviewed said they
were trafficked for sexual or labor exploitation. The TECO
officials told us that Taiwan has set up hotlines for women to
report domestic abuse, with accompanying Vietnamese-language
advertisements to inform women how to report mistreatment.

9. (SBU) DG Chen said there is no effective system for tracking
immigrants once they enter Taiwan. Vietnamese brides receive a
6-month resident visa upon entry to Taiwan. They are
subsequently required to register with the police for their
Alien Resident Certificates and re-entry permits, which are
valid for one year. After three years, a bride can apply for
Taiwanese citizenship if she renounces her Vietnamese
citizenship. Theoretically, during those three years, if a
bride does not live with her husband, the marriage would be
considered fraudulent and her stay in Taiwan rendered illegal.
In reality, the police do not have the resources to monitor
whether these brides live with their husbands. Consular
Division Director Su initially estimated that there were over
10,000 Vietnamese living illegally in Taiwan; Deputy DG Chen
Borshow shook his head and said there were "many, many more than

TECO's response

10. (SBU) The TECO officials told us that in response to growing
concern in Taiwan, TECO HCMC in January 2005 initiated
one-on-one spousal visa interviews with prospective Taiwanese
brides and their fiances. Previously, TECO had held group
"interviews" with 100 to 120 couples, where general information
was provided and visas approved almost automatically. Prior to
2005, only a handful of cases were refused, typically when the
Vietnamese woman had a communicable disease, a police record in
Vietnam, or a prior illegal stay in Taiwan. In 2004, 10,912
spousal visa cases were processed and approved. In contrast,
through November 2005, 5,170 spousal cases have been approved in
HCMC. DG Chen estimated that thousands more -- 30 to 35 percent
of cases -- had been rejected outright since initiation of
one-on-one interviews.

11. (SBU) According to Su, couples rarely admit during the
interview that they met through marriage brokers. Instead, he
typically hears that a "relative" introduced them. None of the
TECO officials with whom we spoke would say what criteria they
used to determine whether a relationship was legitimate. They
explained that the lack of a common language was not sufficient
reason for rejection. Although Chen maintained that "99% of
these marriages are for financial reasons," this too was not
grounds for disqualification. They implied that they reject a
large number of cases of disabled Taiwanese men who seek young
Vietnamese women as brides. Beginning in 2005, TECO has
required couples receiving visas to attend a mandatory two-hour
information session where women are informed about their rights
under Taiwanese law.

No Visa, No Marriage Certificate
--------------------------------------------- --

12. (SBU) Couples applying for spousal visas at TECO are not
legally married at the time of the visa interview. If the
spousal visa is approved, TECO will issue a certificate of
unmarried status to the Taiwanese citizen, a document required
by GVN for a couple to apply for a marriage certificate. The
TECO officials expressed surprise that USG practice is to issue
Affidavits of Single Status to U.S. citizens without an
interview, asking how we know they are legitimate. PolOff
explained that consular officials serve as notaries in these
instances, not as authenticators, which was how Director General
Chen characterized the process of issuing the certificate of
unmarried status for Taiwanese. Deputy DG Chen Borshaw added
that TECO found it easier to justify rejecting cases if the
couple is not yet legally married.

Immigration Laws Needed

13. (SBU) DG Chen fretted that Taiwan currently has no
Department of Immigration or equivalent and few laws addressing
immigration directly. Chen indicated that he had long lobbied
for legislation to implement a comprehensive immigration law,
but only recently has the influx of foreign brides and the
accompanying social implications caught the attention of
political leaders. Legislation may be drafted in 2006. In this
context, TECO officials were eager to hear about our visa
issuance and immigration processes and policies. They were
especially interested in our fingerprinting process in which
fingerprints taken at the visa interview are accessed by
immigration officials when the approved visa applicant enters
the U.S.; TECO HCMC does not fingerprint visa applicants.

14. (SBU) Comment: Survey data indicating that nearly half the
Vietnamese women in Taipei County are not living with their
husbands, and the high rejection rates of TECO one-on-one
interviews in 2005, suggest that many Vietnamese women have
fallen -- intentionally or unintentionally -- through the
cracks. More research is needed to examine the motives of the
brides and grooms entering into marriage contracts and what
actually happens once the women arrive in Taiwan. Similarly,
continued monitoring of Vietnamese overseas migration trends and
counseling for prospective Vietnamese brides appear warranted.
For example, TECO's more rigorous interviewing process for
spousal visas may push more Vietnamese women towards marriage
with South Koreans, which MRSC reports is increasing from a low
base very rapidly, perhaps by as much as 75 percent in 2005.

15. (SBU) Comment, continued: The International Organization
for Migration (IOM) is seeking funding to launch a program to
distribute contact cards to prospective brides with information
about Vietnamese-speaking NGOs in their destination country at
the Office of External Relations in HCMC, where the women go for
pre-departure registration. This program aims to provide a
contact for women in abusive situations, particularly those
where the husband seeks to maintain control of the relationship
by isolating or confining his wife. IOM also proposes to run a
one-day pre-departure orientation for Vietnamese women marrying
Taiwanese men that would provide basic cross-cultural
information as well as data on social assistance networks in
Taiwan. IOM is currently awaiting approval from the Women's
Union for this project. However, some GVN officials reportedly
have expressed concern that requiring all women marrying
Taiwanese to take this course might be viewed as too
authoritarian. End Comment.

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