International Dating Trends: An Inside Look at How K-1 Visa Couples Meet

Executive Summary

RapidVisa recently commissioned Causal Design, an independent research firm based in Washington D.C., to examine statistics and trends of K-1 fiancé visa applicants. The resulting report provided quantitative insights into several macro trends for international fiancés. In particular, we detailed experiences for applicants here in the United States as they worked through the immigration process.

This report revealed emerging trends for this evolving area of public policy. Over the past 30 years, K-1 fiancé visa issuances have increased by 75%, and recent Census data reveal that 21% of all married-couple households in the U.S. have at least one foreign-born spouse. In this report, Causal Design builds on our previous work by exploring the diverse experiences of these applicants far earlier in this process. This report utilizes RapidVisa’s proprietary qualitative data to describe how and where eventual K-1 applicants meet. More specifically, we examine the evolving experience of meeting online, and analyze the cultural and demographic nuances that shape these statistics.

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Key Findings

  • Over 55 percent of K-1 applicants first met online. The majority of these respondents mention using a dating site, which tend to emphasize the Asian region, and particularly the Philippines. The Philippines are also a common locale for religiously-based couples (couples who self-report meeting on dating sites focused on religious beliefs).
  • Facebook supports over 80 percent of all social media meeting stories. The platform provides room for more diverse partnerships across the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook may be a medium for emotional expression in countries with limited freedoms, increasing its growth potential in this space.
  • Couples who met through online gaming are a quickly growing group. These couples trend younger, with many more fiancés from Europe or Canada. The UK, a fast-growing K-1 visa population, represents one fifth of fiancés in this space.
  • Meeting in person is also a common pathway for K-1 applicants. Meeting through business, on vacation, or through friends and family tends to occur disproportionately with Latinx fiancés.

K-1 Background

While the history of K-1 visas is explored in-depth in our previous report, the following is a brief background to introduce the work below. The K-1, or “fiancé visa,” allows future spouses of U.S. citizens to enter the United States in order to marry, and ultimately apply for an adjustment to immigrant status. In practice, the K-1 serves as a nonimmigrant visa bridge to permanent spousal immigration status. Originally intended to assist U.S. soldiers in bringing foreign fiancés home after World War II, use of the K-1 visa has dramatically increased partly due to globalization which has driven an increase in the number of U.S. citizens marrying (and intending to marry) non-U.S. citizens.

Our previous report provides some context into the qualitative findings below. First, we found that Filipino K-1 visas dwarfed every other nationality, accounting for nearly twenty percent of all K-1 visas in 2017 and surpassing the next five nationalities combined. While East European and East Asian countries have seen significant declines in K-1 visas since 2005 (Chinese nationals were only three percent of applicants in 2017), Brazil, the Dominican Republic and the United Kingdom have registered increasing numbers. Across these nationalities, students represent a plurality of applicants.

But what social factors might explain these trends? Our macro-level insights are fleshed out and further explored within this report.

Data Description

This report is based on a proprietary random sample of 4,979 RapidVisa customers collected between 2010 and 2019. In 2018, RapidVisa was responsible for processing 13.6% of all K-1 visas. As such, this sample may be sufficiently relevant to the broader population of K-1 applicants in considering generalizability of this report’s findings.

As part of the K-1 application process, applicants must disclose in a free-form narrative the story of how they met. Therefore, this information is collected in all RapidVisa’s customer accounts along with what social mediums factored prominently into their courtship. These qualitative data were then sorted and scored to give indications of what mediums were predominant in each meeting story.

While randomly drawn, RapidVisa’s status as an online company may introduce some bias towards more internet-savvy K-1 visa applicants, and should be noted in any comparison of online versus in-person mediums present below. Furthermore, the self-reported nature of these data may introduce a bias towards answers perceived to be more socially acceptable to applicants.

The Venn diagram below gives an initial picture of the data after processing. Couple stories may incorporate various forms of communication, as is depicted by any points of overlap. Each of these interactions and the general distribution is covered by this report.

How K-1 Applicants Meet

New Ways to Meet

The Venn diagram above describes an increasingly interconnected world, where international dating takes place across both traditional and modern forms of communication. International fiancés may still meet through business or military deployment, with roughly 45 percent of respondents reporting some in-person interaction being integral to their meeting.

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However, these modes are increasingly in competition with online mediums, where the majority of respondents report first meeting their international fiancé. Roughly 20 percent of respondents now report using social media or a chat app in their courtship, while over 35 percent date online. These results are broadly in line with dating trends in the United States, as reported by the Pew Research Center. From 2005 to 2015, stigma surrounding online dating decreased significantly, and the total number of respondents reporting online dating use rose from 11 to 15 percent. This trend is especially strong for more recent relationships, with a recent Stanford study estimating 39 percent of couples who met in 2017 doing so through social media.

Where domestic and international dating does differ is the rate of becoming engaged among those using online dating. While 35 percent of RapidVisa respondents reported finding fiancés at least in part through dating online, only five percent of Pew respondents who met online in the U.S. reported being in either a marriage or a committed relationship. The reasons for this discrepancy are not well reported, but it is likely that both choosing to date internationally and the nature of dating across wide distances play a substantial role.

Online Dating Websites

Among these emerging online mediums, dating websites remain the most common way for international fiancés to meet. Over 60 percent of RapidVisa respondents who reported meeting online mention using a dating site at some point in their courtship. Following a data deduplication process, the top 10 sites mentioned by respondents are highlighted below.

One notable trend is the popularity of specialized dating sites when compared to more general dating forums. While Tinder and OkCupid both appear in the top 10, they represent similar shares of respondents to far more specialized sites dedicated to either regions or even particular countries.

Top 10 Dating Sites Where K-1 Visa Applicants Meet Their Fiancé

Rank Website % Dating Site Respondents
1 Filipino Cupid * 14.2
2 Tinder 6.6
3 Asian Dating * 5.9
4 okcupid 5.8
5 Blossoms 4.0
6 Christian Filipina 3.9
7 Latin American Cupid * 3.5
8 Tagged 3.5
9 Date in Asia 3.4
10 International Cupid * 3.4
*Site owned by Cupid Media

In general, top dating sites appear to disproportionately specialize in the Asian region; AsianDating, Blossoms, and DateInAsia alone represent over 13 percent of dating site traffic in our sample. This reflects the broader demographics for international fiancés, where over half of respondents report their sponsored fiancé being from the Asian continent (54.7 percent). These trends are more pronounced for those meeting on a dating site, with 67 percent of sponsored fiancés being of Asian heritage.

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But perhaps the most interesting finding is the prominence of dating sites specialized specifically for the Philippines. FilipinoCupid tops the list, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all dating site traffic alone. The prominence of Filipino fiancés in our sample corresponds to our previous report, where they accounted for nearly twenty percent of all 2017 K-1 visas. Filipino sponsored fiancés appear disproportionately likely to meet through dating sites, representing 54 percent of this subsample.

Top 5 Dating Sites Where Filipino K-1 Visa Applicants Meet Their Fiancé

Rank Website % All Filipino Fiances
1 Filipino Cupid 12.1
2 Asian Dating 3.9
3 Christian Filipina 3.4
4 Blossoms 3.3
5 okcupid 3.1

However, the exact relationship between the proliferation of dating sites and the number of Filipino fiancés is unclear. Regular internet use in the Philippines, at 43.5 percent in 2016, is not significantly higher than other similar countries in the Asian region. Instead, this may be a result of the historical origins of the K-1 visa and the close military relationship between the Philippines and the United States during World War II.

Top 10 Nationalities of Fiancés Who Met Through a Dating Site

Rank Nationality
% of Nationality Who
Met on a Dating Site
% of All Dating
Site Respondents
1 Ukraine Flag Ukraine 53.3 2.8
2 Russia Flag Russia 48.9 2.6
3 Philippines Flag Philippines 46 53.6
4 Indonesia Flag Indonesia 45.5 1.4
5 Venezuela Flag Venezuela 44.1 1.7
6 China Flag China 43 3.3
7 Thailand Flag Thailand 42.5 2.8
8 Peru Flag Peru 42.2 1
9 Brazil Flag Brazil 41.8 3.6
10 Vietnam Flag Vietnam 41.3 2.2

Topping this list are Ukraine and Russia with the highest percentage of couples who met on a dating site. Other notable nationalities with disproportionate representation on dating sites are Philippines, Indonesia and Venezuela. Our previous report also highlights the Philippines as being an emerging international fiancé origin nation since the late 2000’s. For each, dating sites are a meaningful avenue to meeting U.S. fiancés: 46 percent of eventual Filipino/a fiancés met their sponsor through the medium, as did nearly 42 percent of Brazilian fiancés. Most of the nationalities on this list each have distinctive dating sites dedicated to their respective sub-regions or countries.

RapidVisa’s top two Latix countries by volume, the Dominican Republic and Colombia are among the top 10 countries for K-1 Visa issuances, highlighted in our previous report. Online dating is among the top methods for Dominicans and Colombians to meet U.S. singles, with the popular Cupid network of international dating sites making up the majority of top dating sites where these couples meet.

Top 5 Dating Sites Where Colombian and Dominican K-1 Visa Applicants Meet Their Fiancé

Rank Colombian Fiancé, Site % Colombian Fiancés Rank Dominican Fiancé, Site % Dominican Fiancés
1 Colombian Cupid 11.7 1 Dominican Cupid 10.3
2 Latin American Cupid 8.8 2 Tagged 4.9
3 Tinder 3.4 3 Latin American Cupid 3.0
4 okcupid 2.5 4 Caribbean Cupid 1.5
5 Latin Cupid 2.0 5 MeetMe 1.5

The Philippines is also prominent for other niche dating group categories. ChristianFilipina is the single most widely used website for those seeking partners based on religion, representing nearly 40 percent of all international matches found in our data. Between this and ChristianDatingForFree, Filipino fiancés make up approximately 65 percent of the religion-based online dating market. In general, Christian relationships are far more common in our random sample; websites implying a Christian focus command over three fourths of the market.

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But where in the United States are these international fiancés applying to enter? RapidVisa data indicates a substantial spread across cities, with the top city for dating site fiancés (Las Vegas) only representing around one percent of the total. Aggregating by origin nation reveals similarly sparse results, suggesting there are not ‘hotspots’ of activity for any one nationality or the dating site industry as a whole. Filipino fiancés are relatively more prevalent in Las Vegas and Phoenix while Colombians appear more commonly in Orlando, Florida.

Top 10 Destination Cities K-1 Visa Applicants Meet on a Dating Site

Rank Destination CIty % Dating Site Respondents Average Age Differential Modal Nationality
1 Las Vegas, NV 1.04 14.5 yrs Philippines
2 Phoenix, AZ 0.86 12.3 yrs Philippines
3 San Antonio, TX 0.75 9.5 yrs Mexico
4 Los Angeles, CA 0.70 12.8 yrs Philippines
5 Orlando, FL 0.63 13.6 yrs Colombia
6 Houston, TX 0.52 12.3 yrs Philippines
7 San Diego, CA 0.46 10.8 yrs
8 Dallas, TX 0.46 11.0 yrs Philippines
9 Seattle, WA 0.46 11.9 yrs
10 Columbus, OH 0.46 9.4 yrs Philippines

Meeting Through Social Media

Social media is a relatively recent addition to the international dating environment making gains in the digital space. As late as 2015, dating site-based matched couples dwarfed those who were introduced through social media by a factor of 4 to 1. Today, social media has not only halved this discrepancy, but alone accounts for 15 percent of all international relationships found in our data.

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This traffic is overwhelmingly conducted through Facebook. Over 83 percent of RapidVisa respondents who met through social media did so on Facebook. This far surpassed Facebook’s next contenders, Instagram (8.4 percent) and Twitter (1.7 percent). As with dating sites, Filipinos represent the majority of Facebook matches, with roughly 20 percent of all Filipino international fiancés reporting meeting on the platform. However, this is where many similarities to the online dating market end.

While international fiancés who met on dating sites disproportionately came from Asian countries, Facebook matches are far more geographically diverse. Top nationalities range from South and Central America to Africa and the European continent. Nigerians, Ghanaians, and Pakistanis are particularly well-represented on the platform, where more than a quarter of all matches occur. Pakistan is a particular outlier, where Facebook couples represent 40 percent of respondents in the RapidVisa sample.

Top 5 Nationalities of Fiancés Who Met on Facebook

Rank Nationality % of Facebook Fiancés % Nationality Fiancés Freedom Classification
1 Philippines Flag Philippines 53.9 19.4 Partly Free
2 Nigeria Flag Nigeria 4.4 26.9 Partly Free
3 Mexico Flag Mexico 2.7 11.7 Partly Free
4 Ghana Flag Ghana 2.6 26.8 Free
5 Pakistan Flag Pakistan 2.2 40.0 Not Free

The ubiquity of Facebook relationships in countries with limited freedoms may be perplexing, especially given that many of these nations often restrict internet access and monitor social media. However, Freedom House data on relative openness suggests there may be a non-spurious correlation between the restriction of rights and the use of social media as the primary medium for emotional life.

Among the 68 percent of our sample living in nations defined as ‘partly free’, over 17 percent of couples reported meeting on Facebook – over double the rate found in nations defined as ‘free’ (8.2%). This is in line with qualitative reports which suggest Facebook has historically been seen as an avenue of free expression in otherwise restricted societies. However, this is not without limitation – in places like Pakistan and China, Facebook has recently been repurposed to allow greater monitoring in ways that might restrict use of the platform in the international dating space. Indeed, in our data we see only 9.4 percent of fiancés in ‘not free’ nations using the site to meet U.S. partners.

Facebook’s gains in the social media space are particularly interesting given the minimal overlap between social media and other forms of digital meeting found in our data. Less than one percent of respondents mentioned using both a dating site and social media in their courtship, and even fewer reported use of a chat app. There is, however, substantial overlap between reporting meeting through friends or family and social media – nearly 10 percent, versus being virtually nonexistent in the dating site group.

Dating Site Versus Social Media Fiancé Demographics

Characteristic Dating Site Social Media Difference
Median Sponsor Age 47 44 -3 years
Median Alien Age 33 30 -3 years
Median Age Difference 12 11 -1 years
% African fiancé 4.7 14.0 +9.7%
% Asian fiancé 67.1 58.9 -8.2%
% Latinx fiancé 12.2 8.1 -4.2%
% European fiancé 7.5 7.1 -0.4%
% Met via Friends/Family 0.1 9.5 +9.4%
% Met via Business 1.7 0.9 -0.8%

The lack of multi-platform respondent stories and this distinction suggest either (1) these mediums are in direct competition or (2) are appealing to different potential user groups. Based on a comparison of demographic characteristics for these two user bases, differences appear to be minimal enough to suggest the former. Social media couples tend to be younger, but this is likely a result of there being more couples later in our random sample as social media became increasingly ubiquitous.

One substantive variation is in the number of international fiancés from the African continent, who represent 14 percent of Facebook relationships. However, this may be due to more systemic factors. Unlike the Asian (and particularly Filipino) context, internet availability remains relatively low in sub-Saharan Africa. Pew research finds those that do have access trend towards greater use of social media exclusively, to both keep up with family and friends and to explore further relationships. As such, there may be less interest in pursuing relationships on other sites or platforms. These factors likely account for the discrepancy seen in our sample.

Meeting Through Online Gaming

By far the most recent development in our match data is the emergence of couples meeting through online gaming platforms. Representing only 2.3 percent of our sample, this group tends to report meeting across multiple online mediums, including those social media platforms discussed above. But this group is also differentiated in both its demographic characteristics and the distribution of international fiancés from across the world.

While there is substantial overlap between social media and gaming fiancé matches, the gaming subgroup of domestic fiancés is substantially younger – the median sponsor age is 11 years less than that found for social media. Interestingly, alien fiancé age does not substantially decrease, suggesting gaming relationships to be the most common to occur within similar age cohorts across our entire sample. The median age difference for these couples is less than half that found for either dating sites or on social media.

Fiancé Demographics Across Online Mediums

Characteristic Dating Site Social Media Gaming
Median Sponsor Age 47 44 33
Median Alien Age 33 30 28
Median Age Difference 12 11 4.5
% African fiancé 4.7 14.0 4.5
% Asian fiancé 67.1 58.9 24.1
% Latinx fiancé 12.2 8.1 8.0
% European fiancé 7.5 7.1 40.2

Meeting through gaming also appears to be more common for different groups of international fiancés. Unlike social media and dating site mediums, a significant plurality of gaming fiancés are from Europe (40.2 percent) or Canada (15.2 percent). Asian fiancés account for only 24 percent of this gaming group of couples, in stark contrast to other online media discussed.

But what might explain this significant variation from the patterns seen in other mediums? One explanation may be the higher likelihood of being sent to the same servers in MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) and other online-based games. Massive online games will often partition players by linking them to the closest physical server to reduce lag time experienced while online. This in turn may lead to greater opportunities to connect for U.S. gamers to other countries in Northern America and on the European continent. This technical constraint provides selective interconnectivity for domestic gamers, meaning that interactions with Asian gamers may be minimal despite Asia containing over four times the online gamers found in all of Europe.

Top 5 Nationalities of Fiancés Who Met Through Online Gaming

Rank Nationality
% of Nationality Who Met
Through Online Gaming
1 Portugal Flag Portugal 66.7
2 Belarus Flag Belarus 33.3
3 Denmark Flag Denmark 28.6
4 Canada Flag Canada 26.6
5 Netherlands Flag Netherlands 22.2

The countries with the highest percentage of fiancés who met through online gaming happen to be Western, first-world countries. Portugal comes in at number 1, with two-thirds of our sample reporting meeting through online gaming. Canada also makes the list at number 4 with over 26 percent of couples meeting through online gaming. Some countries that didn’t make the top five, but still had significant online gamer couples include Bulgaria and Norway at 20 percent, United Kingdom at 19.4 percent, New Zealand at 18.2 percent, and Spain at 13.3 percent.

The sparse data available describing which games fiancés report meeting on suggest a fractured medium, but also reinforce some of the conclusions drawn above. The top five games are all MMORPGs requiring partitioned servers by region to effectively operate. Of these, World of Warcraft commands nearly a tenth of the market, while newer games such as League of Legends and Game of War round out the top three. Importantly, many of these games emphasize a team-building component: World of Warcraft is a team adventure game that encourages in-game partnerships and friendships, while League of Legends is an e-sport where teams compete together against other teams. This inter-player relationship focus is likely the reason they make the list over more individual-based gaming options.

Top 5 Online Games K-1 Applicants Meet a Fiancé

Rank Game % of Gaming Fiancés
1 World of Warcraft 8.9
2 League of Legends 5.4
3 Game of War 5.4
4 Second Life 4.6
5 Clash of Kings 2.7

Meeting In-Person

Despite extensive discussion on emerging online mediums, the plurality of connections between international fiancés still occur face-to-face. Nearly 45 percent of our sample report in-person interactions factoring heavily into meeting and courting their fiancé. While meeting through friends/family (44 percent) or through an unexpected moment (34 percent) are most common, the extent of overlap between different mediums defines this space.

For example, 34 percent of those meeting through business also reported unexpected encounters being instrumental to their relationship; 13 percent of those on vacation reported family or friends helping meet their eventual fiancé. This in many ways reflects the less siloed circumstances found offline, where meeting can occur organically through multiple pathways in the public forum.

What is apparent is the lack of overlap between these in-person pathways and the online mediums discussed above. Fewer than five percent of couples meeting in-person reported any use of online communication, suggesting that this subgroup may differ from our overall sample. Indeed, demographics characteristics of both sponsors and international fiancés differ – sponsors trend younger, which acts to limit the age gap towards what is seen for the relatively young online gaming couple group. Whereas dating sites and social media groups primarily sponsor fiancés from the Asian continent, in-person meetings are far more likely in the Americas. (See Venn Diagram “How K-1 Applicants Meet” above.)

Online Versus In-Person Medium Fiancé Demographics

Characteristic Dating Site Social Media Gaming Met In-Person
Median Sponsor Age 47 44 33 40
Median Alien Age 33 30 28 30
Median Age Difference 12 11 4.5 8
% African fiancé 4.7 14.0 4.5 10.5
% Asian fiancé 67.1 58.9 24.1 45.7
% Latinx fiancé 12.2 8.1 8.0 29.6
% European fiancé 7.5 7.1 40.2 9.8

Perhaps most striking is the importance of in-person dating for many of the nationalities represented in our sample. Looking to the top 10 nationalities meeting in-person, Cuba tops the list, followed by several Central and South American countries. For each of these, meeting in-person is an extremely common story: 60 percent of Dominicans in our sample reported meeting in-person, while over two thirds of Mexicans reported the same. Additionally, there are several regional outliers, most notably Haiti, where 81.6 percent of couples met in-person.

Top 10 Nationalities of Fiancés Who First Met In-Person

Rank Nationality
% of Nationality Who
First Met In Person
% of All Respondents
Who Met In Person
1 Cuba Flag Cuba 83.3 1.4
2 Haiti Flag Haiti 81.6 1.9
3 Ecuador Flag Ecuador 78.3 .9
4 Cambodia Flag Cambodia 77.4 1.1
5 Nicaragua Flag Nicaragua 70 .7
6 Mexico Flag Mexico 67.4 5.5
7 Jamaica Flag Jamaica 63.9 2.5
8 Costa Rica Flag Costa Rica 61.9 .6
9 South Africa Flag South Africa 61.9 .6
10 Dominican Republic Flag Dominican Republic 60.6 5.8

Breaking down this group, there are several differences between those meeting through different in-person settings. Meeting through friends, unexpectedly or on vacation tends to occur for older sponsors, widening the median age gap for these groups. Meanwhile study abroad relationships are characteristically younger, with a median age group of only two years. This trend is also found for U.S. fiancés on business through the military, who are tied for the lowest median age differences.

In-Person Meetings Fiancé Demographics

Characteristic Business Military Unexpected Study Abroad Friends/Family Vacation
Number in sample n = 331 n = 73 n = 726 n = 150 n = 919 n = 564
Median Sponsor Age 36 32 40 28 42 41
Median Alien Age 29 30 30 28 31 31
Median Age Difference 5 4 9 2 9 9

In terms of where these couples plan to live in the United States, the data is again quite sparse. Houston is the only area with any substantive number of in-person respondents, which suggests a limited regional emphasis in the United States. This is similar to the data for online-medium couples, allowing a conclusion of no meaningfully different pattern in geographical location in the U.S towards meeting in-person versus online.

Top 5 U.S. Destination Cities for In-Person Met Fiancés

Rank Total,Destination City % In-Person Respondents Average Age Differential Modal Nationality
1 Houston, TX 2.5 4.5 China
2 San Diego, CA 1.0 1.5
3 Los Angeles, CA 1.0 6 Philippines
4 Brooklyn, NY 0.7 3
5 Dallas, TX 0.7 1

Conclusion

This report fleshes out the story behind several macro-trends discovered in our previous report. The historical origins of the K-1 visa in the military community have expanded broadly across both groups of citizens in the U.S. and various regions abroad. While many K-1 fiancés do still meet through military deployment, the modal story is increasingly taking place online.

Facebook, dating sites, and other large international platforms are becoming the public forum through which these relationships begin. Our analysis suggests these shifts create room for a greater diversity of partnerships from across the world, allowing relationships to flourish across thousands of miles. The trends observed in K-1 visa applicants are also common to the larger story about dating in the United States. This societal shift makes it likely that the evolving patterns explored in this report will continue into the foreseeable future.

Acknowledgements

This project was commissioned and directed by RapidVisa with significant contribution from Causal Design, an independent research firm based in Washington D.C.

RapidVisa’s team involved with this project include Kyle Marvin, Director of Marketing; Eugene Biton, Senior Developer/Data Mining; Patrick Tabanas, DevOps Engineer; Zadkiel Molina, Spanish Translation; and Isagani Luna Jr., Senior Developer.

Causal Design’s team involved with this project include Stephen Stapleton, Lead Researcher/Data Analyst/Data Visualization & Rachel Storey, Project Manager.

For inquiries regarding the contents of this report, contact Kyle Marvin at 800-872-1458. For press inquiries, contact Gina Yager at 702-480-8980.