Vikas Marwaha would normally be considered a good catch by Indian parents seeking a husband for their daughter. The 27-year-old software engineer earns $80,000 to $100,000 a year and comes from a family "of doctors and engineers," according to his profile on a matrimonial Web site.
But Mr. Marwaha works for a start-up Internet phone company in San Francisco. And because the U.S. economy is wobbly, that's a problem. Many Indian parents now are balking at sending their daughters to the U.S. to marry.
During a two-week wife-hunting trip to India in December, Mr. Marwaha interviewed 20 potential brides in 10 days. He says several parents asked him, "How has the recession impacted your job?" Mr. Marwaha says he assured them he hadn't been affected at all, but still he returned to the U.S. brideless.
Indian parents used to think it a plus to marry off their daughters to Indian men living in wealthier countries, including the U.S. and Britain. But as India has grown more affluent in recent years, the demand for overseas Indian grooms has been fading. While India's economy is also slowing down, it is still growing, and layoffs aren't as widespread as in the West.
"Even if something happens, in India there's a comfort" that the woman's parents are around to help, says Murugavel Janakiraman, founder of the matrimonial Web site Bharatmatrimony.com. Favorable responses to overseas grooms registered on his site have declined by 20% in the past nine months, he says.
Rahul Tamrakar, 32, a full-time consultant for International Business Machines Corp. in Chicago, has been looking for a bride back home in India. But he says prospective in-laws were worried that "consultant" was a euphemism for "unemployed." One parent asked to see his tax returns. He refused, and the talks fell through. Now, "I'm trying to meet up [with] girls who are in the U.S. already," he says.
Some brides simply see India as more livable these days. As salaries have gone up there, Indian married couples are able to afford houses, and young women with jobs have money of their own. In contrast, in the U.S., "people have to even clean their own toilets," says Hasit Dave, 55, who runs the Klassic Match Marriage Bureau in Ahmedabad, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
To be sure, some Indian brides, particularly those from modest backgrounds, still welcome foreign bridegrooms. But it's become a harder sale for women who see better prospects for themselves in India.
Anisha Seth, 26, has been looking for a groom for two years now. But she feels "jittery" about considering nonresident Indians as possible options.
Ms. Seth grew up in Lucknow, a medium-size town southeast of Delhi, but now works as a financial executive in Mumbai and lives alone in an apartment. Ms. Seth is part of a wave of Indian women who have, in recent years, started working and living away from their parents before marriage.
Ms. Seth says that if she were to move to the U.S. or to another developed country, she might not get a job quickly and would have to be dependent on her husband for a while. While she's open to the idea of giving up her independence, she worries that given the state of the U.S. economy, a groom based in America might not be earning enough to support her. For instance, Ms. Seth says she likes nice clothes and would like to have a flat-screen TV. "Is he really prepared to provide the kind of lifestyle that I have right now?" She expects a husband to earn more than she does.
Career-oriented Indian women, meanwhile, have grown concerned about their job prospects in the U.S. Sandeep Gohad, a Manchester, Conn., software consultant who's between jobs, got such questions during a two-month-long visit to his hometown of Pune, near Mumbai. He told bride candidates they would have a hard time getting a work visa in the U.S. And even if they did, finding jobs would be tough. He, too, came home single. An engineer or doctor "has absolutely no reason to go to the U.S.A. and work as a housewife," he says.
Even today, many Indian marriages are orchestrated by parents who plan everything from finding the spouse to the wedding ceremony. They often start by signing up with a marriage bureau or placing classified ads in Indian newspapers.
A recent ad listed under the heading Nonresident Indians read: Brahmin boy, very handsome, 27 years old and 178 centimeters tall (5 feet 10 inches), who has done his MBA and a bachelor's in computer science, working in New York, on an H-1B work visa, seeks a professionally qualified, very beautiful, tall girl.
Based on responses to the matrimonial ads and matches from marriage bureaus, parents of would-be grooms living in America -- sometimes in consultation with their sons -- short list the women. The prospective groom then visits India for one to three weeks, and if he chooses a woman -- and she agrees -- the marriage is set. He then returns to India after a few months for the wedding.
Until recently, overseas candidates would quickly elicit 10 to 15 responses from young women, says Smita Seth, 55, owner of Manpasand Marriage Bureau in Ahmedabad. But in the past few months, she has had to coax parents to even consider overseas grooms; they prefer men from their own towns instead.
Mr. Marwaha, the San Francisco software engineer, learned that the hard way. All meetings with potential brides were in the presence of the women's parents. The typical meeting started with the parents briefly interviewing Mr. Marwaha, primarily about his finances. Among the 20 or so women he met, the parents of half of them were reluctant to send their daughter to the U.S., either because they were worried Mr. Marwaha would lose his job or because they felt they couldn't verify his credentials. The other women just "didn't click" with him, he says.
Given the difficulty in finding matches for Indians abroad, some matchmakers are now charging them more. Mr. Dave of Klassic Match charges a minimum fee of $100, versus $50 for candidates living in India. He charges more for specific requirements. For instance, he says some overseas Indians want a bride who is smart, fluent in English, and "simultaneously, docile in the house." He says such women are now harder to find, so he bumps up his fees for some searches.
Some overseas Indians are throwing in the towel. Software engineer Abhishek Khaitan, 30, moved back to India in January after living in the U.S. since 2004. Mr. Khaitan, who is divorced, had been looking for a wife since the summer of 2008, to no avail. Mr. Khaitan has found a job in the south Indian city of Hyderabad and has been in touch with potential brides. "Things are working out, being here," he says.
By Shefali Anand (Wall Street Journal)