By Sophia Brooke
If you go online, you may be surprised to discover just how many Western women marry foreign men who want them simply for a visa. Who would fall for such a trick? Well, according to the Web, female Americans, middle-aged and desperate enough to believe anything a good-looking, young man might tell her. The fact that he is from a poorer country might ring some alarm bells but not loud enough to stop her from marrying him and believing that he is truly in love with her. Only later will she discover the heart-breaking truth. However, this is only a stereotype. In reality, ‘visa hunters,’ as they are called, do not discriminate; they will target anyone. I am a 31-year-old woman from England and, recently, I became the target of a visa hunter here in Korea. My experience has completely opened my eyes to how easy it is to fall into their trap; believing their web of lies and deceit. I wrote this article to make women aware that these men are operating in Korea and to help them avoid what could turn out to be a very dangerous situation.
My experience started on a normal Saturday night in Itaewon, the main foreigner borough in central Seoul. He appeared out of nowhere, sitting across from me at the bar. I noticed that he kept looking around, seemingly waiting for someone, drinking his beer as if he were losing patience. But no one showed up. He was wearing a trendy, black leather jacket and had a black scarf tied securely around his neck as though he’d just arrived or was just about to leave. His whole demeanor was mysterious probably because he was alone in a very conspicuous place looking quite different from everyone else around; he was tanned—South American I thought—and serious looking, with a set of dark brown eyes that looked as though they could bore right into your soul. I thought he was stunning. He’d gaze across at me every now and again and I’d ignore him thinking he must be looking at someone behind me. But then we made eye contact, and there were a few smiles before he finally beckoned me over and without a second thought, I went straight to him like a moth to the flame. (My friends often say that I wear my heart on my sleeve and it’s true—I have a ridiculous belief in love at first sight, despite all the trouble it gets me into).
Up close he was just as stunning and debonair with his styled hair, leather jacket, designer jeans and Puma trainers; he’d certainly made an effort to look good. When he spoke to me, I was surprised by how blunt he was; the first thing he asked was my age quickly followed by whether I had a boyfriend or not. I guessed he’d spent too much time in Korea where these questions are normal when first meeting someone. Still, after hearing his beautiful French accent I soon forgot about his abruptness and we began to chat normally. While we chatted he told me he was 28 and an electrical engineer from Morocco. The reason he was in Korea was to start a business exporting cars. Not the usual kind of guy you meet in Itaewon or even in Korea. I was quite impressed and tried probing him for more information but he was reluctant to talk about it. I found out that he’d worked in Dubai, Tunisia and Malaysia, where he’d also tried to start a business but failed. We danced for a while and talked some more and then he told me how comfortable I made him feel and how happy he was around me. That’s also when he mentioned that he was looking to get married and settle down very soon.
At this point, I should perhaps have done a runner. But I didn’t. Whether it was the dark eyes, the alluring French accent, I don’t know. I just know that he intrigued me and his forwardness I found genuinely funny, putting it down to his Arab roots. I did tell him that I wasn’t the marrying kind and even asked him, jokingly, if he wanted a visa to go to England and that if he did, he’d picked the wrong woman. He shrugged it off and assured me that he could go to England whenever he liked because his Uncle worked in London. And then he talked about marriage again, trying to convince me that two months was long enough. I just laughed at him and changed the subject. Yes, he was talking about marriage and I’d known him for approximately two hours but I still didn’t believe he was a ‘visa hunter.’ He didn’t look the type. He was well dressed and polite with an excellent job and he seemed to have enough of his own money not to care about mine. How else could he stay here without a job while looking into starting a business, exporting cars no less? Everything he said seemed feasible to me and not just that, it was the way he said it, so believable, so confident. I had no reason to doubt anything he’d told me so far.
We stayed out the entire night, drinking and talking. He didn’t seem to want to go home, even though he said he lived in a goshiwon nearby. He also insisted on paying for every single one of my drinks. I have no idea how much we drank but it was enough for me to feel guilty for all the money he’d spent on me. The next day we ate brunch, again he paid, and that’s when he told me that he thought he loved me and talked about buying me a diamond ring. Still, I didn’t take him seriously, again putting it down to his overly-passionate Arab blood, coupled with sleep deprivation from the night before. He’s not thinking straight, I told myself. He said it wouldn’t be an engagement ring but a gift. He told me they were cheap in Korea, around $500. He talked a lot about the price of things and how ‘cheap’ they were, giving me the impression that he must be very well off because I didn’t think that was very cheap. When we said goodbye, part of me thought I would never hear from him again but I was wrong. He texted and called me every day for the next week, something that I welcomed because, at the end of the day, I liked him and I enjoyed the attention he was giving me.
Giving Him a Chance
That week, I did some research on Google and found site after site, forum after forum, all screaming at us Western women to stay away from Moroccan men. There were a few good stories intermingled between the bad but a lot were negative stating very clearly that they are after your money and a one-way ticket to a Western land. Armed and equipped with this knowledge, I decided to give him the chance I thought he deserved—I mean, he could have been one of the good guys, right?
We met the following Saturday afternoon, visited an art gallery, went ice skating and then he took me to a Moroccan restaurant. Afterwards we drank wine and bar hopped around Itaewon until the very early hours. Once again, he willingly paid for the admission fees, the food, the drinks, not caring about cost, just whipping out his bank card and that was that. He must have spent well over $300. Whenever I offered to pay he would shake his head at me telling me no, over and over, as if he were insulted. I stopped feeling guilty in the end, there was no point.
He told me more about his business venture and confessed that exporting cars was proving to be too difficult and so he was going to look into exporting electrical goods instead. I quizzed him endlessly about his education, his life in Morocco and how the hell was he able to stay in Korea without earning a penny? He smiled at me, as if he had a secret, and then told me that money was not a problem for him. He then said that for Christmas he would like to buy me an expensive watch and asked me what my dream car was. When I told him it was a Toyota Yaris, he said that it was a cheap one and that he would buy it for me whenever I wanted. I listened to him amused, not sure whether to believe him, but he really did seem genuine backing up every one of his lines with a story or example.
And then the conversation fell, once again, upon marriage. He didn’t ask me to marry him but he did say that he could see us getting married at some point. I told him what I thought, very bluntly in fact but, surprisingly, he said he liked my view on life and seemed keen to continue our date. He came across as very self-assured and so sorted in his life—he had money, ambition, life experience and I found myself, despite the quickness of it all, thinking that this guy was really quite something. On top of all that, he came across as so loving and sincere to the point that even though we’d known each other a week, I felt like I’d known him for years.
Again, we stayed out until the early hours as he really didn’t want to go home, it’s only later I found out why. We ended up going to a jimjilbang and sleeping there for a while, meeting for lunch in the restaurant around midday. Except for us and a young Arab-looking woman, the place was empty. I noticed her staring at him and I wondered if they were from the same country and if she found him attractive. He didn’t seem to notice and so I ignored it and was about to order when I heard her say something to him, very quietly, in what I presumed to be Arabic. He replied, also in Arabic, and then it turned into a conversation but secretive and seemingly conspiratorial so that I turned around in the end and glared at them. They both eyed me and then each other and then he said something to her, very calm, very controlled again, in Arabic. She then came up to me and said, ever so calmly, “Don’t you know who I am?”
I shook my head slowly, the word ‘sister’ ran desperately through my mind. “I’m his fiancée.” She announced, showing me her finger. The diamond ring dazzled me for a moment and I stood there stunned watching them argue as if it were a scene from some talk show. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying but it was very clear to me that these two knew each other very well, very well indeed. “What did he tell you?” she wanted to know. “Did he say he’s starting a business and that he’s a qualified engineer?” I nodded and watched as he tried to cover her mouth to stop her from speaking. She pushed him away and a smug smile crossed her lips. “He doesn’t have any money; he doesn’t even have a degree. I’m the one who’s qualified and he’s ruined my life.” The guy then grabbed me trying to lead me away from the girl he was now calling ‘jealous’ and ‘crazy,’ while she continued to shout at me until my head went dizzy and I needed to sit down. Finally, I told the girl to follow me into the ladies’ section so that we could talk alone. She did.
I’d never felt more stupid in my life sitting with the fiancée of a man who had done nothing but lie to me for an entire week; I can only imagine how she was feeling. She was Tunisian, but had met him while studying in Malaysia. He’d told her he was there to try and start a business and had given her the impression that he was financially secure, which sounded very familiar. Unfortunately, she’d fallen in love with him and they’d gotten engaged and she’d followed him to Korea believing that he intended to start a business there instead. She’d trusted him implicitly and even ‘lent’ him all of her money, eight thousand dollars, which he’d promised to return. “But once he had the money,” she said, “he kept it and then refused to marry me.” She went on: “I then discovered that he has nothing; no money, no qualifications. And now, I’m disgraced because of him and cannot go back to Tunisia.” She said that they were still living together and that both of them were working in a factory—it was all they could do. As proof, she showed me several pictures she had on her phone and then more revelations; his real age was 24, not 28, and he’d been deported from Dubai after spending six months in prison for stealing there. It was all a bit much to take in.
She told me that he desperately wanted to go to America or England but had been refused a visa and his uncle in England wanted nothing to do with him. “You’re a business to him,” she said. “He will spend as much money on you as it takes, on anyone who can give him what he wants.” I told her I wouldn’t have married him and that I didn’t have any money to give him. She shrugged. “But you’re making money,” she said. “You have a job and he’d have chipped away at you bit by bit until you agreed to marry him.” Then she gave me a look of pity. “Do you know what he said to me in Arabic?” I shook my head. “He warned me not to tell you anything and that if I did, it wouldn’t matter, because he could go out and find himself another.” That knowledge left me feeling quite cold. “He’s a dangerous, dangerous man,” she said, finally. When she’d finished, I was flabbergasted, realizing that the only true thing he’d told me was his name. I thanked her for her honesty and above all, for saving me, and wished her all the luck in the world.
Outside, the guy was waiting. He followed me to the subway completely unfazed, feeding me more and more of his lies. I had to fight, even then, to ignore that smooth voice, those innocent eyes of his so as to not get sucked back in. He had such a way with words and an unnerving ability to charm—or should I say lie—his way out of any situation. I asked him how he could prove his story, and his response? A charming, but secretive, smile. And that’s the last I ever saw of him.
The Moral of the Story
I was lucky; I didn’t fall in love with him, I didn’t marry him and I didn’t give him any money. But I did believe him and I did waste a week of my life on him. If I hadn’t have met his fiancée, then I’m pretty sure I would have discovered the truth for myself at some point. But when? That’s the frightening part. If we’d have become more involved with each other, I honestly do not know how it would have ended. Looking back, I can call myself stupid and naive. Yet, at the same time, no one expects to be lied to in that way and I wasn’t given a reason to suspect him. I might have wondered whether he had a wife in Morocco, but an illegal factory worker looking for a visa? That was the furthest thing from my mind.
Visa hunters are experienced and professional con-artists. The ‘con’ stands for ‘confidence,’ and this is what they aim to steal; along with your heart and your money. I won’t let this one experience make me suspicious of every non-Western man I meet. However, I am a much wiser person now and know exactly what to look out for; especially that word, ‘marriage.’ My message is this: if I can meet this kind of guy, then so can you; if I can fall for his lies, then so can you. I really hope that by sharing my story, as embarrassing as it is, I can stop the same thing from happening to other women here in Korea.
Does he want me for a visa?
10 signs to look out for:
1. He is drinking alone in a bar when you meet him.
2. He makes the first move and asks you a) how old you are before telling you his own age
and b) if you have a boyfriend before engaging you in normal conversation.
3. He tells you he has a very good job and that he is in Korea to start a business.
4. He insists on paying for everything and promises to buy you expensive items.
5. He tells you he loves you almost immediately.
6. He mentions marriage very early on and the fact he is looking to settle down.
7. He doesn’t hide the fact that he is financially secure.
8. He calls you often openly telling you how much he misses and loves you.
9. He has lived in several countries and says that he has been there trying to start a business.
10. He doesn’t have a Facebook page/online account and may say that it was accidentally
- You are a business to him—the money he invests in you is exactly that, an investment, albeit it risky; he will take that risk because in return he may get money and the right to live in a Western country.
- His very own words to his fiancée, right in front of me (in Arabic) were: “If you tell her about me, I will just go out and find another.” He will find another—Please don’t let it be YOU!
Sophia Brooke came to Korea in 2006 after her friend convinced her she’d have a fantastic time. Her friend was right and four years later she finds herself still here. She works in a public high school and it is her best teaching job to date but eventually she plans to train as a holistic nutritionist (if she ever drags herself back to the UK).
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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