Most Beautiful Ladies Featured In Business Week

The Mail-Order Bride-Trade Is Flourishing

The global economic downturn has only been a boon to the international business of helping single men get hitched, though Abound scams, and some say the industry is not that different from human trafficking

Times are good for John Martin. The former investment banker and Wharton MBA lives with the his wife of 27 years in a three-bedroom London townhouse. When he is not lounging in the his private garden, Martin spends a his free time playing tennis at the exclusive Hurlingham Club and gliding around town in the his Lexus. Though he does not Claim To Be a philosopher, Martin’s insight into the human heart has led to a lucrative second career as a matchmaker and packager of amorous adventures. „Every guy wants a beautiful younger woman,“ he Explains. „It’s the nature of us.“

Fourteen years ago, Martin, 73, founded the Most Beautiful Ladies, a London-based matchmaking agency charges That male Customers up to $ 2,000 for a „Supervised courtship“ -a process Them That matches with younger Eastern European women. Most Beautiful Ladies has since grown into a multinational operation with 30 satellite offices from the US to Abu Dhabi. „We’re still opening up franchises, and business is Booming,“ Martin says in the his thick New York accent. „Financial problems are the Biggest Cause of divorce. There are more financial problems now. There are more people available!“

In the age of globalization, the international matchmaking industry-still known in many circles as the mail-order bride trade-is thriving like never before. The Táhirih Justice Center, a nonprofit organization in Falls Church, Va., That Protects immigrant women, estimates That the number of mail-order marriages in the US More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2007 When up to 16,500 drought unions Were sealed.

International matchmakers are now a growing segment of the US online dating industry, Which, the according to market research firm IBISWorld, racked up more Than $ 2 billion in 2010 revenue. Since the recession which began, „we’ve seen more men sign up,“ says John Adams, the co-founder of Phoenix-based A Foreign Affair, Which charges $ 4,000 for the right to ATTEND champagne-soaked „socials“ in various Eastern European cities. The company estimates it sparked Nearly 1,000 engagements this year. „Men evaluate Their lives a little more Closely When The Economy Becomes More Difficult. They look at what’s really Important to Them and try to find one person That They want to spend the rest of Their lives with.“ Adams Would know. He met His wife, Tanya, and 1997 at St. Petersburg social sponsored by the his own company.

Amid the proliferation of dating websites and matchmaking reality shows, venturing abroad for love has taken on a more Acceptable mien. International matchmakers have succeeded, in part, by targeting middle-aged men find dating troublesome WHO-men who, the according to Martin, „do not have the money to go out on dates and go on weekends to Vegas and Atlantic City. They want someone to take care of Them. “ While They Might Not Have the Means to secure a more Conveniently located trophy wife; they must have enough money to travel to Eastern Europe and spend Thousands for a shot at eternal bliss. Though Love May Be Priceless, Martin notes, „$ 2,000 to get a beautiful woman-it’s a bargain!“ According To David L. Knabel, the owner and president of Louisville-based matchmaker A Volga Girl, „It’s no different Than a dating site in the US-it’s an except international marriage.“

In 2007 Ben Baligad hit a dry spell. The divorced 53-year-old eschewed the San Diego dating scene after discovering Ukraine’s favorable gender ratio-0.92 males for every female Between ages 15 and 64, the according to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. After enlisting companies such as Microsoft Global Ladies and Army of Brides, the insurance salesman made three trips to Ukraine. The third time was the charm: Baligad met the his potential future wife, Natalya Chuprina 18 years the his junior. „I’m planning on Bringing the games to the US as soon as I get my finances straight,“ he says.

By pulling on the heartstrings of single men, the mail-order bride industry has at Its disposal untold financial Opportunities. In Addition to Membership Fees-Which run $ 29.95 per month at A Foreign Affair-and „romance tours“ That can cost suitors Thousands, many sites charge Between $ 6 and $ 8 to translate Each e-mail exchanged Between interlocutors, and EVEN MORE for phone and instant message translation. Some companies, like Most Beautiful Ladies, Also have expanded into same-sex international matchmaking. „We’ve been doing gay business for about a year and a half,“ boasts Martin.

Though every site’s Claims shelves ITS users, scams are common. Les Vancil, the founder of Easy Ukraine, an Ohio-based site targeting men traveling abroad for matchmaking Opportunities, says the problems lie with the Eastern European Contracted agencies to recruit women. Vancil asserts These companies post fake profiles, ratchet up prices for translation, and sometimes impersonate women to ask for money.

When Customers complain, matchmakers „Their wipe hands clean,“ says Steve Ewald, a Detroit accountant WHO stopped using after droughts sites Several unsatisfying experiences. They blame the agencies, he Claims, WHO blame the women. Ben says the agency Baligad That helped HIM communicate with the his girlfriend skimmed off 10 percent of the money he sent games for train fare and phone bills. Also he suspects posed as it plays in e-mails DEMANDING HE pay for a pricey apartment rental for the his visit. He hasnt Brought it up with the his girlfriend, though. „I think she thinks I will get angry,“ he says.

The arrangement can be far worse for the women Involved. After a few Highly publicized murders of women Brought to America through international matchmakers, the US passed the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (Imvros). The Statue Requires background checks on US Citizens before communication via the matchmakers. Those Who Fail to complete can not obtain a Form I-129f, Petition for Alien Fiance (e).

Referring to: couples can get around this obstacle by claiming They met through other avenues. Also there tends to be little enforcement of Imvros When The agencies are based outside the US (Most Beautiful Ladies, for example, is registered in St. Kitts.) „The mail-order bride industry is a softer version of human trafficking,“ says Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women. Ossorio Also acknowledges That some relationships work out Perhaps-but not in a way That Would Betty Friedan please. „A lot of people Who are attracted to it are just looking for a woman who’s docile and obedient,“ she says.

For some companies, droughts submissiveness is a selling point. Most Beautiful Ladies’s website trumpets the Fact That ITS females are „unspoiled by feminism.“ Company founder Martin argues this form of chauvinism-like the mail-order bride business Itself-is economically motivated. „You take a beautiful woman from the Czech Republic and the games you bring into your home, she does all your cooking and cleaning and ironing,“ he says. „At the end of the day, the service is free.“ Most Beautiful Ladies estimates the potential savings of a homemaking wife at $ 150 per week.

Women from economically troubled regions Also take part in order to secure an American visa. „People around the world still view the US as a Highly favorable place to live,“ says A Foreign Affair’s Adams. His wife agrees. „I worked a lot before, but Then I was waking up at nine in the morning and was like, ‚Whoa, what do I have to do now?‘ „Says Tanya Adams, WHO Remains a supporter of the company. „Even I recommended it to my somewhat.“

Perhaps love can always find a way. Most sites and the claim of 75 percent or Greater success rate, and this Boundless quest for passion-one inflamed by hard times-Continues to benefit matchmaking entrepreneurs. „Wonderful times for me,“ Martin says. „I can not complain.“

By Teddy Wayne

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