What are Marriages for Papers a.k.a. Paper Marriages?

This blog has been around for 8+ months now and I was actually extremely surprised when I realized that not once did I talk about something so unique yet so present within the African immigrant experience.

I am of course talking about “marriages for papers” or as I shall label them for the rest of the post paper marriages or PMs.

Now I must say I am faaarrr from an expert on them, as I have not seen too many blatant paper marriages, so what I will do is define them, tell a bit of a story and request that you leave a comment below giving some more information on them.

What is a Paper Marriage?

In brief a paper marriage is when an immigrant marries a citizen of a Western nation in order to either improve their visa situation, become a permanent resident or citizen of a country or to advance themselves materially in any way.

How Did I Get the Idea to Write This?

The idea to write this actually came out of the tiny little verbal assault I took when I decided to talk about the Jungle Fever article on Kenya Imagine.

A comment by one of the few folks who chose to support me and engage in discussion on it was a story about a man who went to the UK and engaged in paper marriage. After reading that, I knew, I’d best post this up on the site with the quickness so that at the very least you are aware and talking about it.

What Nature Do PMs Take?

At their best, PMs aren’t even PMs. Two people, across cultures look deep into the windows of each other’s souls and see eternity. They lock hands in a beautiful union in which one of the positive side effects is that whoever was an immigrant of the two gets upgraded and can stay in whatever Western country they immigrated to.

To illustrate the worst, I’ll give you a fictional story that is a collection of things I have seen and heard over the years.

Marriage certificate

The Story of Billy

Once Upon a Time

Billy is a middle class kid who grows up in some African city in some African country. His parents worked hard for years and managed to build themselves a wonderful company that exploited people’s needs for fresh fruit and vegetable for a profit.

When Billy is finished with high school, his parents decide it is in Billy and his family’s best interests if he flies over to the West to study something that will get him solid office job.

The Ladies Man

Now while all this is going on, Billy is quite the Don Juan. So smooth, he skates on sand and with words so sweet, the bees go to him for tips. He has done his fair share of seed distribution and heart breaking before he meets a lovely girl called Abby.

Abby is an angel, a jewel and most of all a gift that he wants to cherish for the rest of his life. He gets down on one knee before Abs, who is pregnant with his second son, and two months later they wed.

He Departs

One month after that, his parents collect all their savings and use it to help their son fly out. Billy departs promising that he will not only repay every penny but eventually support his ma and his pa like they did him.

He has no clue what he’s going to do abroad, all he knows is he is coming back to Abby, his parents and his two sons when it’s all said and done.


He arrives abroad with only his first semester paid off and without guides like tDA (well, that IS why I started this blog after all) Billy has no clue what on Earth he should do. His friends can advise him, but much of their advice is so disjointed and contradictory that ultimately he really doesn’t know who to trust.

The Rat Race

So he tries to make it on his own, working harder than a donkey from 9-5 in school and putting in some boring hours at the factory from 7pm – 6 a.m. every night and catching up on sleep on the commutes.

With all this stress on his back, Billy dedicates his weekends solely to escapism via alcohol and carnal delights.

The Lion Spots His Prey

One night, while stumbling around in a drunken haze looking for the next damsel he can wax lyrical to, he happens upon Fiona.

Now Fiona is a very shy introspective girl who has a wonderful rich world inside of her. Unfortunately the richness and beauty of this world is either not coming out as it should externally or is being covered up by all the layers of excess fat.

It’s Not all Roses and Butterflies

Billy has been on the hustle – weekend escape – hustle hamster wheel for 3 years. The wheel was rotating at such a fast pace all around him that he forgot to renew his Visa and is now in the country illegally.

As a result of sleeping in class and on the train one too many times, he has also failed all his classes and was forced to drop out.

So now he is doing double time in the factory trying to raise enough money to see if he can renew his visa AND pay to re-enrol in school. And through this lens he looks at Fiona yet again, and boy, all of a sudden she gives Gabrielle Union a run for her money.

The Paper Negotiation Begins

He has walked through the routine many times before so he isn’t too nervous as he approaches her with his game face on. Fiona is simply smitten.

Sure, she always gets attention from boys when the beer goggles hit at 3 a.m., but never has someone been so smooth with his game and to be honest she doesn’t know what it’s like to be hit on before 2:59 a.m.

The Plot Thickens

Floating on the wings of pure unadultered lust she ends up in bed with Bill over and over again over the next 3 weeks.

“Ooops, we forgot to use protection,” thinks Fiona

“Yes! Thinks Bill. We forgot to use protection”

How Can Something So Innocent Be Used Like This?

3 weeks later, the bump that can only be a wonderful seed of life can be seen in Fiona. Fiona is scared. She doesn’t want to raise this child alone. She is still in school. One day she wants to work as a park ranger and doesn’t want to be derailed from that.

Paper Engagement

Just like that first night in the bar, smooth-Bill is back, with a ring in one hand and an “honest” declaration to love her forever on the other. She says, “Yes,” and before you can count all the countries in Africa they are wed.

Is this Nirvana?

Billy feels like he just had the weight of the world taken off of him. He can’t believe it. No longer does he have to go to school and work in the factory every day to make ends meet. He cuts down work at the factory to part time hours and requests government benefits to help him support his seed.

With all this spare time, Billy needs something to do. He can’t call Abby because he has forgotten which lie he last told. He can’t spend time with his wife because he finds her personality about as interesting as paint watching itself dry and finds their bedroom romps beyond lacklustre.

So Where Does Our Protagonist End Up?

So this is where, Mwangi finds him, in an African night club about to impregnate the latest 19 year old girl that’s fresh off the boat.

Makes you think, doesn’t it.

My Hope

Is that this blog will help us as a community completely get over and have no need for paper marriages? I think until we can present more viable alternatives for people in dire circumstances who are here on student and visitor visas, the habit will still continue (here in Oz, there are even night clubs that women are advised to visit to snare themselves husbands for the papers). So I can’t judge or advise until then…….

Anyway that’s my quick blurb about that. Share any thoughts, tips or ideas you have on paper marriages and how we as a community can evolve beyond this form of exploitation?

The Newsletter

If you are a fan of this article or blog, I encourage you to join and give me feedback ( :) ) on my Immigrant Survivor Guide Newsletter by putting your first name and email address in the boxes below.

In newsletter, once a week I send you short emails that give you actionable tips that you can immediately apply to make your immigrant experience better including tips on making friends, finding employment, how to stay healthy on the run, things to prepare before you immigrate, staying in touch with people from your home country etc etc.

So please join, and give me feedback, by putting your first name and email in the boxes below:

Be blessed and bless others,



  • By Caustic Blonde, August 11, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

    This is not unique to the African community, the latin community is overrun with “paper” marriages, particually in the United States. I think it is sad when someone uses another person like this and then brings an innocent baby into the situation. But as they say, what comes around, goes around. Now, I am not bothered if someone gets married to someone as an arrangement for papers and both parties are aware and in agreement. It’s not something I would do, but to each his own.

  • By Tony, August 11, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

    Horrible, but sadly it is true. I have learned of this terrible case for over 10years now.

    While I empathize with the displaced immigrants and the harsh living conditions they face in those developed countries, I frown at the complication they create for the future generations with the shoddy arrangements they make to escape from hardship.

    I strongly belief, that there are always better ways of escaping the RAT RACE!

    I can’t just imagine someone like the Billy in that story, receiving a handshake from the people back at home for representing Africa well. He is a pure DISGRACE!

    If you can’t cope in a foreign land as an immigrant, my simple advise is to go back home. Home is home! And there is no place like Home!!! The value of a man is not determined by material wealth he possess. It is in the impact he makes in the life of others.

  • By acolyte, August 11, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

    Such trapping does happen but more often than not wise men out here don’t bring kids into the equation because that means 18 years of bondage and commitment. Most dudes get a gal but keep kids out of the equation as long as it is possible.
    Plus just having residency anywhere doesnt automatically mean life gets easy, you still have to grind esp if you have no qualifications to your name.

  • By Leo Faya, August 12, 2008 @ 4:55 am

    I often browse through your articles, some are logical, some amusing, some irrelevant and some just whack (like this one and any other previous postings you have had on this issue). (Especially the African men dating Obese women ) that just kinda showed your ignorance with regards to a lot of issues.

    But again I think that’s what you thrive upon in order to instigate emotion or reaction from people (I guess your readers/ or target audience). But I wonder if a few months down the line you go back and read your articles and change your opinions? The web serves as one massive digital imprint of random ideas and thoughts. I’d hate to be quoted with some of the things you have tabled here that are fallacious.

    Either way I think these are your thoughts, and much like I am submitting my thoughts on your website, these are just my comments with regards to you thinking. I just think its such a waste when you have a website that can have so much potential and relevancy to many Africans (without general skews to Kenyans – because I think if you traveled a little you’d know the dynamics involved within different immigrants in the world – travel to NY and see how Africans live there am sure your blog will change) But you chose to approach this blog/website with more content rather than context. (meaning unajaza maneno maneno bila hali halisi ya viungo vyako)

    I hope with time you will change your views and opinions, probably read a lot more material, and expose yourself to different immigration dynamics. Rural urban, urban rural – I am sure your folks migrated from shagz to Nairobi (there is lots to learn from them, in relationship to your experiences). There is a lot of experience and maturity lacking in this blog in certain areas, but for what its worth I think mission accomplished.

    You got a guy like me to comment, whether good or bad. :)


  • By Mwangi, August 12, 2008 @ 6:10 am

    @Caustic: You know something I have always wondered?….considering how large the Latin American population is in the States, why don’t we see more of them and their stories on television? When I wrote this post and most of the time when I think about the States I never think about Latinos even though they are the largest minority group in the States.
    Thanks for educating me about this happening in the Latino community. As easy as it would be for me to pass judgment or condemn the behavior, as I said, until I can propose alternative solutions I definitely can’t

  • By Mwangi, August 12, 2008 @ 6:13 am

    @Tony: This may sadden you to learn but in the Kenya Imagine story I linked to, if you go and search for the comment with the story I was talking about, the mother of the man in question actually traveled overseas, saw that he was with his second Western wife and not only blessed the union but let him know she would be pretty angry if he left that marriage.

    It’s amazing at times how we as Africans can dehumanize people from other communities as stepping stones.

    And I think as much as we might hope that a man’s wealth didn’t play a huge role in his social value, by and large, especially for us Africans, it plays a humongous if not quintessential role.

  • By Mwangi, August 12, 2008 @ 6:16 am

    @acolyte: Btw I have heard of those situations e.g. situations where men are trying to escape child support and so on. Great point, those who are more strategic about the matter definitely try to avoid bringing children into the mix.

    I’m sure, like myself, you have been amazed by how quickly some people can get comfortable and “think they have arrived” once they step up just a bit and upgrade their visa or improve their living conditions just a bit. A lot of the time we as people take it for granted that life is a process and not a destination.

  • By Mwangi, August 12, 2008 @ 6:28 am

    @Leo Faya: Thanks for visiting tDA. Hope you enjoy your stay.
    A beautiful thing about this blog is that I am pretty open with the fact that I am ignorant about a lot of things and where I’m ignorant that’s where you folks come in and fill the holes. I have learned so so much by folks coming over and leaving me comments where they completely tear my arguments apart BUT talk about what alternatives, possibilities and ideas exist. So any time you stop by an article think its ignorant or naive and have any positive alternatives you know about, feel free to take me and the readers to school, that’s how we’ll all grow, me thinks.

    My opinion changes and will continue to change all the time. After all I am not my opinion, this blog is not my opinions, this blog has its goals and intentions and many ideas that fall within that.

    In fact, in regards to the Jungle Fever article, I am looking to alternatives all the time – any fresh off the boat Africans who get women high up on the social hierachy that I can write about. Once I find alternatives, if you know them, send them through, I would love to write about them and put their insights up.

    You know I do worry about this blog being defined by that Jungle Fever article, not necessarily because it was fallacious, I meant every word, but because of people’s tendency to strongly emotionally react to it.

    I wish I could say that I am a huge fan of using controversy to get attention, but after micro-testing with the Jungle Fever article, I must say I am not a big fan. It’s a bit like celebrity bashing, there is very little empathy and in depth discussion that goes on, its way too superficial. So, though I achieved my objectives some what – attention, discussion, traffic – it’s far from my favourite way to do it.

    My mission will be accomplished when we as a community have a huge directory of information on how to succeed and thrive in the diaspora at the highest levels, take action on that every day and serve our home and help bring it out of that mess……so my mission is faaaarrrrr from accomplished.

    Anyway since you seem to think that there are some things I should be talking about, that I don’t feel free to tell me what topic areas I am not covering, or am not covering well……..

  • By Mwangi, August 12, 2008 @ 7:58 am

    @Leo Faya: Apologies you got me thinking in so many different directions that I think I gave you a run for your money when it comes to rambling…….

    No, thank you for engaging with me. Thank you so much for your ideas and insights, what you just did is pretty much why I always say I have the best readers online……not just empty criticism, but criticism that comes with positive ideas and contributions that can make the tapestry of our collective knowledge and understanding even deeper.

    If you wish to engage in dialogue outside of this blog, my inbox is always open….always open.

    I totally agree on my having social responsibility no doubt about that. But I think you will agree that my blog is quite separate from other blogs and other journals written for African immigrants by African immigrants in that:

    a) As a blog,it’s core reasons for existence are to serve other people and for me to someday make a living off of it: This blog doesn’t exist for me to rant about anything or everything that I feel I want to talk about, anything I want to write is viewed through the lens of my passions and interests vs will it be off use to African immigrants.

    b) It’s separate from journals in that it’s written in predominantly my voice, including of course voices of people on podcasts and guest posts, which I hope to include more of as time goes by.

    Now this is just for me, but one thing I don’t tend to enjoy about newspapers and journals is that they tend to discuss important, day to day issues from a place of clinical, logical attachment (if you don’t understand what I mean by this let me know). I personally feel that the most progress and “real discussion” will be had when we not only logically detach ourselves from the discussion but also take time to talk about and understand how we emotionally engage with a topic area, what are our feelings, prejudices and so on and so on about that.

    Over time I have realized the quickest way to get people to think along those lines and talk about how they emotionally engage in something is for me to do it myself, plus I enjoy doing it. So, I think in me giving my emotive view points and discussing my prejudices and failings, I am fulfilling my very unique responsibility – not quite a journal/not quite a blog/not quite a radio show.

    As a brief digression, I genuinely believe once people are passionately engaged in something in the right way then we can easily use our logic to get us to where we want to go. Any, digression……

    Now, when I wrote the article above it was JUST about African immigrants. When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about traditional or modern day marriages on the African continent, or Western marriages, I only wanted to open a discussion on this sub-category of marriages called “paper marriages”.

    If anyone inferred anything about other types of marriages outside of paper marriages, let me set it straight, that wasn’t my intention (hmmm, I clarify my intentions a lot lately, me thinks I will begin every article by stating my intention, I dunno……)

    As for all the ideas you have let me strongly encourage you, let’s not talk about it, you are clearly an intelligent guy, be about it. I have heard many ideas, from mentorship programs, to engaging in politics and they are all fantastic in intention, but my hope is that we can put those great intentions and our huge knowledge base into action.

    Now, as the blog goes along, my intention(has been for a while) is to get a lot more podcast interviews on how folks can leverage immigration law to their benefit and on the immigration process, visa acquring process, as well as how to achieve material and relationship success…..and I am working hard on that behind the scenes…..once you bring any one of your visions to light, I will gladly gladly promote them and help out any way I can.

    And as a quick final note, I think people take something very important from granted some times, I have been here since my teens and I am writing this as a young adult, as this blog goes along I will actually, I kinda have through podcast interviews, cover the entire spectrum of the experience regardless of age. The good (passion of the youth, experience of older adults), the bad (the condescending nature of older adults, sexual immaturity of younger people) and the ugly.

  • By Caustic Blonde, August 12, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

    I have to be honest, when one thinks of immigrants in the United States, one thinks of Latin immigrants and not really anyone else. The reason for this is because we have a lot of Latin immigrants, the vast majority being illegal because it is easy for them to cross the Mexican/American border. It wouldn’t be so easy for, say, someone from Kenya to come into the United States illegally because well you would have to come by boat or plane, so we don’t have the flood of immigrants from other nations like we do from the Latin nations.

    I am not sure what you mean by,”why don’t we see more of them and their stories on television?” The topic of immigrants, particularly Latin immigrants is in the news and on the tongues of politicians all the time. If you want to incite the American people, start a topic on the Mexican/American border, gets us going everytime.

    I don’t know about where you live, but here in the states there are some lawyers that take advantage of immigrants. They will charge large sums of money promising a permanent resident card which they will never receive. And what makes this so horrible is that it is usually a lawyer that is Latin, taking advantage of his own people. Stuff like this never ceases to amaze me. I think this is one of the reasons there are so many “paper” marriages, it is my understanding that anywhere from 50%-75% of all marriages between an American and an immigrant is for papers. Whether or not the American realises it. I was going to write an entry about paper marriages, but you beat me to it. I think now I will write an entry to inform Americans of all that is entailed in marrying an immigrant. So many Americans go blindly into a union and do not fathom what sort of responsibility they have taken on.

  • By Caroline J, August 13, 2008 @ 1:46 am


    Stick to your unique, authentic self, style and flavor.

    Your difference== (you and your work) is not in your similarity to others but in your difference from others!

    The only reason people fail is broken focus.
    By all means, learn and grow and sharpen your edges but don’t be distracted by other voices.

    Good Job on your blog.

  • By Mwangi, August 13, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    @Caustic: I meant they don’t take up as much “popular culture” space in the world as much smaller minorities like the Italian Americans and of course, African Americans and that has always amazed me.
    I have seen quite a few news stories talking about the America-Mexico border and illegal immigrants…interesting debate that is.
    Definitely write that article, let me know and I will link to it as an alternative perspective on the same discussion………..

  • By Mwangi, August 13, 2008 @ 7:24 am

    @Caroline: As always a voice of pure encouragement…..merci :D

  • By Anonymous, September 16, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

    This is the point of view of a teenager; Concerning the issue of paper marriages, i have not seen any other way for an immigrant to earn their rights here in the U.S. The way it is over here, is an American and an African go into a marriage knowing that it is only for the papers. In some cases even, money is involved. I have often questioned the integrity in this even if both parties are in agreement. Obviously, i haven’t had to make a decision like this but my parents have in order to secure us futures in America.

  • By Mwangi, September 16, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    @Anonymous: You know, in the 9 months that this blog has existed, you are probably the first person to ever use the name “Anonymous” when leaving a comment. There’s no need my friend, just let folks know who you are, or as some folks do, what you are and let’s keep the conversation out in the open.

    Hmmm, yeah I have heard of that trade in the States and Caustic alluded to it in the comments above. As I said, my hope is over the course of this blog, to help our community get to a place where we don’t need to do this.

    If I may ask, how does one get a marriage partner for papers? Do they just outright ask? I am just curious as to how the process would work because I am sure it must be very uncomfortable in the beginning…..

  • By danielsaif, May 13, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

    liseten i know this is ridiculous but if there is
    any girl out there that wont mind making a buck
    contact me immediately ..im the guy in the story..literally….o7574619358

  • By Katja, October 18, 2011 @ 3:09 am

    My husband, Pakistani asylum seeker deceived me into thinking that he loves me. I am Eastern European. We got married and sorted his paper. I got pregnant and he dumped me saying the baby and I no longer fit into his lifestyle and it’s now time for him to enjoy his freedom!
    Our daughter is 3 now and has no father.
    I am left to take care of her by my self.
    My life was shattered.
    I still haven’t recovered.

    I am trying now to organize a support group for women and children who get abandoned like this so if you are one of them or you know anybody please contact me at yasinpashmina@gmail.com

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