Sham marriages are a “golden ticket” to residency in the UK, according to a report published yesterday.
Up to 10,000 applications to remain in Britain each year are based on sham marriages, many of which involve “away day” brides from eastern Europe, it said.
This may be the tip of an iceberg, however, because register offices are failing to report suspicions to the Home Office.
Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nigerians are the most common people from outside the EU to be involved in suspected bogus marriages, the report by John Vine, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said.
Eight out of ten non-EU people involved in sham marriages are men. They are frequently marrying women from new member states of the European Economic Area, who are known as “away day brides” because they often make day-return trips to the UK to take part in the ceremony.
He cited a recent operation at Brent Register Office in northwest London after the registrar reported suspicions that two “grooms” were entering into sham marriages with EU citizens to stay in Britain.
The two men were arrested but attempts to remove them from the UK were dropped when they challenged their removal on the ground that their right to a family life and right to marriage would be breached under human rights laws. They were released after being detained for 51 nights at a cost of more than £6,000 and records indicate they are continuing with their plans to marry.
Registrars reported 5,400 suspicions over the five years to 2012 and the Home Office expected to receive 2,300 reports last year alone, the report said. Between January and September last year, 334 people were arrested after 500 reports of suspected sham marriages.
The enforcement operation at Brent Register Office was triggered by one of the intended “grooms” admitting he was in the UK illegally.
A member of the enforcement team described the shams as a “massive loophole in the Immigration Rules”, Mr Vine’s report said.
“A Home Office senior manager described obtaining residency through sham marriage as akin to a ‘golden ticket’.”
Some couples suspected of entering into a sham marriage attempt to convince officials they are genuine by booking an outside venue licensed for weddings which accommodates many people — but when enforcement staff arrive they find few guests at the “huge venue booked”.
Mr Vine said: “The Home Office should ensure that local enforcement teams are adequately resourced to deal with any increase in referrals.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, which campaigns for lower immigration, said: “This is a scandal that has gone on too long. Registrars must have the courage to report their suspicions.”