Register offices should be given the power to stop weddings in an attempt to undermine the booming industry in sham marriages, a committee of MPs is to recommend today.
Individuals caught attempting to enter into a bogus marriage to get a permanent right to stay in the UK should be prosecuted to deter others, they say.
Sham marriages are a significant threat to immigration controls as each one opens the way for a bogus spouse to bring their children, parents, grandchildren and grandparents into Britain.
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Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “There is an industry of deceit which uses sham marriages to circumvent immigration control. Marriage is a precious institution and should not be hijacked to make a mockery of the law or our immigration system.”
He added: “The estimated 10,000 sham marriages appears to be increasing at an alarming rate.”
The committee’s report said it was not convinced that the Home Office had a true understanding of the scale of sham marriages, as it put the estimate at between 4,000 and 10,000 a year.
Register offices reported 934 suspected sham marriages to the Home Office in 2010, a figure that rose to 2,135 last year, the report said. It is up to the department’s enforcement teams to act on reports.
The report said that registrars should be given the power to stop a wedding if they were confident that the marriage was a sham and the Home Office had failed to act on the warning sent to them.
The MPs express alarm about a “blind spot” of under-reporting after they found there were parts of the country, including large cities, where there have been no reports of suspected sham marriages.
“We find it implausible that there should be sizeable cities in the UK where there are no sham marriages at all,” the report said.
It added: “We should not underestimate the duplicity of those involved in organising sham marriages, which has turned into an industry and appears to be increasing.”
The report expresses concern that the Home Office was unable to provide the chief inspector of borders and immigration with the number of prosecutions or removals from the country as a result of sham marriages.
The Home Office said: “We are taking ever-tougher action, including through the new Immigration Act.”
The report comes a week after Isabella Acevedo, the illegal immigrant cleaner of Mark Harper, the former immigration minister, was arrested before her daughter’s wedding at Haringey town hall in north London. It turned out that the suspected sham marriage was lawful. Ms Acevedo, who has been in the UK illegally since overstaying a visitor visa, is expected to be removed to Colombia.
Case study: When hunch proves wrong
Suspicions about sham marriages can be wrong (Richard Ford writes). A Chinese bride and her Italian groom came under suspicion when they arrived at Camden town hall, north London, last year only to find a number of strange people outside.
Five minutes before the ceremony, immigration officers took Miao Guo, 31, and Massimo Ciabattini, 34, into separate rooms for questioning similar to the television game show Mr and Mrs. The register office had become supicious because Ms Guo’s visa was about to expire and her fiancé had had difficulty spelling her second name.
The bride, a sales consultant at Prada, and the groom, a retail manager at Harrods, gave identical answers and the officials accepted that it was a genuine marriage.
Afterwards one official said that their expensive, tailored clothes and the fact that Ms Guo was carrying a Chanel handbag, not to mention that both were “extremely good looking”, should have made them realise that the wedding was genuine.
Officials say sham marriages often involve couples who speak different languages and turn up in anoraks.