Reports by wedding registrars of sham marriages— a means by which otherwise illegal immigrants can legally live and work in the UK — are almost double the number they were just three years ago. Although increasing numbers of bogus ceremonies are raided, critics fear officials are in danger of being swamped by the huge rise in illegal marriages.
Home Office figures show that last year registrars filed 3,210 reports out of concern they were being asked to preside over sham marriages, reports the Sunday Express. A record high of 2,486 enforcement visits were made to weddings in 2014, up by 96 per cent from 2013 and more than triple the 735 that were made in 2012.
Figures also show a sharp increase in the numbers arrested, rising from 310 in 2012 to 1,541 in 2014.
Although the numbers suggest that sham marriages are on the increase, the issue is not a new one. The operation underlying these ceremonies was described as an “industry” in a Home Affairs Committee report of July 2014 which said the committee was not convinced the Home Office had “a true understanding of the scale of the problem.”
The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Keith Vaz, described the situation as “spiralling out of control.”
Non-European Union (EU) citizens who marry legal EU resident are given the right to stay in Britain for five years, after which they can apply for full citizenship. Crucially, EU rules say that those new citizens can then apply for permission to bring in their children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents — all of which puts extra pressure on Britain’s public services.
The legal EU resident being paid to get married need not even be a British citizen. In many cases so-called “away day” brides are brought in from Eastern European EU member states, often by specialist criminal gangs charging several hundred pounds to broker the deal.