"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.
"He who travels for love finds a thousand miles no longer than one" - Japanese proverb.
"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." - Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". -
David Cameron.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sham marriages: more Tory fluff?

When it comes to immigration, we’re seeing an increasing tendency for politicians to lean on feelings rather than facts. Take Theresa May’s newly published Immigration Bill which tackles, among other things, so-called ‘sham marriages’.

Despite the fact fewer than 2,000 suspected cases of ‘marriages of convenience’ - defined as marriages concluded: ‘With the sole aim of circumventing the rules of entry and residence,’ by the Council of Ministers of the EU - were reported by registration officials in 2012, the Immigration Bill will see further anti-shotgun marriage measures introduced by April 2015.

The notice period for marriage will increase from the current 15 days to 28 days to allow officials more time to investigate the authenticity of the marriage and to take action should there be reasonable cause for concern. Furthermore, officials will be given the power to extend this period for up to 70 days should a need for further investigation or the prosecution or removal of those involved be deemed necessary.

On the surface, the crack down seems legitimate. But when you factor in that the UK is the most likely of all EU countries to uncover and to punish against such marriages, one could be forgiven for thinking the problem has been exaggerated in order to justify the solution.

Perhaps the UK is just very efficient at uncovering sham marriages but this seems unlikely given the Border Agency’s reputation for inefficiency hidden behind a smokescreen of tough talk. By the Home Office’s own estimates, between 4,000 and 10,000 people a year lodge applications to remain in the UK based on false marriages. Whether these figures support a ‘pressing social need’ which can be used to justify such intrusive action is a matter of debate.

In assessing the genuineness of proposed marriages, we can assume the Home Office will look at the immigration history of the applicant and evidence supporting the authenticity of the marriage. Situations which are likely to come under scrutiny include partnerships in which there is a wide age gap between partners or where the two parties come from vastly different backgrounds or have no common language.

But this one-glove-fits-all approach fails to recognise that social and economic status are often leading factors in a person’s decision to marry, with UK residency rights potentially adding to the attractiveness of a would-be spouse. What we could start to see in the UK is those believed to have even partly based their decision to marry on immigration being excluded alongside other genuine couples who are unable to successfully demonstrate the legitimacy of their relationship simply because their circumstances do not fit the typical profile.

Not just an objective of the Immigration Bill, stopping sham marriages is one aim of the immigration rules pertaining to the sponsorship of non-EEA partners for settlement in the UK. The rules, which include a steep financial requirement which must be met by the sponsor along with a five-year probationary period before the applicant can qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain, were introduced in July 2012.

As UK immigration laws become harder to comply with, even for genuine couples, it follows that those who don’t qualify might resort to desperate measures in order to enter and remain in the UK. So, ironically, making the already stringent rules surrounding marriage and immigration even harder to fulfill may see a rise in abuse by those who can't take lawful paths to residency. 

In looking at government policies in this area, one could conclude that the aim to prevent fraud through sham marriages is part of a wider desire to stop immigration through marriage altogether. This conveniently fits with the government’s aim to reduce yearly net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. Indeed, Theresa May would likely prefer it if Brits stopped marrying non-Brits altogether so that the pesky inconvenience of sham marriages stops getting in the way of her pulling up the drawbridge.

But regardless of whether the need to crack down on sham marriage is legitimate or just more Tory hyperbole, the government has a responsibility to defend its reasoning behind such measures with facts not fluff.

1 comment:

  1. This sound as if it will make it impossible for many British people working abroad to marry in England or Wales. 15 days was just about possible, but many employers don't allow 4-week leaves. It also means a honeymoon is out of the question.