Personal Immigration

Calls for Home Office Strategy to Tackle Sham Marriage Problem

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, has called upon the Home Office to develop and implement a ‘clear strategy’ across all departments to address the issue of sham marriages and partnerships.

The Chief Inspector assesses the border and immigration functions in the UK in terms of efficiency and effect, reporting the results of the assessment to the Home Secretary every year.

The most recent report, The Rights of European Citizens and their Spouses to Come to the UK, found that whilst the Home Office had identified that abuse by non-EEA nationals applying for residence on the basis of a sham marriage to a European citizen was a prevalent problem, there was a distinct lack of a strategy to mitigate it.

The report also showed that: whilst the Home Office targeted the facilitation of sham marriages by criminal organisations, individuals were not generally prosecuted; intelligence on the extent of sham marriage was minimal; and, in certain cases where sham marriage was suspected, there were insufficient investigations undertaken by the Home Office.

To help address the growing problem of using sham marriages as a basis for applying for EU citizenship, the Chief Inspector has called for the Home Office to:

1. Make timely decisions with regards to all linked applications for registration certificates and residence cards;

2. Identify which residence card applications need additional scrutiny upon receipt and base decisions on all relevant evidence;

3. Clarify the application process, simplifying it if necessary whilst keeping the constraints of the European Directive in mind;

4. Consider existing records to establish if those who become EEA nationals are not proportionately represented in abuse of free movement rights;

5. Quickly remove individuals who sponsor or look to benefit from shame marriages;

6. Gather detailed information on current European sham marriage cases;

7. Document any reasons for decisions to issue or refuse residence cards;

8. Document any reasons for conducting marriage interviews with a view to improving consistency in terms of selection for interview;

9. Observe and speak to couples suspected of being party to a sham marriage; and,

10. Pilot interviews being undertaken by non-enforcement staff.

In introducing his latest report, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration stated:

“The European citizenship route is becoming an increasingly important way into the UK for those whose origins lie outside the EEA, particularly now that the Immigration Rules have been tightened. I found that many of the non-EEA spouses refused residence cards were over-stayers. I found that most of the decisions to refuse to issue documents were reasonable and there were effective processes in place to identify forged and counterfeit documents. However, those practising deception were generally not prosecuted unless organised criminal gangs were involved. In January 2014, the Home Office brought in a new power to remove EEA nationals involved in fraudulent applications but I remain concerned about the general lack of prosecution and sanction against individuals found to have abused the system.”

He continued: “If the Home Office does not act decisively to identify and tackle these abuses, many of the individuals involved may go on to obtain settlement in the UK on the basis of relationships that are not genuine.”

For more information about the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, or to read his latest report, please visit: http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/staff-alive-to-risks-of-fraud-in-european-casework-but-home-office-needs-to-do-more-to-tackle-abuse/

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