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Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration report on sham marriages

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has released a report criticising the Home Office’s approach to tackling so-called ‘sham marriages’.

The Immigration Act 2014

This report was written in response to the implementation of Part 4 of the Immigration Act, which came into effect on 2nd March 2015. New provisions changed the way in which marriages were to be conducted in the UK, with the aim of clamping down on individuals who used sham marriages as a way of gaining leave to remain. The key changes included:

  1. extending the marriage and civil partnership notice period from 15 days to 28 days for all couples in England and Wales marrying following civil preliminaries or forming a civil partnership;
  2. requiring couples in which one of the participants is a non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) national and who wished to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales to complete civil preliminaries and give notice at a register office;
  3. Requiring that all proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK, or who does not provide specified evidence that they are exempt from the scheme, be referred to the Home Office;
  4. Requiring that if the registrar “has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the marriage will be a sham marriage” then a notice is sent to the Home Office;
  5. Extending the period to 70 days if a sham marriage is suspected in order for a thorough investigation to take place. A marriage cannot itself be stopped if it is declared to be a “sham”, however it will have implications on any claim made for immigration status.

The Report

The Chief Inspector found that many registrars had not been properly informed about the changes brought about by the legislation and in many places had not taken adequate steps to stop sham marriages. They also found that as ICE (Immigration Compliance and Enforcement) teams were less active in attending registry offices in response to these changes, registrars had come to believe that the Home Office was placing less emphasis on stopping sham marriages.

The report also highlighted significant administrative problems with the new system. The IT service which was being used was found to be inadequate, and in addition many couples had not been informed that their marriage had been found to be a “sham” by the Home Office.


The report concluded that five steps should be taken in order to improve the system:

1. That when a marriage is determined to be a sham but is allowed to proceed because the couple has been compliant with an investigation, ensure that the couple is informed in writing of the determination to act as a deterrent.

2. Registrars should be more fully informed with the aims of Part 4 of the Immigration Act 2014. They also should be encouraged to provide more feedback on the outcomes from referrals.

3. More training should be provided to staff to ensure that they have:

  1. Sufficient interview skills, training and development to enable them to deal effectively with well-prepared sham couples; and
  2. sufficient understanding of the experiences of potentially duped and of vulnerable partners to inform effective questioning.

4. That the Home Office seek ministerial authorisation to undertake a profiling approach based on the nationalities of the couples involved and to allow discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

5. That the Home Office should ensure that all data collected in relation to sham marriages is thorough, comprehensive and accurate and therefore provides Ministers and Parliament with a clear picture of the problems caused by sham marriages in the UK and how they might be met.

The Home Office have released a response to the report, welcoming the report and accepting all suggestions made by the Chief Inspector.

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