Home Office Agrees New Measures To Crack Down On Sham Marriages
By Smit Kumar of OTS Solicitors
A recent inspection carried out by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration examined how efficiently and effectively the Home Office has implemented new provisions in the Immigration Act 2014 (IA 2014) for tackling sham marriages.
The report made five recommendations for improvement—such as ensuring staff are sufficiently trained—all of which the Home Office has accepted and begun programmes of work to address. Applicants for a UK spouse visa should therefore seek advice from an experienced Immigration lawyer to ensure they receive the best advice if they have been asked to attend a spouse visa interview or have been accused of entering into a sham marriage.
The definition of a sham marriage
For a spouse of a person settled in the UK to enter the country, they must obtain a UK spouse visa.
The eligibility for a UK spouse visa is as follows:
- You and your spouse must have met (this is to avoid forced marriages)
- You must be lawfully married to one another
- You must intend to live together permanently as man and wife
- You must meet the English language requirements
- Your sponsor must have suitable accommodation for your both
- Your sponsor must meet the financial requirements set out by the Home Office
To meet the financial requirements, your sponsor needs to show they are earning at least £18,600 per year or have savings that meet the requirement set out by the Home Office. The income threshold increases if you have children.
A sham marriage (sometimes called a marriage of convenience), is one entered into by a non-EEA national, purely to gain an Immigration advantage. Their EEA partner may or may not be complicit in the arrangement.
Immigration officials are highly-trained to be on the look-out for a couples entering into sham marriages in order for one party to gain entry into the UK via a UK spouse visa. Unfortunately, as the best Immigration solicitors will tell you, this sometimes means genuine couples are falsely accused of faking their affections and desire for a permanent life together.
Problems identified in the report
IA 2014 introduced a range of measures aimed at creating a ‘hostile environment’ for individuals in the UK without valid leave by denying them access to various services and benefits. The Act included new provisions in relation to sham marriages and civil partnerships, which came into force on 2nd March 2015.
The report found the following problems with the initial implementation of the new provisions of IA 2014:
- the new approach had not been communicated effectively, and some registrars incorrectly interpreted the fact that Immigration Enforcement and Compliance (ICE) teams were no longer attending register offices to prevent ceremonies from going ahead as the Home Office being less interested in sham marriage
- staff in the new Marriage Referral Assessment Unit (MRAU) felt deskilled as they struggled with heavily administrative processes, fragmented IT and limited operational support
- cases were not being determined within 70 days
What the report recommended
The report made five recommendations for improvement, which were sent to the Home Secretary on 25th October 2016. The Chief Inspector recommended:
- where a marriage is determined to be 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
- recommunicate the aims of IA 2014 to registrars and provide more feedback on the outcomes from referrals
- ensure staff are provided with more training in interviewing skills to spot sham couples and to develop sufficient understanding of the experiences of potentially duped and of vulnerable partners so they can develop effective questioning
- seek Ministerial agreement to add certain nationalities to the profiling approach
- ensure data is collected in relation to sham marriage in a form that enables an accurate and comprehensive evaluation of the outcomes from the IA 2014 changes and provides Ministers and Parliament with a clear picture of the threat and how it is being met.
The Home Office duly accepted all the recommendations made by the report. This is a clear indication that the UK Government plans to crack down even further on marriages of convenience. The risk is that innocent couples may be accused of entering into a sham marriage and thereby prevented from gaining entry into the UK via a spouse visa.
We will watch how the Government implements these recommendations with interest.
OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected immigration law firms in London. Our immigration team dealing with appeals comprises of Smit Kumar, Hans Sok Appadu and Maryem Ahmed, all of whom would be happy to talk to you about appealing a refusal on human rights grounds.
By making an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today.
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please phone our London office on 0203 959 9123.