Marrying for a visa
Although many countries allow immigrants to obtain citizenship through marriage, it is not actually legal to marry only to obtain citizenship, and such marriages are commonly known as ‘sham marriages’.
A sham marriage typically occurs when a non-European national marries someone from the European Economic Area (EEA), including the UK, as a means of circumventing immigration rules and attempting to gain long-term residency and the right to work and claim benefits.
What is the legal position?
Marrying a British citizen or person settled in the UK does not automatically entitle a person to live in the UK, and marriages of convenience cannot be relied upon in order to obtain immigration leave to remain.
Part 8 of the Immigration Rules outlines the requirements for entry as a spouse, civil partner, fiancée or prospective civil partner. This includes a requirement that:
“Each of the parties intends to live permanently with the other as his or her spouse or civil partner and the marriage or civil partnership is subsisting”.
Persons who are given leave as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen or a person settled in the UK are able to stay in the UK for two years initially, at the end of which they may be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK if the marriage/partnership is subsisting and they meet the other requirements of the Immigration Rules.
However, where a non-British person marries an EEA national in the UK, different rules apply. A non-British person who marries an EEA national who is exercising ‘free movement’ rights in a Member state (such as the UK) does not have to apply to the UK Border Agency for permission to stay in the UK as an ‘EEA family member’. However, parties to sham marriages or civil partnerships are excluded from these provisions.
Registrars must report suspicious marriages to the UK Border Agency, who then undertake an investigation into each case. If the marriage in question is found to be a sham marriage, the non-EEA national will not gain the right to reside in the UK and will face enforcement action. Persons who obtain leave to remain by deception are liable to removal and subsequent exclusion from the UK.
What are the penalties?
The penalties applied to people involved in sham marriages vary according to the circumstances of the case. A number of successful prosecutions have been brought against people involved in sham marriages for offences under the Immigration Act, Perjury Act, ID Cards Act and Fraud Act. Sham marriages that are uncovered can and often do result in imprisonment.
New measures to crack down on sham marriages have recently been proposed by the Government. These measures include clearly defining what a ‘genuine’ marriage is; extending the period before spouses or civil partners can apply for settlement in the UK from two to five years; requiring spouses and partners applying for settlement to prove they can understand everyday English; and giving authorities the power to delay suspected sham marriages from taking place.