THE INSTITUTION of marriage is being “hijacked” by a rapidly-increasing number of sham weddings which pose one of the biggest threats to the UK’s immigration control, a House of Commons committee has warned.
Home Office officials have come in for heavy criticism in a damning report released by the Home Affairs Committee today over a failure to tackle the growing number sham unions, which can grant UK residency rights to couples and members of their immediate families.
Officials have been accused of lacking “a true understanding of the scale of the problem” as the 1,338 interventions in potential bogus weddings in the UK last year pale in comparison to the Home Office estimation that anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 applications to stay in Britain were made on the basis of sham marriages in the same 12-month period.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, has led calls for registrars to be given the power to prevent suspicious marriages from going ahead on the spot.
Mr Vaz said: “Marriage is a precious institution and should not be hijacked to make a mockery of the law or our immigration system. We cannot afford for any town or city to become a back-door entry to our country.”
Registrars in North Yorkshire were among those who responded to a committee survey which examined the experiences of those conducting ceremonies. The results suggested some cities in the UK were guilty of under-reporting cases of suspected bogus weddings. Testimonies also found that many members of the profession felt powerless to stop them.
While the UK Border Agency does not hold regional-specific data on sham marriages, Yorkshire has witnessed several high-profile cases in recent years.
This month a bogus bride and groom were led away from Leeds Register Office in handcuffs after they attempted to go through a sham ceremony. The 29-year-old bride-to-be, a Slovakian woman, and her 32-year-old Nigerian groom and three others were arrested moments before tying the knot.
In January last year, a gang of 18 behind a sham marriage scam stretching from Yorkshire to Pakistan were jailed for almost 28 years. Father-of-five Talib Hussain, 42, who ran the operation from his home in Rotherham, was jailed for six years for organising bogus weddings between Eastern European women and Pakistani men. He flew them to Islamabad for the ceremonies, which meant they could then apply to live in the UK.
MPs say measures outlined in the report will help to clear a huge backlog of asylum cases which now stands at 332,169.
“We agree with the inspector when he said that sham marriages represent a significant threat to immigration control,” added Mr Vaz.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are building an immigration system that is tough on those who abuse the system and flout the law and are taking ever tougher action.”