HC Deb 22 June 2004 vol 422 cc1380-1W
Mr. Malins

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many alleged sham marriages have been reported to his Department by marriage registrars, and from which registries, in each of the last three years for which figures are available; and how many of those cases were sham marriages in respect of which enforcement action was taken by his Department. [177009]

Mr. Browne

[holding answer 7 June 2004]: The Immigration and Nationality Directorate has received the following notifications of alleged sham marriages from registrar offices over the past three years; 2001: 756 notifications from 126 Registrar districts 2002: 205 notifications from 154 Registrar districts 2003: 2,712 notifications from 188 Registrar districts

In the last financial year, enforcement teams in London have conducted operations at over 60 weddings resulting in the arrest of 110 individuals. These operations have not only resulted in the removal from the United Kingdom of illegal immigrants but 37 of those arrested were charged with criminal offences.

Following information received through existing intelligence channels and concerns raised by Registrars on the increasing number of potential sham marriages, and the limited powers of registrars to prevent them, the Government have recently announced a number of measures that are being taken to protect the integrity of UK marriage ceremonies. A joint team of caseworkers and immigration officers has been set up to analyse intelligence and follow up reports from Registrars more effectively. Extra enforcement operations are being conducted, with more operations at registry offices against sham marriages and those who organise them. A joint working group between the Home Office and Registrars has been established to share intelligence and enable enforcement efforts to be better targeted.

As the Home Secretary set out in his statement to the House on 22 April the Government will also shortly be bringing forward legislation to restrict the capacity to authorise marriage involving non-EEA nationals to designated register offices, which will enable us to focus our enforcement efforts into a more concentrated area, and also allow intelligence and expertise on marriage abuse to be built up in these dedicated centres. In addition, we will be introducing a new pre-marriage lawful status eligibility requirement for marriages involving non-EEA foreign nationals to further deal with those seeking to circumvent immigration controls by entering into sham marriages. In such cases registrars would be given the power to refuse to accept notification of marriage in the absence of a document from the Home Office or an entry clearance for marriage.

Home Office officials will be working closely with Registrars to ensure that our proposals achieve the necessary balance between facilitating the vast majority of genuine marriage applicants and tackling abuse.

It is not possible to provide historical statistics regarding previous activity to counter marriage abuse as such information has only recently started to be recorded in a form that can be easily collated.

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