A sham marriage is one where two people have entered into the marriage and are not in a genuine relationship but have married for financial or other gain. The lack of genuine relationship means that the couple does not have a proper relationship or dependency on one another and have no intention of living together as a married couple. Most commonly these marriages are used to circumvent immigration laws. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 sham marriages every year in the UK.
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How is a sham marriage defined?
The law on immigration was updated in 2014 and introduced a new framework for the Home Office to investigate sham marriages. A marriage will be regarded as a sham where the following all apply:
Sham marriages are seen as an abuse to the immigration rules and the Home Office therefore rigorously investigates marriages where this is alleged. They will take action against those involved in the sham marriage as well as those that have assisted. There are related offences to the sham marriage itself, including:
The burden of proof is on the Home Office to prove that the marriage is a sham, as opposed to the couple proving that it is genuine.
Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) there is the fundamental right to marry under Article 12. The legislation surrounding sham marriages does not contravene this right since the intention is not to prevent a genuine marriage but only to stop those that are shown to be a sham.
The Marriage Referral and Investigation scheme was introduced by the Immigration Act 2014. Any person that is applying to marry that is not a relevant national and does not have the relevant immigration status to remain in the UK (or has evidence to show that they are exempt from the scheme) will automatically be referred to the Home Office for review.
If the Home Office decide to investigate (because there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it is a sham marriage and at least one party is not exempt from this scheme) then the notification period for the marriage will be extended from 28 to 7 days to allow for the investigation to take place before the marriage occurs.
There is a statutory duty on registry offices in this country to report any suspicious marriages to the Home Office for investigation into whether or not it is a sham.
If a marriage is being investigated to determine whether it is a sham, then administrative marriage interviews can take place to determine the validity of the marriage. The parties can be asked questions that will help verify whether or not it is a genuine relationship, for example, questions can be asked in relation to:
Arranged marriages are not the same as sham marriages and in these cases the couple may have had limited exposure to each other before the marriage. This is not an issue and does not undermine a genuine marriage where the couple intend to live together as a married couple after the wedding.
The Home Office can take various actions including:
The individuals can also face criminal prosecution for the offences related to the sham marriage.
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