From 2 March 2015, everyone getting married in England or Wales will have to give 28 days notice at the Registry Office or in an Anglican church. And the authorities will be obliged to refer all such notices to the Home Office in cases where one or both parties are not:
- British citizens
- People with Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK
- EEA nationals with the right of permanent residence in the UK
- Holders of visas allowing them to get married (eg a fiancé visa)
- Exempt from immigration control
The Home Office can extend this notice period up to 70 days to investigate whether they consider the marriage to be a ‘sham marriage’ just for immigration purposes. And if you don’t cooperate with the investigation, you won’t be allowed to marry.
We can’t see how this is different from the Certificate of Approval scheme that ran between 2004 and 2011, which required anyone getting married in the UK who was not a British or European citizen, or a person with Indefinite Leave, to get Home Office permission (at a fee) before marrying in a Registry Office. That scheme (ruled illegal by the House of Lords in 2008, not not abolished until 2011) and this one are the Home Office’s response to the problem of sham marriages – defined as being marriages entered into by a couple who are not in a genuine relationship in order to obtain an immigration advantage for one or both of them.
The Home Office see this as a major problem, especially where an EEA national is involved, as once married the non-EEA national spouse has an automatic right to live and work in the UK, and many European nationals and their spouses have been invited for interview (usually in Liverpool and usually at 9:oo AM, regardless of where in the UK they live) where they are questioned separately (and rather aggressively according to many reports) on the minutiae of their daily lives, in the hope of identifying enough contradictions to justify a refusal of their Residence Card application.
So, how will the new regime work? According to Home Office estimates:
35,000 marriages per year will be reported to the Home Office, of which 6,000 – 10,000 will be sham marriages
That is, between a quarter and a third of marriages where one or the other of the parties is not settled in the UK are, according to the Home Office, ‘sham marriages’. And their plan to combat this? The Home Office say that they have the capacity to investigate 6,000 cases per year, though we understand that there will be a staff of 20 doing this. That’s:
6,000 cases ÷ 20 caseworkers = 300 cases per caseworker per year
Did anyone say backlog?!
It’s not clear exactly how the new arrangements will operate in practice, so we will wait with interest to see exactly how many marriages are investigated and how long this takes. The Home Office envisage an increase in judicial reviews and appeals against enforcement action, which will also mean an increase in the fees payable, so it’s a win-win situation for them.
And, of course, their impact assessment includes one of the usual suspects, ‘increased employment opportunities for UK residents’, on the basis that the job occupied by an overseas national in a sham marriage who is removed from the UK will be available to a UK resident.