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Calls for nationality profiling to stop sham marriages ‘very worrying’

Migration Watch UK has called for the Home Office to adopt the practice to track down and stop suspected bogus weddings.

(Anthony Devlin/PA)
(Anthony Devlin/PA)

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

Calls for nationality profiling to be carried out in a bid to detect sham marriages have been branded “very worrying” by immigration lawyers.

MigrationWatch UK wants the Home Office to adopt the practice to prevent bogus weddings taking place to get a visa to live in the UK.

The organisation, which campaigns for tougher restrictions on immigration, made the suggestion after claiming there had been a rise in reports of sham marriages over four years.

It called for the “use of profiling of certain nationalities in enforcement action”, tougher action against sham marriages such as more prosecutions of perpetrators, and for public bodies to be transparent on the scale of the situation.

They are subjecting genuine couples to really degrading questions. Any introduction of further measures is very worrying Poppy Firmin

Some immigration lawyers expressed concern at the idea – fearing this was effectively a call for racial profiling – and said tougher measures were unnecessary because the Home Office has already adopted a rigorous policy of assessing couples and rooting out fake relationships.

Poppy Firmin, a caseworker in immigration and public law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, told the PA news agency: “The Home Office are doing a very good job already of interfering and delaying with interviews.

“They are subjecting genuine couples to really degrading questions.

“Any introduction of further measures is very worrying.

“It’s disappointing to see (suggestions there should be racial profiling) based on quite spurious research.

“It would be worrying if registrars were given free rein to racially profile everyone who comes in.”

Efforts to circumvent immigration control via bogus weddings are unacceptable and those who engage in and aid this practice must face the consequences Alp Mehmet of MigrationWatch UK

The MigrationWatch UK report said analysis of incomplete Government data and freedom of information requests suggested a 41% rise in reports by registrars of suspected sham marriages, from 2,038 in 2014 to 2,868 in 2018.

But lawyers warned that reports of suspected sham marriages do not necessarily equate to the number taking place – just the number of cases referred to the Home Office for consideration.

Ms Firmin, who works with genuine couples seeking the right to marry, said it was “unsurprising” if figures suggested a rise in reports of suspected sham marriages because of the obligations now placed on registrars since 2015.

But that did not mean they represent the “actual number of sham marriages that had taken place”, she added.

Since 2015 sham marriages and civil partnerships entered into for immigration purposes have been targeted under the Home Office’s so-called hostile environment policy.

Under the Immigration Act 2014, the minimum time that must pass between notifying intent to marry and the ceremony was extended from 15 to 28 days, with an option to extend to 70 days if the Home Office decided to investigate the relationship.

It means registrars are legally required to report suspected sham marriages to the Home Office.

Effectively it means any migrant looking to marry, and their partner, are brought to the attention of officials to be questioned, lawyers said.

Barry O’Leary, a partner at immigration and nationality law firm Wesley Gryk Solicitors and a member of the Law Society’s immigration committee, told PA the 2015 regulations gave the Home Office “so much more control over the marriage system” and the time to investigate couples.

He said the measures suggested by the report “really aren’t necessary” because of the rules already in place, adding: “The Home Office are absolutely testing these marriages.”

Alp Mehmet, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, said: “Efforts to circumvent immigration control via bogus weddings are unacceptable and those who engage in and aid this practice must face the consequences.

“The problem of sham marriage is seemingly growing, while the public is kept in the dark on what action has been taken to tackle it. It is time to be more open with people.”

MigrationWatch UK said the recommendation for profiling by nationality was originally made by the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

A spokesman added: “There is no question of our calling for ‘racial profiling’. Those opining that this is the case are simply wrong. This is not what we are calling for.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are committed to a fair and humane immigration policy which welcomes and celebrates people who are here legally but which also tackles illegal immigration.

“We want to ensure that family migration is based on a genuine relationship, and the Government is taking action against those who abuse marriage as a means of entering the UK illegally.”

PA

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