Marry Me

Not so long ago,while I was still Principal of London Study Centre,a beautiful Ukrainian girl came to my office and asked me to marry her. I was a little surprised as we had not until then even shared a cup of tea. When I politely declined the offer, explaining I wasn’t yet ready to settle down,she asked if any of my friends might be interested. My response was,probably yes,but their wives certainly wouldn’t be too happy. Regrettably,it wasn’t me she wanted but my passport – or rather the benefits of marriage to an EU citizen. In particular,she wanted to attend a British University but couldn’t afford the £15,000  annual overseas student fee.

‘Marriages of Convenience’ of course have been around for years. By 2004,however’ the British media was quoting statistics of  ten thousand ‘bogus wedding ceremonies’ every year just in London. In a high profile court case, twenty-five people were jailed for their involvement in a ‘false marriage scam’ arranging for Indians to gain entry to the UK. They had been charging their ‘clients’ up to £10,000 per wedding. In February 2005,the British Government brought in new regulations . Anyone from outside the European Union wishing to marry a British citizen first had to obtain a ‘Certificate of Approval’. This affected especially those on ‘limited leave to remain’ ( less than a six month’s visa). The Home Office could refuse them permission on the basis of ‘suspicious intentions’. The fee for the Certificate would be £135 and the ceremony could only be conducted in designated Registry Offices. The results were almost instantaneous. In the London Borough of Brent,weddings fell by 74%.  Harringey went down by 58%,Hackney 51%,Birmingham 27%,Manchester 22%.

The Government’s self-congratulations, however, proved short-lived. In April 2006,a High Court Judge declared the new rules ‘incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights’ Also,as they didn’t apply to Church of England weddings,they discriminated against other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism. Indeed,many London vicars had noticed a sudden increase in applications to marry in their parish churches. In May 2007,the Court of Appeal rejected the British Government’s attempt to overturn the High Court decision. The Judges considered that the Home Office wasn’t giving sufficient attention to whether a marriage was genuine or not and was only concerned about applicants’ immigration status. The Judges furthermore  objected to the preferential treatment given to Anglicans.

The Government is considering an appeal to the House of Lords,but meanwhile its policy on controlling ‘sham marriages’ is in  disarray.  This also applies to Civil Partnerships. Reports occasionally surface in British newspapers claiming that some immigrants pretend to be in a gay relationship in order to obtain a visa and then quietly ‘ separate’ a couple of years later. Finding a British spouse (in whatever capacity) might though be getting more difficult. The tendency of the Divorce Courts to award 50-50 settlements in the event of a break-up means  that many British men now consider it  advisable not to get married at all.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on August 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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