An estimated 20 per cent of marriages conducted in urban areas of Britain may be ‘bogus’ weddings designed to obtain spouse visas and residency rights, it has been claimed.
Mark Rimmer, who chairs the Local Registration Services Association, made the claim in an interview with Sky News. Statistics from the Home Office showed that 1,800 ‘suspicious’ marriages were reported last year, but Mr Rimmer said the figure was likely to be much higher.
He said: "I think that is the tip of a very large iceberg, and effectively the real scale of the problem is far greater than that that is reported to the Home Office officially."
Mr Rimmer said the problem has worsened in the last three years, despite legislation introduced to reduce the number of people able to obtain UK visas through marriage. He said the issue was significant in London and other large urban areas but was less likely to happen in rural parts of the UK.
He believes that of the 173,000 civil weddings conducted annually in England and Wales, around 15,000 may be bogus matches simply carried out to get a UK visa. It is now more difficult for British residents to bring overseas partners into the UK to marry, but Mr Rimmer said the situation is more relaxed for people in the UK who originate from other EU member states.
"There are probationary periods if you marry a British national during which time the Border Agency/Home Office can check up as to whether that relationship is still in existence," he added.
"There is not the same check with European Union nationals, so therefore the scams are usually perpetrated by European nationals other than Brits, because it is more advantageous to do so."