Concerns have been raised about the number of ‘proxy marriages’ that appear to be designed to gain UK visas for non-European nationals.
Proxy marriages are when either the bride or the groom is not there and one or both are represented by stand-ins at the marriage ceremony.
A report, looking at a small sample of 29 proxy marriages involving a European and someone from a different continent, concluded that more than 80 per cent of those ceremonies were a sham, designed to obtain a UK spouse visa. In the cases studied, the bride and groom were usually in the UK but the marriage was carried out outside of Europe.
The study was carried out by John Vine, the chief inspector of borders. He said that the actual extent of the problem has not yet been established by the Home Office, even though it has set up a unit to look into the issue.
In addition, Mr Vine found that legal action was rarely taken against those involved, unless there was proof that criminal gangs were behind the proxy marriages.
The report also found that in a third of cases, the European partner in the ‘marriage’ was actually another nationality by birth and had taken on the nationality of an EU member state before coming to live in the UK.
He told The Guardian: "The European route is becoming an increasingly important way into the UK for those whose origins lie outside the European Economic Association area, particularly now that the immigration rules have been tightened. I found that many of the non-EEA spouses refused residence cards were over-stayers."
The majority of the proxy marriages in the report involved ceremonies in Nigeria, Ghana and Brazil. Caseworkers reported the difficulty they faced judging whether the marriages were legal because it was difficult to decide whether the paperwork was genuine.