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Home Office will have more time to investigate suspected sham marriages.
New powers to enable the Home Office to tackle sham marriages have been announced by Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire.
The reforms, which are part of the Immigration Act, will see the notice period in England and Wales for marriage and civil partnership extended from 15 days to 28 days.
All proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK are to be referred by registrars to the Home Office.
This will give the Home Office more time and scope to identify and investigate suspected sham marriages and civil partnerships and to take effective enforcement action. Home Office Immigration Enforcement and the General Register Office are working with local authority registration services to tackle sham marriage.
For couples including a non-EEA national who are referred under the scheme, the Home Office will be able to extend the notice period from 28 days to 70 days where it decides to investigate a suspected sham marriage or civil partnership.
Couples who fail to comply with an investigation under a 70 day notice period will not be able to marry or form a civil partnership on the basis of that notice.
British couples will have to give 28 days notice of their intention to marry or form a civil partnership but will not be subject to the referral and investigation scheme.
The new scheme will be introduced across the UK on 2 March 2015, subject to Parliamentary approval of the required secondary legislation to extend it to Scotland and to Northern Ireland. The Home Office is giving sufficient notice so that legitimate couples should generally be able to give enough notice before their marriage or civil partnership.
Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said:
The new Immigration Act enables us to take tougher action to crack down on those who try to cheat our immigration system by abusing marriage laws. In 2013-14, we intervened in more than 1,300 sham marriages – more than double that of the previous year.
Our reforms have already seen around a 60% rise in arrests in just three months since widening the duty on registrars to inform the Home Office of suspected sham marriages and strengthening our joint working with them.
We will not tolerate those who seek to abuse marriage as a means of cheating their way into staying in the UK. The Immigration Act will help us root out this abuse and ensure those involved face the consequences.
Couples including a non-EEA national will have to complete civil preliminaries before marrying in the Anglican Church in England and Wales. Other religious marriages already have to be preceded by civil preliminaries. Like others giving notice by civil preliminaries, all these couples will be subject to the new 28 day notice period. If they include a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK, they will referred by registrars to the Home Office and may potentially be subject to the extended 70 day notice period.
A Written Ministerial Statementgiving details of the announcement has also been published.