Home Office’s National Sham Marriage Enforcement Drive Hampered by a Lack of National Data and Referrals

The Home Office’s West London enforcement team was working effectively with local registrars to tackle sham marriages. However, the failure of many register offices to report suspicious marriages to the Home Office and an inconsistency between national and local targets on sham marriages was hindering the national drive to tackle the issue.

In most sham marriages, a national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) marries an EEA national in the UK. Such marriages, if not detected, provide a way for non-Europeans, who do not meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules, to remain in the UK as the spouses of European nationals.

This inspection examined the efficiency and effectiveness of an enforcement operation at Brent Register Office in North West London. Inspection Officers accompanied a West London enforcement team to an enforcement action at Brent Register Office, which had reported suspicions about two couples due to be married that morning. It was suspected that both ‘grooms’ were entering into sham marriages with European nationals to circumvent the Immigration Rules and remain in the UK.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

• the enforcement operation was conducted professionally and in line with Home Office guidance;

• the intelligence provided by Brent Register Office, and built up by the West London team, proved accurate and two immigration offenders were arrested;

• the enforcement team had an effective working relationship with Brent Register Office, which had contributed to the quality of the intelligence and the outcome.

However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:

• the West London team had built up experience of tackling sham marriage but there was no nationwide process for identifying existing good practice and sharing it;

• guidance was dated and spread across several documents, although the Home Office told us that it was being updated;

• the national target on sham marriage was not supported by local targets; and

• the 19 enforcement teams around the country may not have sufficient resources to deal with an increase in reporting and tackling sham marriages.

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:

“Sham marriages between non-Europeans and EU nationals are an increasing threat to immigration control. If not detected, they allow individuals to settle in the UK on the basis of relationships that are not genuine.

The enforcement operation at Brent Register Office was conducted professionally and the enforcement team had developed a good relationship with Brent and several other local register offices. The intelligence which led to the operation proved to be accurate and two arrests were made.

However, I found that many register offices refer few, if any, cases of suspected sham marriage to the Home Office, despite the fact that they have a statutory duty to do so. This means that a significant number of sham marriages may be going undetected.

The Home Office must work with the General Register Office to ensure that all such marriages are referred to it by local register offices in order that a true picture of this problem can be painted.”

The Chief Inspector made four recommendations for improvement. These included the Home Office working with the General Register Office to ensure local register offices refer all cases of suspected sham marriages to the Home Office, and providing clear and comprehensive guidance to enforcement staff on how to conduct sham marriage operations.

Download a copy of the report A Short Notice Inspection of a Sham Marriage Enforcement Operation

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