With effect from 2 March 2015, the Immigration Act 2014 extended the period of notice for couples intending to marry in order to give the Home Office time to investigate the genuineness of the relationship of those it suspected may be sham.
Couples who fail to comply with a Home Office investigation are not permitted to marry. Compliant couples who are assessed as sham may marry, but the Home Office will seek to refuse any future application to remain in the UK based on that marriage.
The inspection found that the initial implementation of the new provisions was problematic, indicating a lack of proper planning:
- the Home Office did not communicate effectively with registrars about its new way of operating, where it no longer attended register offices and prevented ceremonies from proceeding
- new processes were cumbersome and weakened by their reliance on fragmented IT and by the limited operational support received from local enforcement teams, with the result that cases were not being determined within the extended time limit.
From January 2016, the Home Office piloted a revised process aimed at overcoming these problems, which it rolled out nationally from June. This late change meant that the inspection was unable to test fully the efficiency and effectiveness of the new provisions and the ICIBI will re-inspect this area when more evidence of how they are working is available.
This is the third of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ provisions that the ICIBI has inspected in 2016. As with the provisions in relation to UK driving licences and bank and building society current accounts, the ICIBI found that the Home Office was not doing enough to measure either its own performance or the impact of the sham marriage provisions on voluntary returns, enforced removals and on the ‘pull factor’ for individuals considering settling illegally in the UK. Without this, any meaningful evaluation of the ‘hostile environment’ strategy will prove extremely difficult.
Mr Bolt made five recommendations for improvement to the Home Office.
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