UK Border Agency officers have arrested 17 people this week as part of a nationwide operation targeting suspected sham marriages – bogus weddings between non-EU migrants and EU citizens designed to gain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK.
The agency took part in an international investigation which resulted in 16 arrests in France and Portugal.
British operations focused on six investigations where officers executed arrest warrants at addresses in London, Liverpool, Bristol and Kent.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said:
‘Today’s arrests show that the UK Border Agency is taking strong action to crack down on sham marriages nationwide. The message to those involved is clear. We will catch you and we will not hesitate to take the strongest possible action.
‘Immigration crime is not victimless. The gangs involved in this activity often have links to serious organised crime and it places huge pressure on the public purse at a time when the country can least afford it.
‘Our dedicated crime teams will continue to crack down on those who seek to abuse the immigration system.’
The pan European investigation led to a Portuguese organised crime gang which has been supplying EEA national ‘brides’ and ‘grooms’ to marry west African and Pakistani nationals in the UK and France. There were seven arrests in the UK, 10 in France and six in Portugal.
Andy Radcliffe, from the UK Border Agency, whose team oversaw the coordinated European arrest phase, said:
‘We believe we have disrupted a significant organised crime group suspected of being involved in organising sham marriages in the UK, France and Portugal.
‘Today’s arrests were part of an 11 month investigation involving officers from three different countries. By working together in this way we can tackle pan European abuse of immigration systems.
‘Our investigation will continue with the evidence we have seized today.
‘It’s vital that registry offices and churches report their suspicions to the UK Border Agency, which has teams of immigration and police officers in place to tackle this form of abuse.’
The agency said that these arrests were made as part of the pan European probe.
A 32-year-old at an address in Ibscott Close, Dagenham, Essex, on suspicion of facilitation; a 28-year-old at an address in Huskisson Street, Liverpool, on suspicion of fraud and deception; a 34-year-old at an address in Mattison Road, Haringey, N4 on suspicion of fraud and deception; two men aged 32 and 57 who had over-stayed their visas arrested at an address in Sumner Road, Peckham; a 34-year-old who had over-stayed his visa was arrested at an address in Stevenson Crescent, Camberwell, and a 31-year-old arrested on suspicion of deception and fraud at an address in North Woolwich Road, Royal Victoria Dock, London.
In addition to the pan European investigation there were a further nine arrests in the UK in five unrelated investigations.
Second investigation: Two Portuguese woman aged 22 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud the Home Office and conspiracy to launder money at an address in Fishguard Way, Victoria Docks, London.
Third investigation: A 22-year-old Egyptian man was arrested on suspicion of fraud and deception and a 36-year-old Syrian man was arrested for entering the country illegally at an address in Shirland Road, London, W9.
Fourth investigation: A 31-year-old Pakistani who had overstayed his visa was arrested at an address in High Street, Rochester, Kent. A 32-year-old was arrested on suspicion of identity document offences at the same address.
Fifth investigation: A 24-year-old Portuguese female was arrested on suspicion of facilitation at an address in Doverhouse Mead, Barking.
Sixth investigation: at Bristol registry office a 34-year-old Pakistani man who had over-stayed his visa was also arrested on suspicion of deception; a 52-year-old Polish man was arrested on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration.
In addition to the investigations above, officers charged Yadwinder Singh, 31, of King Street, Southall, with two counts of perjury and one of fraud in relation to a suspected sham marriage to a Hungarian woman which took place in Brent. Mr Singh was arrested yesterday at an address in Heathrow Boulevard, Harmondsworth.
Anyone with information on suspected immigration offenders can contact UKBA Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously. Source: UK Border Agency.
Cynthia Barker of immigration advisers Bison UK pointed out that the major advantages of marrying EEA citizens are creating a demand for sham marriages.
“EU or EEA (European Economic Area) nationals are highly sought after by non-EU partners, as EEA regulations provide an easier route to residency than applying under UK Immigration Rules.
“For instance, there is no minimum £18,600 income requirement for EEA nationals, as there is where a UK citizen is applying for a visa for a non-EU husband, wife or unmarried partner.
“Even overstayers can avoid removal if they have an EEA partner, as was the case last week when we managed to pull one of our overstaying student clients off a deportation flight ten minutes before take off because he was in a genuine relationship, and therefore a human right to a family life under article 8, with his Eastern European girlfriend.”
British citizens are not automatically treated as EEA nationals by the UK Border Agency when it comes to spouse or unmarried partner/civil partner visas. However, if a British citizen has lived in an EU country for a period of time they could then apply for their partner, and their extended family, under more flexible EEA regulations.
The EEA national sham marriage business has become a major immigration racket, with migrants being charge thousands for pounds for the privilege of Indefinite Leave to Remain and eventually UK naturalisation with no guarantee of success. It seems there is a ‘market value’ for a British passport and plenty of immigrants and visa overstayers willing to pay the price.
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