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UK gets tough on marriage-for-visa scam

Following widespread bogus marriages with the aim of gaining residence, the British government is considering bringing biometric checks on foreign nationals. Many Indians are involved in this ‘unofficial’ immigration process.

“Just because someone is married does not mean at all that their immigration status is granted,” immigration minister Phil Woolas told the BBC.

With a general election due in spring and indigenous Britons agitated by an unending flood of migrants amid unemployment of 2.4 million, the incumbent Labour administration is compelled to act on the issue.

In 2005, the Home office decided that foreigners needed permission to get married in the UK. In fact, if a person did not enjoy right of residence, they were generally denied approval. Within months of this stipulation, the number of reported cases of abuse fell from more than 3,500 in 2004 to less than 500 in 2005.

In 2008, the House of Lords struck down the scheme, saying it breached human rights. Immigration minister Phil Woolas said the government regretted the Lords’ ruling and was looking at the law once again.

Meanwhile, suspected bogus marriages have risen again. In 2008, 344 cases were reported by marriage registrars. In the 11 months up to November 2009, the figure had increased to 529.

Pressure on the British government mounted on Thursday night when the BBC aired an undercover investigation on violation of the system on prime time.

Hiring a bona fide Indian student, Jaspal, who pretended to be an illegal immigrant, BBC filmed secretly at various locations, including the registrar’s office in the London borough of Brent. There, a Pakistani man was applying to marry a Lithuanian woman. Neither spoke much English, let alone each other’s language. The former disappeared the moment the superintendent registrar confronted the couple.

Jaspal’s probe also took him to Nirmal in the west London suburb of Hayes. Nirmal directed him to a gang in Birmingham with a significant number of people of sub-continental origin.

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