Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire has announced new powers to enable the Home Office tackle sham marriages.
Under the new reforms which are part of the Immigration Act, the notice period in England and Wales for marriage and civil partnership will be extended from 15 days to 28 days.
Registrars will have to refer to the Home Office all proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK.
The move is meant to give the Home Office more time and scope to identify and investigate suspected sham marriages and civil partnerships.
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 2nd March 2015, subject to Parliamentary approval of the required secondary legislation to extend it to Scotland and to Northern Ireland.
“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,” Mr Brokenshire said.
He revealed that in 2013-14, they intervened in more than 1,300 sham marriages – more than double that of the previous year.
“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,” Mr Brokenshire said.
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 be referred by registrars to the Home Office and may potentially be subject to the extended 70 day notice period.