Gay immigration officer forged passport: Marianne Macdonald reports on a case that highlights Home Office bias against homosexual couples

A GAY immigration officer was sentenced to six months in prison yesterday in a case which throws the spotlight on Home Office discrimination against homosexual partnerships.

Mark Watson, who is 28 tomorrow, pleaded guilty at Croydon Crown Court, south London, to forging Home Office documents in an attempt to allow his Brazilian boyfriend to live with him permanently in Britain. Watson claims he was forced into the fraud because the UK does not allow homosexuals the right to bring in long-term partners from abroad. It is a right recognised by Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Watson joined the Civil Service in 1989 as an immigration officer based at Gatwick airport. The following year he met his boyfriend, Ander Da Silva, an actor and model, on a field trip up the Amazon. In October 1991, the Brazilian visited him on a six-month visa.

'By February the following year we decided we really wanted to start making a life together. In April, we bought a maisonette in Croydon for pounds 56,000,' Watson told the Independent in an exclusive interview. 'But being an immigration officer, I knew Ander could not stay here permanently on the grounds of our relationship because the Home Office refuses to accept gay relationships as a reason for resettlement.'

The only way to make sure Mr Da Silva, 23, could stay on was to illicitly stamp his passport. Watson knew officers sometimes left their rubber stamps lying on their desks while they took meal breaks. 'One night shift at Gatwick somebody had left their stamps outside on the desk so I just stamped Ander's passport with a year's extension.'

Three days later both men got cold feet. They reported Mr Da Silva's passport lost and got a replacement. But they say they could not bear to live apart. Nor could they go to Brazil, which had the same policy as Britain. Watson took Mr Da Silva's new passport to work. This time he stamped it with another extension - 'Indefinitely'. The stamp was one that might have been given had Mr Da Silva married a British woman.

In June 1992, Watson was transferred from Gatwick to the Croydon headquarters where he was set to finding illegal immigrants. While there he created a file to back up the passport stamp if Mr Da Silva was stopped. He then wrote a minute saying that checks had been made on Mr Da Silva and that he appeared genuine. He signed a colleague's initials at the bottom.

The men were arrested last September. Mr Da Silva, who had by then overstayed his visa by 17 months, was deported. Watson was charged. While on bail he wrote a guide, United Kingdom Immigration Law and Rules and Same-Sex Couples, to help gay people in the same situation. It quotes guidelines which state: 'Application for leave on the basis of a (homosexual) relationship fall to be considered as a matter of discretion outside the Immigration Rules. Ministers have indicated that such applications are unlikely to be approved.' There are no known successful applications.

He also launched a support group with the help of the London-based gay organisation, Stonewall. It now has the names of 100 individuals wanting to bring partners to Britain on its database.

Watson, who has now lost his job, said: 'This policy makes no sense at all. I used to see it all the time in my job. A married man with children could bring in a mistress with a terrible immigration history, but if he had lived with her for a couple of years we wouldn't remove her.

'But respectable people in long- term relationships are ignored by the Home Office because they are gay. It would be no harder to check up on them and it forces them into marriages of convenience. Even within the Home Office gays are recognised. If a gay employee is given a compulsory transfer his partner can get compensation.'

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ''It is not possible to bring a gay partner in to set up home with a resident.' However, she said non- UK nationals could be permanently brought to Britain 'for the purpose of marriage'.

(Photograph omitted)