Officials swoop on sham marriage organisers

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Immigration officials have smashed a network involved in arranging sham marriages in Britain.

Immigration officials have smashed a network involved in arranging sham marriages in Britain.

Officers disrupted a number of weddings at a register office in south-west London at the weekend, leading to a number of arrests.

The BBC reported that women from the Netherlands claiming to be working in the UK were being flown into Britain to marry West African men. The scam exploited a loophole in the law meaning that foreign nationals could stay in the UK if married to a European Union citizen working here and such couples were not required to show an intention to live together.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government is determined to protect the UK's immigration system and marriage laws from abuse. We have arrangements in place to help identify potential abuse of the marriage laws and to prevent them being used for the purposes of illegal immigration."

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "These operations are testament to the enormous effort and hard work by the Immigration Service to protect the UK's immigration and marriage laws from abuse by determined criminals."

Mark Rimmer, the director of registrars in the north London borough of Brent, said that as many as 10,000 to 12,000 bogus marriages were believed to take place for immigration purposes in the UK each year. About 8,000 of those happened in London - one in five of all the weddings in the city - he said.

At present, registrars are required to report any suspicions to the Immigration Service but if officers do not then act, they are obliged to go ahead with the ceremony.

However, new legislation will soon put a requirement on foreign nationals to apply for permission from the Home Office if they wish to marry in the UK, taking the burden of spotting potential abuse away from registrars.

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