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New guidance and numbers on sham marriage investigations published by Home Office


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New Home Office guidance on Marriage Investigations has been published. Formally, it is Chapter 30 of the Enforcement Guidance and Instructions. The purpose of the guidance is stated on page 1:

This guidance is aimed primarily at Immigration Enforcement staff involved in investigating allegations of sham marriage, civil partnerships and marriages of convenience.

The publication is is a little curious because on 2 August 2016 I was told in response to a Freedom of Information request that there was no such policy. And how the new policy relates to the existing one on criminal investigation of sham marriages is also a mystery.

See also this relevant recent written question in Parliament by Keith Vaz:

Marriage of Convenience

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how many cases of immigration marriage fraud have led to (a) an investigation and (b) a subsequent deportation in each of the last eight years.

The answer, by new Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill:

The information requested is shown in the following table:


Cases referred

Total Investigations







Prior to 2014 the records were not held centrally. The decrease in the number of referrals to the Home Office can be aligned to the introduction of the Immigration Act 2014. This legislation extends the notification period for those seeking to marry up to 70 days and provides time for the Home Office to investigate whether the marriage is sham. The effect of this is that those marriages deemed to be sham can be prevented from taking place. It would be a disproportionate cost to disaggregate information on the number of criminal investigations for this offence from all of those prosecuted who were subsequently deported.

The latest immigration statistics tell us that there were 30,000 partner visas granted in the year ended March 2016 plus 28,000 visa extensions for partners plus a further 30,000 EEA family permits. No break down of the EEA family permits is provided in the data tables, unhelpfully, but I would guess most would be partners. For argument’s sake lets say partners are half of the total. That makes around 75,000 partner decisions, of which 47 were investigated in the last year, a percentage of 0.06% of the total.

These latest figures contrast heavily with previous figures relied on by the Government when introducing the Immigration Act 2014. At that time the Minister claimed there were 1,300 interventions in sham marriages (actually in suspected sham marriages) in 2013-14. The figure surely cannot have dropped from 1,300 in 2013-14 to just 54 in 2014-15? Is it possible that the Minister was in 2014 over-egging the statistics in order to secure the introduction of new powers which were in truth unnecessary?

In short, the latest figures suggest there are very few investigations and the Home Office is unwilling to release information on the outcome of the investigations. They may have all turned out to be genuine.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.