The work of the Immigration Directorates (October - December 2013) - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and Recommendations

Sham marriages

1.  We agree with the Independent Chief Inspector when he said that sham marriages represent a significant threat to immigration control. The bogus spouse acquires not only the right to reside in the UK, but the right to bring their children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents to live here with them. Thus one sham marriage can provide UK residence rights to an entire extended family who would otherwise have no right to be here. (Paragraph 3)

2.  The fact that the burden is on the Home Office to show that a marriage was a sham when it entered into, regardless of its current state, means that intervening at or before the point of marriage will usually be the most effective way of tackling this growing problem. We would also suggest that early intervention in cases of obvious shams is likely to be more cost-effective, as it reduces the scope for lengthy casework and possibly legal appeals after the event. Effective joint working between the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement Directorate and local authority registrars is therefore the key to tackling the problem of sham marriages. (Paragraph 20)

3.  We accept that there might be some registration districts where the number of sham marriages is very small indeed, but we find it implausible that there should be sizeable cities in the UK where there are no sham marriages at all. Registrars need to be aware that sham marriages appear to be a growing problem and that they have a duty to report those that they suspect are sham marriages. We recommend that the Home Office provide additional training for registrars, targeted at those registration districts where the number of section 24 reports is unusually low in comparison to similar districts, on how to recognise the signs of a possible sham marriage and the circumstances in which a section 24 report should be made. (Paragraph 21)

4.  We should not under-estimate the duplicity of those involved in organising sham marriages, which has turned into an industry and appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. Given the Home Office's stated strong commitment to enforcement, all those involved in the process must remain vigilant to those individuals trying to exploit loopholes in the system. (Paragraph 22)

5.  The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration told us that the Home Office does not appear to know how many people are securing the right to stay in the UK on the basis of a sham marriage. Whilst we are aware that publishing data that shows hot-spots of sham marriage activity might give information to organised criminals, we want the Home Office to demonstrate that they take the issue seriously. The Home Office should publicise the data that they have on the levels of reporting, the number of interventions, the number of arrest, the number of prosecutions and the number of removals. (Paragraph 23)

6.  The Immigration Act 2014 has extended the minimum time between a couple giving notice of their intent to marry and the ceremony, allowing more time for the Home Office to act on reports sent from registrars. The registrars represent a crucial source of intelligence to the Home Office about potential sham marriages and we expect the Home Office to act upon those reports. We recommend that the law be changed so that if the Home Office enforcement team do not act upon the section 24 report, and the registrar is confident the wedding is a sham, then the registrar should have the power to not proceed with the wedding. (Paragraph 30)

7.  It is clear that there is a blind spot which leads to the under-reporting of sham marriages. The registrars that gave us evidence told us that they received little or no feedback from the Home Office in response to their section 24 reports. Registrars were consistently unable to tell us how many of their reports led to further action or no action, or, more, importantly whether or not they led to a prosecution. (Paragraph 31)

8.  The Home Office must, as a matter of routine, provide registrars with feedback on every section 24 report: whether it resulted in no action, in an individual being removed from the country, in prosecution, or some other outcome. This will help to reinforce to registrars the importance of reporting potential sham marriages, it will help them over time to develop a better understanding of the nature of the problem, and it will help to foster a spirit of mutual co-operation between registrars and the Home Office. Crucially, it will reassure the public. Similarly, we believe that there should be an opportunity for registrars to provide feedback to the Home Office in cases where they feel their well-founded suspicions were not acted on, and to receive an explanation for the Home Office's action in the case. (Paragraph 32)

9.  It is apparent from the reports of the Independent Chief Inspector that the level of resources applied to this problem is critical, and we are not convinced that the current level of resourcing is sufficient compared to the scale of the abuse. (Paragraph 33)

10.  The Home Office was unable to provide the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration with management information on the number of prosecutions or removals from the UK as a result of sham marriage. Without any such data it is hard to believe any assurance from the Government that they are prioritising the problem and pursuing those who are attempting to circumvent immigration rules. Successful and well publicised prosecutions would help deter those from considering taking part in a sham marriage and incentivise registrars, and the general public, to report their suspicions. The number of section 24 reports more than doubled between 2010 and 2013. The Home Office should be able to tell the Committee what impact that increase had on prosecutions and on removals. (Paragraph 36)

11.  The Home Office should write to the Embassies of those European nationals who are most commonly involved in sham marriages, and encourage them to inform those who pass through their Embassy or Consulate that being involved in a sham marriage can lead to a criminal record and removal from the UK. (Paragraph 37)

12.  While we agree with the general principle of respecting marriage ceremonies held in other countries, it seems absurd that two people, both resident in the UK, can be lawfully married for the purposes of British law by means only of a proxy ceremony carried out overseas. At the moment, the burden of proof is on the state to prove the proxy marriage is unlawful. The burden of proof should be on the couple applying for a residence card, based on a proxy marriage, to prove the proxy marriage is lawful. (Paragraph 39)

UK visas and immigration

13.  In our last Report we commented on the increase in the number of asylum cases waiting more than six months for an initial decision. This trend has continued for the last eight quarters. We consider this unacceptable, and see no evidence that the government is achieving either its stated aim of making over 90% of initial decisions within six months or Sarah Rapson's aim of all straightforward cases getting a decision within six months. We agree with Sarah Rapson that there is no reason not to make an initial decision on straightforward cases promptly, and urge the government to take steps to achieve this aim. (Paragraph 47)

14.  At the current rate, it will take until 2019 to clear the backlog, an unacceptably long delay and much worse than the Home Office committed to. We were told that reducing the older asylum cases would free up staff to address the new asylum cases, and make it more likely that the Government would meet its own aspiration of 90% of initial asylum decisions being made within six months. Progress has been unacceptably slow, and the Home Office's continued failure to deal with the backlog is jeopardising prompt and fair treatment of new applicants. This must be addressed. (Paragraph 49)

Immigration enforcement

15.  The recent episode of English Language testing abuse illustrates the need for UKVI and Immigration Enforcement to continue to inspect education providers, and for as many of the visits as possible to be unannounced. We note that the greatest proportion of unannounced follow-up visits is overwhelmingly to Tier 2 employers and that a much smaller number is to education sponsors under Tier 4. The Home Office should explain why the number of unannounced visits are so overwhelmingly for Tier 2 employers rather than Tier 4 education providers. (Paragraph 52)

16.  We have repeatedly called on the Home Office to increase the number of unannounced follow-up visits to visa sponsors and we welcome the dramatic improvement during 2013. (Paragraph 53)

17.  While we entirely support the government's aim to crack down on bogus colleges and any organisations that have wilfully helped people to evade immigration controls, it is not appropriate to punish institutions where there is no evidence to support allegations of wrongdoing. The Home Office should act promptly to tell suspended organisations exactly what they are accused of, and to immediately end suspensions unless there is clear evidence. (Paragraph 54)

18.  We welcome the audit of Rule 35 casework and look forward to seeing the results, and what action the Home Office will take in light of the audit. We are still concerned that such a small percentage of Rule 35 Reports lead to release. We will continue to look at this subject as part of our ongoing work into Immigration Removal Centres. (Paragraph 58)

19.  Foreign National Offenders currently make up about 13% of the prison population. As the Prime Minister said, having all these people in our prisons is an enormous waste of money. Reducing the number of Foreign National Offenders in our prisons is in all our interests, and finding ways to identify those criminals who could be deported before they enter prison would be an enormous help. The Home Office should publicise any positive impact that Operation Nexus has had and, in particular, the number of foreign nationals identified as foreign nationals and deported as a result. We note the positive steps taken towards starting the deportation process early as part of Operation Nexus. We recommend that the Government go further and compel offenders to prove their nationality at the point of sentencing or face penal sanctions. This would enable the Home Office to start the process of deportation of offenders more quickly and to ensure it runs more smoothly. (Paragraph 61)

20.  The case detailed in the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report clearly shows the importance of constantly updating and monitoring the watchlist. The Home Office must act upon the Ombudsman's report and ensure that cases similar to that of Mrs A's family are not repeated. (Paragraph 64)

Border Agency backlogs

21.  Although the total number of accumulating Home Office backlogs has decreased, we are concerned by the huge increase in the number of in country applications where the application has been received and is awaiting input onto the Home Office computer system (CID). We repeat our concern that the total number in the migration refusal pool has not gone down by an appreciable amount from when the Home Office had contracted Capita to address this matter. The total backlog remains at 332,169 and does not appear to be reducing at an appreciable rate. The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation that the backlogs must be cleared as a matter of priority. (Paragraph 65)

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 25 July 2014