Sham mar­riage con­cern

The Church of England - - NEWS -

GOVERNMENET pro­pos­als to crack down on sham mar­riages risk send­ing a “dan­ger­ous mes­sage” about mixed race re­la­tion­ships, the Bishop of Le­ices­ter has warned.

Bishop Tim Stevens spoke out about the Govern­ment’s Im­mi­gra­tion Bill, which among other mea­sures aims to cut the num­ber of people get­ting mar­ried fraud­u­lently to ob­tain visas.

Min­is­ters claim that be­tween 4,000 and 10,000 ap­pli­ca­tions a year for leave to re­main in the UK are made on the ba­sis of sham mar­riages.

The Bill tough­ens up the Home Of­fice’s pow­ers to in­ves­ti­gate mar­riages be­tween Bri­tons and non-Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area na­tion­als and ex­tends the no­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quired for mar­riages and civil part­ner­ships from 15 to 28 days.

Dur­ing sec­ond read­ing de­bate on the Bill in the House of Lords, Bishop Stevens said: “We recog­nise that the strate­gic in­ten­tion of this part of the Bill is to pre­vent the use of ‘sham mar­riage’ to en­able people to gain im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus while cir­cum­vent­ing the proper cri­te­ria.

“This is bound to cre­ate some con­flict of prin­ci­ple for those of us who are Angli­cans.

“The Church, of course, wishes to of­fer the sacra­ment of mar­riage, re­flect­ing the gen­er­ous grace of God, and not to raise bar­ri­ers on the ba­sis of na­tion­al­ity.

“On the other hand, we are acutely aware of the dan­gers of sham mar­riage, in­clud­ing harm to in­di­vid­u­als and to the very in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage.”

But he said there were ques­tions about whether the change was “nec­es­sary or de­sir­able”.

He told peers: “There is gen­uine con­cern here that re­la­tion­ships be­tween Bri­tish res­i­dents and non-EEA na­tion­als are now to be seen through a prism of mis­trust which sends a dan­ger­ous mes­sage about mixed re­la­tion­ships in a di­verse and multi-eth­nic so­ci­ety.

“The Govern­ment’s im­pact state­ment claims that 2,500 re­movals from the UK will be gen­er­ated in the first year by this pro­vi­sion alone.

“This will doubt­less cause a large amount of stress, pain and anx­i­ety to many gen­uine cou­ples.

“It will also un­doubt­edly mean that the Govern­ment seek to re­move and sep­a­rate en­gaged cou­ples whose mar­i­tal plans are sin­cere.

“Even for those who do not face re­moval from the coun­try at the end of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion process, it will be a stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. A mo­ment which should be a happy and ful­fill­ing time in any per­son’s life has the po­ten­tial to turn into a pe­riod of in­tense stress and pain.”

He said many of the pro­vi­sions in the Bill risked gen­er­at­ing “se­ri­ous con­cern, anx­i­ety and ten­sion among our di­verse mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties”.

“That may play well in parts of the press, but it will not be in the long-term in­ter­ests of so­cial co­he­sion in cities such as my own,” he said.

“In a global world where the driv­ers of mi­gra­tion are con­stantly strength­ened, we need to en­sure that this Bill does not erode our rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a just and wel­com­ing so­ci­ety upon which the pros­per­ity and well­be­ing of all cit­i­zens of this coun­try de­pend.

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