Sham marriage concern
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.