40,000 marriage visas a year are going unchecked, minister admits
By JAMES SLACK
Last updated at 00:41am on 26th March 2008
An estimated 40,000 marriage visas are approved every year were going unchecked
At least 40,000 migrants are given marriage visas to live in Britain every year without officials checking their story with their husband or wife.
Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn said there were so many applications that hardly any of the British citizens who “sponsor” each application could be interviewed.
Even applicants themselves are not always interviewed. Many are approved on paper evidence.
MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee accused her of “complacency” and missing a golden opportunity to detect bogus marriages and those carried out against the sponsor's will.
Migrants granted a marriage visa can stay for two years. They can then apply for indefinite leave to remain and citizenship.
The 41,000 visas handed out last year included 17,000 from the Indian sub-continent.
Young British girls and boys are sent there to take part in forced ceremonies to secure a visa for a partner they may not have met.
Despite huge public concern about the scandal of both fake and forced marriage, Miss Munn admitted that officials normally rely on an interview with only the visa applicant.
But comparing the two stories could uncover glaring discrepancies, or evidence of a British youngster being forced into an arranged union by their family.
Miss Munn said the “sheer volume” of cases was the reason sponsors are not interviewed.
But MPs on the committee called for people sponsoring a spouse from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh to be quizzed.
Liberal Democrat Bob Russell said: “I do not understand why the spouse and sponsor cannot be interviewed.
“There is more likelihood they will decide whether the marriage is genuine.”
Critics say the failure to interview sponsors is at odds with the Government's promise to be tough on marriage visas.
Gordon Brown said this month that spouses could be denied entry if they did not speak English.
Instead of routine checks, an applicant's British spouse is only spoken to if there are specific concerns of forced marriage, and even then only with consular staff.
That information is then used in a “forensic interview” with the applicant involving up to 100 questions.
But there is no guarantee a visa will be refused.
During a heated session of the committee yesterday, it also emerged that decisions taken by officials who have established that a marriage is forced are being overturned by British courts.
In all, 452 visas were refused for Pakistani applicants last year over abuse in the family, including suspected forced marriage.
Of those, there were 37 successful appeals, the head of UK Visas, Mark Sedwill, told the hearing.
Victims of forced marriages may even have to give evidence to an immigration tribunal to back their spouse's appeal.
“This is the real tragedy, that sponsors are forced into this situation,” Mr Sedwill told the MPs, who are drawing to the end of a long inquiry into forced marriage.
Sir Andrew Green, of pressure group Migrationwatch UK, said: “We should not allow immigration for the purpose of immigration.”
Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: “The age at which sponsors and applicants can apply for a marriage visa should be raised to avoid intimidation. They should also have a decent command of English.”
The Home Office insisted most applications were genuine. Officials said “full and thorough” checks were carried out on applicants, who could be interviewed – along with their sponsors – if suspicions were raised.
A spokesman said: “There has been a drop in suspicious weddings since the Government strengthened rules in 2005.
“In 2004 there were 3,740 cases, down to just 149 between January and August 2006.”