Sham marriage adverts behind surge in visa applications from India
A surge in advertisements for sham marriages is behind the huge increase in Indian student visa applications to the United Kingdom, officials and immigration experts said on Monday.
By Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Published: 3:32PM GMT 01 Feb 2010
They were speaking after Britain was forced temporarily to suspend applications from India, Bangladesh and Nepal following a huge increase from 1,800 to 13,500 applications from the same period last year. The suspension is an embarrassment since it comes just a year after the introduction of a new points-based system for assessing applicants.
The numbers soared in spite of growing concern over lax scrutiny on overseas students following the arrest last April of several Pakistanis studying at British universities on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks.
Shortly before the arrests, Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, described the abuse of the student visa system as one of the biggest loopholes in Britain's immigration system.
According to immigration consultants in India, unscrupulous immigration agents in India had exploited weaknesses in the new system dramatically to increase the number of unqualified candidates applying for student visas. The agents then try to double the number of immigrants by arranging fake “court marriages” for successful applicants.
Indian newspapers have reported a surge in matrimonial advertisements in local newspapers in Ludhiana and Jalandhar, two major cities in Punjab which have traditionally been major emigration centres to Britain, Australia, the United States and Canada.
One advertisement in the Punjabi Daily Ajeet on January 22 highlighted the fraud: “Only court marriage. Seeking alliance for a 24- year-old boy. The girl must have cleared IELTS [International English Language Testing System]. All expenses will be borne by the boy's family.” Agents yesterday told The Daily Telegraph some families were paying fees of up to 10,000 for their sons and daughters to “marry” those with British student visas. As the marriage is a civil contract it is regarded as a paper arrangement rather than a solemn religious commitment.
The students' spouses then enter Britain where they work full-time in the hope of eventually extending their visa.
According to immigration officials and local consultants, part of the sharp increase in applications to the UK may also have been caused by a slump in the numbers applying to Australia. Student applicants have been subjected to tougher scrutiny in Australia and there has been a wave of unrest directed at immigrants.
Under the points-based system introduced in March last year, colleges were forced to register with the Border Agency and 140 were shut down for failing to meet standards criteria. Fifteen had their licences to recruit foreign students withdrawn.
But according to Suresh Sundaram, India director of the U. K-based Infozee immigration consultants, the changes have made it easier for unqualified students to acquire the required points by winning places at private colleges with lower entrance standards.
“The points system was a step forward in promoting education in the UK, but it has opened too many loopholes … Before it was completely in the hands of visa officers, they could reject them. Now they can't even if they want to,” he said.
Related Articles :
Forced marriage laws keep young couple apart – even though they love each other
Rise in foreign births 'to blame for primary school crisis'
Vicar arrested over 180 sham weddings
US to fast-track visas for foreign students in bid to woo scientists
Fraudsters 'offered no win, no fee services for Britain's largest visa scam'