Anglicans tighten rules to prevent sham marriages

April 12, 2011

LONDON (RNS) Couples suspected of using their wedding vows as a ruse to
skirt immigration laws will be required to meet strict identity checks
and face greater scrutiny under new Church of England guidelines to stop
sham marriages.

The guidelines announced Tuesday (April 12) by the Church's House of
Bishops target the practice of some vicars conspiring in fake weddings
between British nationals and illegal immigrants as a means toward
gaining legal residency.

The church directives place the onus on clergy and legal officers to
help stop the scam that has resulted in 155 police arrests around the
country.

In one case, one vicar was sentenced to four years in prison for his
involvement in a sham marriage ring that helped hundreds of illegal
immigrants remain in Britain.

The new guidelines advise clergy against offering to publish banns
(in which a couple's marital intentions are read aloud on three
consecutive Sundays), particularly for marriages involving non-European
Economic Area nationals.

Instead, the couples will have to apply for a "common license,"
including swearing affidavits that give proof of identity and address,
as well as agreeing to a visit from a vicar and attending marriage
preparation classes.

The rules were coordinated with the UK Border Agency. The British
government's immigration minister, Damian Green, warned would-be
fraudsters that "a marriage itself does not equal an automatic right to
remain" in Britain.

Church leaders are clear, Bishop John Packer of Ripon and Leeds
said, "that the office of holy matrimony must not be misused by those
who have no intention of contracting a genuine marriage but merely a
sham marriage."