The pattern was all too familiar to the officers of the Garda (police) National Immigration Bureau. Young women from European Union member states like Latvia are being paid to come to Ireland and take part in sham marriages with non-EU nationals, largely from Pakistan, and there is no law to stop them.
These give the new husbands, many of them students on temporary visas or failed asylum-seekers awaiting deportation, a back door to permanent EU residency. It has become such a racket that more than one in 10 civil ceremonies conducted in Ireland today are phony unions designed to circumvent immigration rules, according to Dennis Prior, superintendent registrar for Ireland’s eastern region.
In the first six months of this year in Ireland, 253 Pakistani men married 95 women from Latvia, 25 from Lithuania, 18 from Poland, 17 from Estonia and 98 from other countries. The East European women tend to be very young, vulnerable and from poor backgrounds. They are enticed by payments of up to 5,000 euros ($6,435) to take part in marriages of convenience, according to Chief Superintendent John O’Driscoll, head of the immigration bureau.
The documentation can be arranged and the ceremony conducted so expediently that many can go home after a week or so, he said. While the largest group of men is from Pakistan, another 314 from Nigeria, Brazil and India applied for residency based on marriage in the first half of this year and most of these also appear to be bogus.
“I have seen ceremonies where two interpreters were required for a marriage when clearly the bride and groom couldn’t understand each other,” Prior told the Irish Times. “Other indicators are a man holding all the documents for a woman, the bride and groom not knowing each other’s address at the interview, a bride having no friends at a ceremony, and the same people often attending different marriages.”
The problem mushroomed following a ruling by the EU Commission in 2006 that gave family members of EU citizens the right to travel freely within the 27 member states. The Irish government challenged this in 2008 when it attempted to deport four couples when non-EU spouses had married foreign citizens, but it was overruled by the European Court of Justice.
O’Driscoll called the sham unions the “gold card of immigration” for residency-seekers because of the enhanced freedom of movement it gives the spouses over successful asylum applicants.
Prior complained that Irish registrars are demoralized and disheartened by their inability under current regulations to challenge the partners in suspect cases.
He went public to promote new legislation to allow interrogations where foreign nationals could be asked detailed questions about how they met, how long they have been together, and even what they had for breakfast — methods portrayed in the 1990 movie "Green Card," in which U.S. officials tripped up an American woman, Bronte (Andie McDowell), and a Frenchman, Georges (Gerard Depardieu), when they got married so that Georges could get U.S. residency.
Meanwhile Irish immigration police are trying to crack down under existing laws. They have used a right under the Civil Registration Act successfully to object to 56 marriages in the last nine months, and are working with Interpol to identify fake documentation such as forged divorce papers. In one recent case in Dublin, a Pakistani man, Muhammad Shafi, 27, was prevented by police from marrying a 19-year-old Latvian girl after he was convicted and fined for having two false passports.
The independent Immigrant Council of Ireland cautioned that attempts to prevent marriages of convenience could affect genuine unions and impact those who had been married for several years and were clearly in lasting relationships. (I have a personal interest in this, having been married to a Russian citizen of Armenian origin for over 20 years.)
The Council also pointed out that EU statistics show that Ireland still has the second lowest rate of acquisition of citizenship in the EU after the Czech Republic. In 2008 Ireland granted six citizenships per thousand foreign residents, compared to 23 per thousand in Sweden, which registered the highest rate.