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Officers from the UK Border Agency
lead away the would-be bride in an operation to prevent a sham marriage
A sham marriage or fake marriage is a marriage of convenience entered into with the intent of deceiving public officials or society about its purpose. Arranging or entering into such a marriage to deceive public officials is itself a separate violation of the law of some countries. While referred to as a "sham" or "fake" because of its motivation, the union itself is still legally valid if it conformed to the formal legal requirements for marriage. After a period, a couple often divorces if the marriage is no longer useful.
Common reasons for such marriages are to gain immigration rights for one of the spouses, or to create a defense against suspicions of homosexuality.
So-called Lavender marriages, to conceal the appearance of homosexuality, have been used by Rock Hudson, among others, at the request of Hollywood studios.
Since the introduction of stricter modern immigration laws in First World countries, sham marriages have become a common method to allow a foreigner to live, and possibly gain citizenship, in the more desirable country of the spouse. The couple marries with knowledge that the marriage is solely for the purpose of obtaining the favorable immigration status. This is frequently arranged as a business transaction (i.e., a substantial sum of money is paid) and occurs more commonly with foreigners already in the country. The United States has a penalty of a $250,000 fine and five-year prison sentence for such arrangements. The INS and the Justice Department conceded that they do not have accurate numbers on the rate of attempted marriage fraud. Furthermore, only 506 of the 241,154 petitions filed in the 2009 fiscal year were denied for suspected fraud, less than 0.09%.
The UK Border Agency issued guidance to clergy in April 2011 to help prevent weddings for visas. English and Welsh clergy may perform a marriage, according to the law there. They have been advised not to offer to publish banns for any marriage which involves someone from outside Europe. Instead, the couple will be asked to apply for a licence and if a member of the clergy is not satisfied that a marriage is genuine, they must make that clear to the person responsible for granting the licence.
In Ireland in August 2010, it was highlighted that sham marriages account for one in six of all marriages, residency status in the European Union and circumventing immigration rules.
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