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A sham marriage or fake marriage is a marriage of convenience entered into purely for the purpose of gaining a benefit or other advantage arising from that status. While referred to as a "sham" or "fake" because of its motivation, the union itself is still legally valid if it conforms to the formal legal requirements for marriage in that country. Arranging or entering into such a marriage to deceive public officials is itself a separate violation of the law of some countries. In the United States, sham marriage for purposes of immigration fraud is a felony.
After a period, a couple often divorces if the marriage is no longer useful.
Sham marriages are distinct from marriage fraud, which is a type of romance scam, in which one spouse is unwittingly taken advantage of by the foreign spouse who feigns romantic interest, typically in order to obtain a residence permit or for money.
There have been cases of people entering into a sham marriage to avoid suspicion of homosexuality or bisexuality. For example, Hollywood studios had allegedly requested homosexual actors, such as Rock Hudson, to conceal their homosexuality in a so-called lavender marriage.
Since the introduction of stricter modern immigration laws in First World countries, sham marriages have become a common method to allow a foreigner to reside, 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. United States immigration law considers this to be fraudulent, imposing a penalty of a $250,000 fine and five-year prison sentence on the citizen, and deportation of the foreigner, for such marriages not made in good faith. The INS and the Justice Department say that they do not have accurate numbers on the rate of attempted marriage fraud. In the 2009 fiscal year, 506 of the 241,154 petitions filed were denied for suspected fraud, a rate of 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 license 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.
Legislation and investigation
- "A sham marriage, or marriage of convenience, or a sham civil partnership describes a marriage or civil partnership entered into for immigration advantage by two people who are not a genuine couple. A sham marriage or civil partnership is to be distinguished from a marriage or civil partnership entered into by a genuine couple where it may be convenient for immigration or other reasons for the couple to be married or civil partners."
In Canada, legislation on sham marriages has been strengthened in 2012. Yet, there has been continuous controversy regarding the issue. The Canadian officials have been accused both of being too harsh and harassing couples and of being too lenient in deciding what is a genuine relationship. In addition, there have been objections to the policy from women's organizations who have argued that the new policy which requires the sponsor and the new spouse to live in a "genuine relationship" for two years endangers women who are victims of domestic violence. Although there is an exception to this rule in cases of abuse, the policy has been accused of being too weak (as abuse is difficult to prove).
- Arranged marriage
- Beard (companion)
- Green Card (film)—in which a fake marriage is the main plot
- The Proposal (film)—a romantic comedy set around what is initially a fake marriage
- Hollywood marriage—including marriages entered into and promoted primarily for their publicity value
- Mail-order bride—often involving brides wishing to get immigration access to a mate's country
- Mariage blanc—a marriage without consummation
- Marriage of convenience—of which "sham" marriages are a subgroup See Oscar Alvarez vs. Canadian Immigration
- U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS)—See Investigations Section—Passport and Visa fraud
- Void marriage—an attempted marriage which does not even meet the legal requirements for a marriage
- "Victims of Immigration Fraud". voif.org. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
- "Romance Scams". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
- Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. "Protect yourself from marriage fraud - Canada.ca". www.canada.ca. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
- "Owner of Thai Ginger admits to immigration fraud – paying people to 'marry' her relatives". Bellevue Reporter. 2009-10-23. Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- "Thai Ginger owner sentenced for sham-marriage scheme". Seattle Times. 2010-02-19. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- Walter, Sim. "Convictions for bogus marriages soar to 284: ICA". Retrieved 26 June 2014.
- "Just Say No to Immigration Marriage Fraud". The Law Office of Tanya M. Lee. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
- (Manwani v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 736 F. Supp. 1367 (W.D.N.C. 1990)).
- "Investigating Marriage Fraud in New York". Ny Times. NY Times. June 11, 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
- "Bishops act to tackle sham marriages". homeoffice.gov.uk. 11 April 2011.
- Pain of divorce (2010-08-17). "One-in-six Irish marriages 'is a migrant sham' – City News, National News". Herald.ie. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "Registrar warns of rapid rise in 'sham marriages' – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 17, 2010". The Irish Times. 2010-08-17. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "Few legal means to restrict rise in bogus unions – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 17, 2010". The Irish Times. 2010-08-17. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- Tuesday, August 17, 2010 – 08:07 AM (2010-08-17). "Superintendent registrar: 15% of Irish marriages could be bogus". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "Marriage fraud". cic.gc.ca.
- "Marriage fraud: Canadian immigration officials tread thin line". thestar.com. 29 April 2013.
- "Backgrounder — Conditional Permanent Resident Status". cic.gc.ca.
- "Canadian immigration changes force women to stay with sponsoring spouse for two years". thestar.com. 5 December 2012.
- Academic article on political discourse & policies on forced and fraudulent marriages in the Netherlands: Bonjour&De Hart 2013, "A proper wife, a proper marriage. Constructions of 'us' and 'them' in Dutch family migration policy", European Journal of Women's Studies
- Academic article providing two telling examples of the fear of and resort to sham marriage in eighteenth-century England. Castro Santana, A (2015). "Sham Marriages and Proper Plots: Henry Fielding's Shamela and Joseph Andrews". English Studies 96 (6): 636–653.