Week In Week Out: Sham wedding fixers 'offer groom' for £3,500

The undercover reporter had to go on a photo shoot to convince officials about her relationship

Brides and grooms are being offered for sale to people wanting to cheat their way to a visa and avoid deportation, a BBC Wales investigation has revealed.

An undercover reporter from Week In Week Out posed as a would-be bride from India who wants to stay in Wales but with her work visa due to run out.

She was offered a Czech husband by sham wedding fixers in Cardiff for £3,500.

She was also advised how to convince the UK Border Agency she had been with her new partner for more than a year.

The undercover team filmed a group of sham wedding fixers as they organised a photo shoot around Cardiff aimed at conning officials into thinking the reporter and her "partner" had been a couple since 2011, when in fact they had only met for a few hours.

The reporter was given lessons in how to lie about where they met and told to write down and learn a list of information about her fake fiancé in case she was questioned at the register office or after the wedding by the UKBA.

Every month, UKBA investigators are called in by suspicious registrars around Wales to disrupt what are thought to be suspicious ceremonies.

Latest figures show there were over 1,700 such calls across the Britain in 2011, twice the total for the previous year.

Recent changes to immigration rules have made it harder for non-EU and British citizens to marry.

Start Quote

Of those reported to the Border Agency, I think they are the tip of the iceberg”

End Quote Mark Rimmer Local Registration Services Association

But critics say it has created a loophole which makes it is easier and quicker for foreign nationals who want to stay in the UK, to marry EU nationals who have the right to remain here.

'Under the radar'

Mark Rimmer, chair of the Local Registration Services Association said: "Certainly, when we meet colleagues from the other parts of the UK, it certainly seems to be that they're also witnessing huge increases in the number of peoples getting married involving foreign nationals with European Union nationals.

And he thinks the problem of sham marriages is spreading.

"I think it's fair to say of those reported to the Border Agency, I think they are the tip of the iceberg.

"I get incredibly frustrated, incandescent I think it is very difficult to come into a marriage room where you are actually marrying a couple and you know they are actually laughing behind their hands at you, the system, the immigration rules.

Two men were filmed undercover offering to fix a marriage Two men were filmed undercover offering to fix a marriage

"Because if they got away with it, they think can walk out of here they are putting their two fingers up at the system."

At present there is no single "sham marriage" offence. To prosecute someone, officials have to be able to prove a number of crimes have been committed such as conspiracy, deception and fraud.

In 2012 there were 300 UKBA enforcement operations and arrests and 230 prosecutions.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper says the UK government is considering reviewing the situation.

He said: "We need to step up our approach to it, make sure we're more effective, when registrars report it to us we need to deal with it.

"We're looking at our intelligence capabilities, we're looking to work more closely with registrars, and we're also looking at if there are there any further legal steps we can take to make our existing tools more effective.

The programme also follows UKBA officers as they halt a wedding in Cardiff's City Hall after a tip off about Nigerian groom who was about to marry a Polish woman. The man, a failed asylum seeker, is now in custody awaiting deportation.

Richard Johnson, UKBA immigration inspector, who led the raids, said: "It's a priority for us as at the moment as it's an avenue that criminals and offenders are exploring to try and exploit the immigration system so it's somewhere we're clamping down on to make sure that they don't."

Week In Week Out BBC One Wales 22:35 GMT on Tuesday 26 February.

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