South Scotland

Wedding day arrests by UK Border Agency rise sharply

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWork is under way to track down illegal immigrants who try to marry in an attempt to remain in the UK

A BBC Freedom of Information request has found a sharp rise in the number of people being arrested on their wedding day by the UK Border Agency.

Until three years ago hardly any such operations were taking place.

However, in the year to March 2012 there were 197 arrests in the UK and 27 in Scotland as a result of "marriage abuse enforcement visits".

The UKBA says the increase has come since foreign nationals no longer have to apply to the Home Office to wed.

A major offensive is ongoing against illegal immigrants who try to marry in an attempt to remain in the UK.

The UKBA has started routine liaison with registration office staff to identify suspicious weddings.

Immigration officers then swoop on the unsuspecting couples to stop them reaching the altar.

One such operation took place on Tuesday at the registration office in Annan in Dumfries and Galloway.

A Pakistani man whose visa expired nearly two years ago was attempting to marry a woman from Poland.

As she is from an EU member country she is freely allowed to be here and so would any husband.

However, the man was arrested before the wedding could take place.

Fiona McBeth of the UKBA said the background to such operations could be very different.

"Sometimes you get a bride who has been duped - who thinks that the groom is madly in love with her and he is only doing it because his visa has run out," she said.

"Sometimes the bride or groom is doing it for money - they will be paid and they think it is easy because their home country won't know they are married so they can go home and get married at another time.

"There are a variety of reasons - people coming to the end of their visas and it is cheaper to get married to an EU citizen than it is to extend your visa."

Ms McBeth said it was often people with EU citizenship who formed one half of the wedding party.

Image caption A rising number of weddings end up with the would-be bride or groom arrested

"If a foreign national marries a British national they have to apply to stay in the UK," she explained.

"So it is easier for people to marry an EU national because if the EU national is exercising their treaty rights then that means that their spouse automatically gets the same rights."

She said the number of UKBA operations had escalated after the obligation on foreign nationals to apply for a certificate of approval from the Home Office was removed a couple of years ago.

"People felt when they went through the Home Office there was a chance they would be caught because they were illegally here," she said.

"Now they don't have to register with us, so they come straight to the registry office.

"They think because they have not had to notify us that we won't know about the marriage but we work very closely with the National Records Office of Scotland and the registration office.

"We also get a lot of intelligence about people getting married and we try to attend most weddings."

The FOI figures confirm such operations are becoming commonplace, with levels expected to rise again this year.

Those detained are placed in immigration removal centres such as that at Dungavel in Lanarkshire and face almost certain deportation.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites