“Marriages of convenience” investigated
9 March 2007
BRUSSELS – The number of investigations into “marriages of convenience” in Belgium has almost quadrupled over the past two years. Since municipal and other services must now pass on any information regarding suspicious marriage plans, couples are being prevented from “shopping around” for a town that will marry them.
The municipality can start an investigation if the civil registry suspects that a couple is only marrying so that one of the partners can obtain a residence permit. Cities like Antwerp and Ghent have a separate unit to track down abuses of the marriage system.
Last year the Immigration Service asked for information in 5,474 cases of “suspicious” marriages, that number was only 1,343 in 2004. In the first two months of this year alone 2,247 investigations have already been launched.
“The figures clearly show that we have made it a priority over the past few years to combat pseudo-legal migration via marriages of convenience,” said Minister of the Interior Patrick Dewael (Open VLD). The minister said that the government circular of 2005 in particular has had an effect.
That letter urged all municipal officials of the civil registry to pass on information about suspicious cases and couples that had been refused marriage licenses. Couples who were refused a marriage license in a large city often went to another town or municipality to be married without a problem. The letter in September 2005 made this “shopping around” much more difficult.
The immigration service also does investigation abroad to track down evidence of prospective sham marriages. Last year one quarter of all applications for a family reunification visa were refused. There were too many indications in these cases, and sometimes even a recommendation from the public prosecution department, that these marriages were a sham.
Dewael says the proactive approach to marriages of convenience is now on the right track. But he is still working on how to tackle sham marriages that have already taken place. Last week the Parliamentary committee on home affairs gave a green light for changes to the alien act. Partners who come to Belgium for family reunification are given a permanent resident permit after living in Belgium for five months.
The Immigration Service indicated to Dewael that the period during which cases can be followed up on is much too short, and as a result many couples with sham marriages just slip through the cracks and cannot be traced. The change to the law will force newly arrived partner to wait longer before he or she can convert his or her permit into a three year permit.
Dewael wants to push the amended alien act through Parliament before the end of this term. “And then we will be full circle. The proactive investigations into sham marriages have been stepped up significantly, and soon there will be much broader opportunities to check up on these couples after they have married.”
[Copyright Expatica News 2007]
Subject: Belgian news