Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

How to get a sham marriage if you are illegal in the UK

The bride found by our undercover man
Ready and willing: The bride for our man

By June Kelly and Dominic Casciani
BBC News

If you are an illegal immigrant desperate to stay in the UK, what do you do? Get married - and hope that nobody checks up on you. The BBC has been investigating how it is done and why the authorities are finding it difficult to stop.

If you want to investigate illegal immigration, you need someone who is on the verge of being thrown out of the country.

We turned to Jaspal, an Indian student who is in the UK entirely legally. For our investigation, he posed as an illegal immigrant who had arrived in this country in the back of a lorry.

As a supposed illegal, he had a toehold in the West and was looking for any way to stay on. We sent Jaspal, fitted out with a secret camera, to search for a bride and a sham marriage.

Beginner's guide

And so he began a journey through the illegal immigrant underworld that links criminal gangs from the Indian sub-continent with Eastern European women who need the cash.

Jaspal, our undercover reporter
Jaspal: Undercover journey from London to Birmingham

Jaspal started asking around Asian communities in London for any tips. It didn't take him long to be given an idea of how to find the woman of his immigration dreams.

And so, his first stop was a suburban house in the west London suburb of Hayes.

There he met a man called Nirlmal. And despite their talk turning to immigration scams, Jaspal's contact was lounging on the sofa, giving him a beginner's guide to organising a bogus wedding.

It was easy, he said. He described how he would put Jaspal in touch with the marriage racketeers who could fix everything.

If Jaspal needed any proof that this was someone with expertise in the market, it was right in front of him.

In the busy house, there was another young man who produced a picture of a young couple. It was of him and the European bride he had married to stay in the country.

Jaspal was on his way to wedding bliss - via an international gang based in Birmingham.

Tell-tale signs

Back in London, we went to see Mark Rimmer, the head registrar in Brent who has worked closely with the government on cracking sham marriages.

Watch when Mark Rimmer confronted a groom he suspected

"When you work in a borough like Brent you are well used to seeing variations of nationalities and mixes of nationalities marrying each other," said Mr Rimmer.

"What we are now seeing is people getting married of nationalities that are not a usual mix, even in a place like Brent.

"Very often you may see a bit of overacting. Real couples tend not to be over-affectionate with each other in front of officials.

"Then there are the blatant ones, where they cannot even communicate in the same language, leading you to think that this is not a love match."

While we were filming at Brent, one such suspect case appeared on cue. The groom was Pakistani, the bride Lithuanian. Neither spoke adequate English - or each other's language.

Mr Rimmer confronted the couple - and you can watch the video here to find out what happened.

Love and money

Meanwhile Jaspal hadn't found love in Birmingham, but he had found a gang willing to sell him a bride for £20,000.

Watch our man seal the deal with the gang and the bride

Jaspal went to meet Harpreet, the man in charge of the Midlands end of the operation, along with his sidekick.

And after some fevered phone activity and negotiations, the gathering on the street grew larger with the arrival of the European end of the chain.

The Eastern European men brought a Roma woman from Slovakia to see Jaspal.

Their first encounter was bereft of romance. The men asked the woman if she was happy to marry Jaspal. She replied with a sheepish yes - and you can watch what happened on the video on this page.

That was basically the limit of her English. But once inside the car, where the deal was to be struck, she enthusiastically produced documentation, demonstrating her right to live in the UK. We never learned how much money she had been promised by the gang.

Regulation

In this trade, the bride and groom may not speak the same language but, as ever, money talks and the criminal are making plenty of it.

Ali Imran
Ali Imran: Advice on how to pay a bride

But it is not just the underworld that understands the sham marriage market.

Our bridegroom Jaspal had heard from a contact that some official advisers could help.

Britain's cities are home to specialist immigration advisers who are regulated by the government.

Jaspal had heard about one, Ali Imran, operating out of a firm in east London.

On hearing that Jaspal was an illegal immigrant Ali Imran should have told him to contact the authorities and ended the meeting. He didn't.

Instead he offered marriage advice. He told him that to find a girl he should buy some smart shirts and go to nightclubs where he would find "girls wandering there like dogs".

Jaspal made it clear that wasn't for him - he wanted a more direct route.

'Pay by instalments'

Mr Imran did not offer to set Jaspal up with a bogus wife - but he did explain how best to manage paying her if one became available.

"Give her the first instalment when she provides her paperwork - £500 or £1,000," he suggested.

"Then pay her a bit more when the marriage takes place. Pay her the third instalment when you have your visa on your passport."

We asked Ali Imran to comment about his advice to Jaspal. He denied any wrongdoing. The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, which oversees the sector, has told the BBC that Mr Imran is no longer authorised to provide immigration advice.

It took Jaspal just a matter of weeks to go from being an illegal immigrant on the edge to a man with a means of clinging on in the UK. Jaspal walked away and went back to his legal life as a student. But registrars say there are many more who are following the path, and saying "I do".



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