Can an Asylum Seeker Get Married in the UK Before a Decision is Made?
In 2014, the UK Home Office put in place a requirement for 98% of ‘straightforward’ asylum applications to be processed within six months, but only five years later in 2019, the target was scrapped. As was reported by the Guardian in 2018, some asylum seekers have had to wait 20 years for a decision on their application. And to compound matters, the number of asylum applications pending for six months or more has been steadily rising since 2015 from ~10 to ~40.
With such a backdrop of rising delays, in some cases over 20 years, it is entirely understandable that an asylum seeker in the UK might want to get married without waiting for a decision from the Home Office.
Getting married as an asylum seeker while waiting for a decision
While there is no specific rule which prohibits an asylum seeker waiting for a decision from the Home Office from getting married, the process might not be entirely straightforward. This is because asylum seekers will be subject to the ‘referral and investigation scheme’ introduced by part 4 of the Immigration Act 2014. Under this scheme, non-EEA nationals who stand to benefit in immigration terms by getting married or entering into a civil partnership will be investigated to ensure their plans are legitimate.
Under UK law, anyone planning to enter into a marriage or a civil partnership is required to ‘give notice’ to a registry office at least 28 days before the ceremony. Once registered, all proposed marriages and civil partnerships in the UK are referred to the Home Office by the registering official if they involve a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK. This does not mean that an asylum seeker waiting for a decision will be refused, but it does mean that the circumstances of the intended marriage or civil partnership will be carefully vetted.
Where a notice of intention to marry or enter into a civil partnership is referred from the registration officer to the Marriage Referral and Assessment Unit (MRAU), the primary focus will be on checking for evidence of a ‘sham marriage’. According to section 24 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (amended by section 55 of the Immigration Act 2014), a ‘sham marriage’ is one where:
- one or both of the parties is not a British citizen, a European Economic Area (EEA) national or a Swiss national, and;
- there is no genuine relationship between the parties to the marriage, and;
- it is considered that either, or both, of the parties wish to enter into the marriage for the purpose of circumventing UK immigration controls, including under the Immigration Rules or the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2006
Investigating officers will also ensure that there is no evidence of an intention to enter into a forced marriage or trafficking/slavery. If the intended marriage or civil partnership is to be investigated, the notice period is then extended from 28 to 70 days to allow time for the investigation to be carried out.
It is important to note that if you and your partner are investigated, this is a routine process as required under law. Your willingness to be fully cooperative and helpful to the investigator will be very important in ensuring a positive outcome. According to the Home Office guidance for marriage investigation, if the couple being investigated are fully compliant, “permission to marry may be granted, even where there are doubts about the relationship, if they are not compliant, the couple will be refused permission to marry”. This is important as if the marriage or civil partnership is assessed as being a sham, the Home Office may order one or both individuals to have their leave curtailed, removed, deported, or referred for criminal investigation for committing perjury or facilitation of illegal immigration.
Genuine couples caught up in sham marriage crackdown
There have been many examples of genuine couples who been unfairly treated during the course of an investigation. According to examples cited by the Guardian newspaper, couples have been subjected to ‘insulting’, ‘gruelling’ and in some cases degrading questioning and checks. In some cases, highly personal questions have been asked, and the Home Office have even carried our early morning visits to “check up on the number of toothbrushes”.
In one serious case of extreme behaviour by Home Office officials cited in the article, Qasim, 29, from Pakistan, and Debora, 33, from Portugal, who planned to get married was asleep at home when they were raided by four officials in January 2016. Debora explained, “we were questioned separately about our relationship and then Qasim was arrested, taken away and locked up in detention for four months before the Home Office finally accepted that our relationship was genuine”.
Should we register our intention to get married?
If you or your partner is an asylum seeker in the UK awaiting a decision, and you plan to enter into a genuine marriage or civil partnership, it is highly recommended that you speak to an immigration Solicitor before visiting your local registry office. An immigration Solicitor will assess the details of your case and ensure that there is nothing which may (even if innocent) give the Home Office a reason to conclude the ceremony will not be genuine. It is better to take a cautious approach rather than facing an adverse outcome due to no fault of your own.
In the event that you do wish to register your marriage, you should receive permission well within the 70 days of extended notice. If you do not, or you receive notification that the Home Office suspects the marriage is a sham, then it will become important to seek legal assistance.
Asylum seekers in the UK can get married or enter into a civil partnership, but it is important to do everything possible to not fall foul of the UK’s Government’s hostile environment policies and rules. If you are in a genuine and subsisting relationship and you cooperate fully with the Home Office if investigated, there is every reason to believe you will be able to get married. If any suspicions are aroused, however, matters may become more complicated. It is for this reason that seeking legal advice from an immigration solicitors as early as possible may prove invaluable.
Related Article: Read more on ‘How to claim asylum in the UK’
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