EU to probe ‘fake marriage’ immigration loophole


Brussels : The European Commission Thursday agreed to address concerns that scores of illegal immigrants may be marrying European Union (EU) citizens with the sole intention of achieving EU residence permits.

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But the EU’s top justice official ruled out any changes to the bloc’s freedom of movement directive, as requested by Denmark and a number of other member states.

“This directive is one of the linchpins of the union,” said Jacques Barrot. “We need to think twice before we should consider changing it.”

Instead, the EU executive will take a close look at the EU’s existing rules and see whether new guidelines aimed at avoiding abuses might be needed, Barrot said.

Growing concerns about so-called marriages of convenience stem from a July ruling by the European Court of Justice.

The Metock case pitted the Irish government against four couples, all involving third-country males who had married British, German or Polish women living in Ireland.

Ireland had wanted to deport the four men on the grounds that they did not hold resident permits in any other EU country prior to their marriages.

But the court ruled against Ireland, saying it could not avoid granting them resident permits.

Opposition to the Metock ruling has been particularly strong in Denmark, where the ruling centre-right government coalition has to rely on the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party to hold a parliamentary majority.

The Danish government had called on the commission to change the freedom of movement directive so as to mitigate the effects of the case.

It says it enjoys the support of other countries that enforce strict immigration rules – among them Austria, Britain, Ireland and Germany.

“Everybody agrees that it is a significant problem and that we should discuss the unfortunate consequences of the Metock ruling,” said Danish Integration Minister Birthe Ronn Hornbech.

Her British colleague, Liam Byrne, said “a wide range of member states” had expressed “extremely strong views” about the implications of the ruling during Thursday’s meeting of interior ministers in Brussels.

Among them Austria, whose interior minister said prior to the meeting that the ruling fatally undermined her country’s residency rules.

While Denmark and Britain carry out face-to-face interviews with suspect couples in order to ensure that they are not trying to exploit EU residency rules, many other member states take a much more lax approach to marriages involving third-country nationals.

According to Irish officials, 15 percent of the 4,600 applications for residency they received since 2006 involved failed asylum-seekers.

They have also been pointing their fingers at an unusually high number of Latvians who marry Pakistanis.

Women in Poland and Bulgaria have been known to be offering to marry immigrants for as little as 800 euros ($1,175).

Dutch officials said governments should crack down on such marriages of convenience rather than seek to limit people’s freedom of movement.