Saturday 23 February 2019

Crackdown on 'sham marriages' sees slump in applications to live here

Under Operation Vantage there has been a crackdown on so-called 'sham marriages'
Under Operation Vantage there has been a crackdown on so-called 'sham marriages'
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A crackdown by immigration authorities on scams has resulted in a dramatic slump in applications for permission to live here based on marriage to an EU national.

After a huge increase in applications by 52pc between 2013 and 2015, the establishment of Operation Vantage has reversed the trend over the past two years.

Following a High Court decision, which seriously reduced the powers of the authorities to tackle scam marriages, there was a spike in applications from people outside Ireland, claiming to exercise EU treaty rights.

The majority of these applications came from four countries - Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Bangladesh - prompting major concerns about potential abuses of the system.

Only 2pc of the visa applications, 269 out of 11,493, were granted while the 3,823 refusals and 6,793 withdrawals reinforced the abuse concerns.

But the setting up of Vantage and changes in the law helped officials from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Garda national immigration bureau to more fully investigate suspected marriages of convenience.

The number of new visa applications from the four countries fell from 4,696 in 2015 and 4,645 in 2016 to 530 in 2017 while only 308 were received last year by the end of September.

The law changes enable marriage registrars and gardai to object to a marriage if they consider it is  for the purpose of obtaining an immigration permission.

Vantage specifically targeted those facilitating the suspected scam marriages between mainly EU females and non-EU males and led to arrests by gardai.

A special unit was also set up within INIS to assess potentially high risk applicants for a residence card with a view to refusing or revoking immigration permission, where relevant.

The operation has evolved to include all immigration related offences and abuses of the common travel area.

As part of Vantage, the garda bureau is working closely with agencies in all other EU countries to expose sham marriages and a pan-European investigation is ongoing.

In 2001, there were 20 applications in Ireland for resident based on marriage to an EU national.  Twelve years later, the number had jumped to 2,293 and rose to 2,950 in 2014 and 3,847 in 2015.

In 2016, which was the first full year of Vantage, application  numbers fell to 2,658 and this downward trend has continued with 2,457 applications received in 2017 and 2,255 by the end of November this year.

Meanwhile, the backlog of EU treaty rights visa applications has been cleared. Refusal rates are very high with 93pc rejected, validating the concerns about potential abuse.

The number of new applications received up to the start of the final quarter of this year has plummeted to 308.

Commending those involved in Operation Vantage for their work, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said Irish citizenship was a great privilege of which we were all proud.

"Since the introduction of citizenship ceremonies in 2011, over 120,000 have taken up Irish citizenship, and it is our duty, not least to our European partners, to ensure that our laws are not abused".

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