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Jacquelin Magnay: Welcome to the Olympics -- just don't get married

VISITING Olympic athletes, coaches and officials will be banned from marrying while they are in Britain because of Home Office concerns that they will exploit the Games to try to claim residency.

Nearly 20,000 people from outside the EU will be issued with six-month visas that bar them from forming any civil partnerships or marriages. They will also be barred from applying for visas to study in Britain. The restrictions were imposed amid concerns that the Olympics will be a target for illegal immigrants and terrorists trying to get into the UK.

Last year, two 16-year-old athletes from Cameroon absconded from Manchester airport after competing in the Commonwealth Youth Games, while at the 2002 Commonwealth Games -- also in Manchester -- almost all of the 30-strong Sierra Leone team disappeared.

The UK Border Agency is so concerned about people abusing their visas that it has told all 204 national Olympic committees to inform their athletes, coaches and officials of restrictions during their stay in Britain.

They will be required to provide evidence that they will be in the UK for no longer than six months and will not take any other form of employment. They will also have to demonstrate that they have enough money to support themselves and meet the cost of their return journey.

The UK Borders Agency document states: "While you are in the UK, you will not be allowed to undertake a course of study; or marry or form a civil partnership, or give notice of marriage or civil partnership."

Athletes and officials will all have fingerprints and face-scans taken when they arrive, which UK Border Agency officials believe could lead to longer queues. A temporary terminal is being built at Heathrow to try to take the strain.

The security operation applies to all foreign nationals regardless of whether they are entitled to a visa waiver, including those from the US. The government is likely to step up the national terrorism threat to "severe" during the 16-day Games, which begin on July 27.

Anyone on the UN and European Union travel ban list will automatically be refused entry to Britain, along with people from regimes considered "not conducive to public good".

Some international athletes with criminal convictions that carry a substantial sentence are also likely to face difficulty entering Britain. British athletes will not face the same scrutiny. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent