Paul Williams: Criminals exploiting loophole in EU law
Criminals have found a way around tougher British laws that impose stringent financial requirements on UK nationals wanting to secure immigration rights for non-EU relatives.
Under the regulations they must prove that they have sufficient funds to ensure the immigrants will not be a burden on the state. However, networks of criminals are exploiting a loophole in the EU created by a European Court of Justice ruling, known as the 'Surinder Singh' case, to find a way around the requirements.
Under the ruling, any EU citizen who has exercised EU treaty rights in another member state for three months or more can then transfer those rights to the UK without being subject to the financial restrictions.
The UK nationals are paying criminals an average of £15,000 (€16,900) to create a false paper trail that shows them to be living and working here while they continue to live in the UK.
The "agents" register a company in the individual's name at a convenience address and then produce tax returns and pay slips to demonstrate economic activity.
The individual is also provided with accommodation addresses complete with corresponding false utility bills, which in turn are used to secure PPS numbers.
After three months, the UK national can then apply to the Irish authorities for a family residence card for non-EU relatives having shown - with the false documentation - that he has been living and working here.
The immigration fraudsters also assist in producing documents that demonstrate the relatives' emotional and financial dependence on the applicant.
The ongoing investigation by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), under the command of Detective Chief Supt Dave Dowling, last year is estimated to have saved the State over €15m.
This was based solely on accommodation and did not include the cost of health, education and social welfare payments.
One non-EU family which was suspected of arriving in Ireland through the scam was in receipt of €55,000 from various Government departments.
In the latest phase of Operation Vantage, officers from the GNIB arrested 13 suspects following a series of searches in three counties.
The 13 arrested men included 10 Pakistanis, two Bangladeshi and one Mauritian, all of whom had taken part in 'sham marriages' and pretence to obtain a residency card and qualify for EU treaty rights permission to remain here.
Another 11 suspects, made up of Chinese, Malaysian, Pakistani and Mexican nationals, were identified as having no legal status or immigration history within the State.