One sham marriage may be happening in the UK every single hour, shocking figures revealed last night.
Official figures show that between January and October last year, a total of 7,606 fake weddings were reported to the Home Office.
Yet despite the huge scale of the problem, just 90 people were deported over the same period for engaging in false marriages to gain entry to the UK.
It means that for every 85 sham marriages, just one person is being thrown out of the country.
Experts said the appalling record sent out the unmistakeable signal to criminals that there will be no comeback if people enter a false partnership.
Labour said the figures showed the Coalition was ‘presiding over a broken immigration system’.
The party’s immigration spokesman, David Hanson, said: ‘This record speaks for itself. More sham marriages and fewer deportations.
‘People want the rules to be enforced, and these figures show the Government simply isn’t doing that.
‘The Tories are stopping half the number of people at our borders, fewer people are being deported, fewer foreign criminals are leaving and fewer employers are being fined for employing illegal workers.
‘The gap between David Cameron and Theresa May’s rhetoric and reality is stark.’
Last year one of the country’s most senior registrars warned that, in urban areas, one in five civil marriages may be ‘suspicious’.
Mark Rimmer, chairman of the Local Registration Services Association, estimated that up to 15,000 of the 173,000 civil weddings each year in England and Wales could be fake unions designed to evade immigration laws.
The latest figures, revealed by the Home Office for the first time following a Parliamentary question from Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, show that the problem may indeed be as stark has he warned.
They show all the reports to the authorities about suspected sham marriages, and will therefore only be the tip of the iceberg.
In 2013, up to the end of October, some 1,824 suspicious marriages and civil partnerships were reported to the Home Office by registrars.
Extrapolated over the full year, this indicates there are will be around 2,189 cases – almost eight times the total in 2006.
In addition, the Coalition has brought in a scheme where members of the public can log reports of sham marriages.
In the last three months of 2012, 984 such reports were received, while between January and October 2013 there were 5,782 reports.
Together with the reports from registrars, this adds up to 7,606 cases in the first ten months of 2013 – around one every single hour.
The figures indicate that reports have soared by more than half between 2012 and 2013.
David Green, chief executive of the think tank Civitas, said: ‘I find it very surprising that the numbers of deportations are so low as this has been a big issue for a number of years.
‘If the word gets out that you can get away with sham marriages in England, then you’ll get more sham marriages. And this send out the signal that, if you get found out, very little will happen.’
He added: ‘What is needed is willpower, pure political will. But the government is squeamish about seeming to be racist.
‘A lot of politics these days is not about problem-solving but is about reputation management. If they think it looks bad they don’t do anything.’
Last night a spokesman for the Home Office said: ‘The government is already taking action to crack down on those who seek to use a sham marriage to cheat our immigration controls. And we are determined to do more.
‘Registrars have a duty to report suspected sham marriages to the Home Office and we are working more closely with the General Register Office to increase awareness and improve the national response.
‘The Immigration Bill will introduce new measures to give our officers more time to identify and investigate suspected sham marriages and prevent them gaining an immigration advantage.’
Responding to the parliamentary question, immigration minister James Brokenshire said: ‘There could be a number of reasons for the increase including real-life increase, increase in reporting, or better detection. The Government is determined to clamp down on abuse of the marriage route.’
Of the number of deportations, Mr Brokenshire said: ‘The fact that there has been an arrest or a removal does not necessarily indicate a marriage was a sham.’