Tom Whitehead, Telegraph (London), April 12, 2011
In future any non-EU citizens wanting to marry in the Church of England will have to apply for a “common licence” and pay a £100 fee.
The licence has to be signed off by a bishop and only after stringent checks by the local vicar, including a home visit and verifying documents.
The rules will apply as much to citizens from the likes of America, Australia and South Africa as countries that pose a risk of illegal immigration.
And if there are any concerns, information can be passed on to immigration officers.
Associated guidance for the clergy from the Home Office on telltale signs of a bogus marriage includes watching out for “either party referring to notes to give answers about their partner”, “one of the parties being seen to receive payment” and “the couple leaving separately following the ceremony”.
The change comes as separate restrictions designed to tackle sham marriages outside of the Church of England have been scrapped.
It raises the prospect that it will now be harder for migrants to marry in a Code church than anywhere else.
Figures last month suggested the number of sham marriages in the UK has tripled in the last four years to 934 reported cases.
The new CofE guidance is issued today with the support of the UK Border Agency.
It relates to any couple where at least one of them is from outside the European Economic Area–the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Traditionally, notifications of weddings are given through the banns, which are read on the three Sunday’s before the marriage, allowing anyone who has concerns to raise them.
But new guidance from the Church of England’s House of Bishops now states: “In the case of any intended marriage where a party is a non-EEA national, the clergy should not offer to publish banns, instead the couple should be directed to apply for a common licence.”
To receive a common licence, the vicar must be content the couple are genuine, including verifying their address, visiting them at home and checking they are both single.
The couple must also sign an affidavit swearing they are eligible to marry.
It also advises any member of the clergy who thinks that he or she has been subjected to threats or any other improper to immediate report the matter to the police, the archdeacon and the diocesan legal officers.
The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, said: “The House of Bishops is clear that the office of Holy Matrimony must not be misused by those who have no intention of contracting a genuine marriage but merely a sham marriage.
“The purpose of this guidance and direction from the Bishops to the clergy and to those responsible for the grant of common licences is, therefore, to prevent the contracting of sham marriages in the Church of England.”
Damian Green, the immigration minister, added: “The UK Border Agency already works very closely with the Church not only to investigate and disrupt suspected sham weddings but also to provide advice and support. “The new guidance being launched today by the Church of England is another step in the right direction in tackling these abuses.”
Rules that require similar couples to marry anywhere outside of the Church of England to obtain a certificate of approval from the Home Office have been abandoned following a series of human rights court defeats.