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Bill tightens rules for marriage of foreigners

18 October 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

FOREIGN nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland who want to marry in the Church of England will require an Archbishop's special licence, or a certificate issued by a superintendent registrar, if draft provisions in the Government's Immigration Bill be-come law.

Current guidance from the House of Bishops states that clergy should not publish banns if one of the parties is not a British or EEA national. It says that such marriages should instead be authorised by a common licence.

The new law removes the option of a common licence, and says that couples seeking to marry in the C of E should provide the priest with "specified evidence" that both parties are "relevant nationals". The Bill does not say what the "specified evidence" will be - this will be subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State as secondary legislation.

"Recent experience has demonstrated that there are those who seek to abuse both the system of ecclesiastical marriage preliminaries and the office of Holy Matrimony by contracting marriages solely for the purpose of obtaining an immigration advantage," the House of Bishops says in its guidance note. "The marriages in question have often been arranged by organised, criminal gangs."

The new rules place a duty on superintendent registrars to refer proposed marriages, as well as civil partnerships, involving foreign na-tionals who do not have appropriate immigration status or relevant visas, to the Home Office, which would then have up to 70 days to investigate whether the proposed union was a "sham".

Besides tightening up the provisions of marriage law, the new Immigration Bill contains a number of provisions designed to make it harder for illegal immigrants to regularise their life in the UK. Landlords could be fined up to £3000 if they enter a tenancy agreement to people disqualified as a result of their immigration status.

The new rules also make it an offence for banks and building societies to open accounts for "disqualified people", although credit unions will not be affected. People seeking leave to enter or remain in the UK will be required to pay a "health charge" to cover potential usage of NHS facilities.

The Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Commons next Tuesday.

 

Preliminaries for Marriage

Banns of Marriage

A verbal notice of the intended marriage is published in the principal service on three separate Sundays preceding the marriage in the parish church where the wedding is to take place, and/or churches in the parish where the parties live or regularly worship.

Common Licence

A statutory licence issued under the authority of the Chancellor of the diocesan consistory court, usually by surrogates - priests or suitably qualified people authorised by the Chancellor to issue licences to those who have made sworn statements of eligibility.

Special Licence

In cases where a couple wish to marry in a parish where they have no legally qualifying connection, the licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury is required. These are issued by the Faculty Office, near Westminster Abbey.

Superintendent Registrar's Certificate

A couple may seek authority to marry from the Superintendent Registrar. To obtain a certificate, the details of the proposed wedding will be published on the Registrar's noticeboard. Clergy are not obliged to accept a Superintendent Registrar's Certificate, and can insist on the publication of banns.

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