(CNS): Border Control Minister Chris Saunders has said that Caymanians should recognise the value of their birthright and stop entering into marriages of convenience, as they are not only criminal but an immoral practice. He said this practice is making a mockery of marriage, which is the traditional foundation of family life in Cayman. According to officials at Workforce Opportunities and Residency Cayman (WORC), since the beginning of this year, the enforcement unit has investigated 175 sham marriage reports, and 114 cases resulted in “adverse findings”.
Another 25 cases are pending investigations, while 20 residency and employment rights certificates (RERC) have been refused, 12 have been forfeited and five more couples have been warned that the certificate for the non-Caymanian spouse is likely to be revoked.
Statistics provided by the Judicial Administration show that since 2016 marriage and divorce rates in the Cayman Islands have increased. In 2016 there were 150 divorces and 493 marriages, while in 2021 there were 266 divorces and 655 marriages, which does not include visitors who marry here for destination weddings.
Saunders has been saying for some time that he has concerns about the number of sham marriages entered into for immigration purposes. He has said that the current delays in processing permanent residency applications are due to the need to scrutinise them because of the increase in the number of suspicious marriages.
The minister welcomed a recent workshop hosted by WORC for 43 marriage officers who are at the front line of this issue. The workshop, conducted by Compliance Manager Jeannie Lewis, was designed to help them identify marriages and civil partnerships of convenience.
“I am very pleased to see these kinds of workshops being conducted,” Saunders said. “It is important that marriage officers be educated on how to identify the fraudulent practice of entering into a marriage or civil partnership of convenience, in order that they do not become unwittingly implicated.”
Saunders raised his concerns about the practice saying he understood why people from overseas may be desperate, but Caymanians were selling their birthright.
“In my view, it is disappointing that so many people seek to circumvent our immigration regulations by entering into a sham marriage,” he said. “It is making a mockery of the institution of marriage, which should not be entered into lightly as it has formed the traditional foundation of family life in our society. I understand that desperate people will take these kinds of steps, but Caymanians need to recognise the value of their birthright and not give it away by entering into such false marriage arrangements.”
He added that while it may not seem like a big deal in the moment, “it is an illegal and immoral practice with potentially far-reaching and long-lasting effects, including potential criminal prosecution”.
The Immigration (Transition) Act 2021 defines a marriage or civil partnership of convenience as one that is entered into with the primary intention of avoiding, or benefiting from, the provisions of the Marriage Act and it carries a penalty of up to a $10,000 fine or a year in jail. The law notes that “if a marriage officer fails to report his or her suspicion to the Director of WORC without delay and in such form and manner as may be prescribed, the marriage officer, the Registrar, the Civil Registrar or the civil partnership officer commits an offence”.
Officials at work said that there are many reasons why individuals enter into sham marriages to gain an immigration-related benefit. They happen most to enable people to remain here and find work. Common scenarios noted by WORC include individuals reaching their term limit, having a work permit refused, or getting their final extension to remain. The loss of appeals or denial of permanent residency are other reasons people look for a potential Caymanian spouse who can help them remain.
Suspicious marriages and civil partnerships usually take place shortly before or after legal means of remaining in the Cayman Islands have been exhausted, but in some cases people attempt marriages or civil partnerships of convenience after being charged with a crime and when facing court proceedings. Caymanian spouses are often willing to participate in sham marriages due to the promise of financial benefit.
However, it can still take a long time for a foreign national who marries a local person to gain the right to stay and work and some end in divorce before they reach the goal. In some cases, WORC said, people have been known to marry another Caymanian in hopes of a better outcome.
During the workshop, a red flag checklist was provided to marriage officers to consider before marrying or entering foreign nationals in civil partnerships with Caymanians. Since the rollout of this checklist and the workshop, marriage officers have refused some marriage applications, WORC said. Acting Deputy Director of Compliance Mervin Manderson thanked his team for holding the workshop and creating an effective checklist.
“I am glad to see the very early positive results it has already produced,” he said. “Marriage and civil partnership officers should realise the important part they play in risk managing potential sham marriages. WORC will continue to work with marriage and partnership officers to share intelligence and information to strengthen our abilities to make such unethical and illegal behaviours difficult to achieve.”
Manderson added that the enforcement unit would continue to investigate information and reports received about sham marriages or civil partnerships.