New law doesn’t help nab sham marriages

The Proposal

Hollywood-style sham marriages are ok

In the article “Sham marriages up despite tougher laws”, The Straits Times reported that the number of marriage of convenience cases nabbed last year has shot up. Official figures from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) revealed that there were 54 cases in 2012, a whopping 10 times more than the previous year.

Between 2007 and 2011, there were only four or five cases each year.

The ST report followed a press release from ICA, cheekily titled Where Is The Love?, that highlighted the case of a 35 year-old Singaporean, Quek, who fixed up a marriage of convenience with a Chinese national, Yu, whom he had met on a trip in China. In exchange for $15,000, he made arrangements to ‘marry’ her and bring her into Singapore.

The “tougher laws” in the Straits Times headline refer to the new section in the Immigration Act passed last August that penalises such marriages:

Marriage of convenience
57C.—(1) Any person who contracts or otherwise enters into a marriage —
(a) knowing or having reason to believe that the purpose of the marriage is to assist one of the parties to the marriage to obtain an immigration advantage; and
(b) where any gratification, whether from a party to the marriage or another person, is offered, given or received as an inducement or reward to any party to the marriage for entering into the marriage,
shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both.
(2) Any person who arranges or otherwise assists in arranging a marriage between 2 other persons, with the intention of assisting one of the parties to the marriage to obtain an immigration advantage, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both.
(3) This section shall apply to a marriage entered into whether in Singapore or outside Singapore.
(4) In any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) or (2), it shall be a defence for the person charged with the offence to prove that, although one purpose of the marriage was to assist a party to the marriage to obtain an immigration advantage, the defendant believed on reasonable grounds that the marriage would result in a genuine marital relationship.

It seems that the only thing “tough” about this new law is that it is very tough on the authorities to prove guilt on the persons involved. The reason is it takes time to “establish if the marriage is genuine”, according to an ICA spokesman quoted in the ST report. That is why, despite the rise of such cases last year, no one has been charged under this law as of today.

In the case highlighted by ICA, both Quek and Yu were charged under Section 57(1)(k), instead of 57C. They were found to have committed offences by making false statements in the social visit application forms and disembarkation card. Specifically, they had lied by using the address of Quek’s father as place of residence when Yu never actually stayed there after entering the country.

It does make one wonder how the authorities were going to charge the two if there were no false statements made. For example, Yu could have really stayed at that address by renting a room from Quek’s father. While Quek received $15,000 for his troubles, I’m not sure how ICA could prove this as payment for a sham marriage and not for some private reason between two people engaged to be married.

To make matters more interesting — and in true Hollywood rom-com style — Clause (4) in Section 57C states it is a valid defence if the person charged believed on reasonable grounds that marriage would result in a genuine marital relationship. Whoever drafted this law must have in mind the movie The Proposal, where Sandra Bullock’s character forced her subordinate, played by Ryan Reynolds, to act as her husband in order to save her from deportation on her visa expiry. No prize for guessing what happened at the end of the show.

There must be dozens of other such recycled-script Hollywood movies where a man and a woman forced to marry or live together turned the hate relationship into love — What Happens in Vegas, Just Like Heaven, Sweet Home Alabama, to name just three. So maybe the solution to sham marriages is to force the culprits to live together like married couples with Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love? on indefinite repeat in the bedroom until that something special is finally found.

Even if not, listening to that song more than a couple of times is punishment enough.

Anyway, it looks like this new law in the rulebook needs a more thorough thinking through and further refinement in order to serve its intended purpose of enforcement. In the meantime, a more accurate headline for the ST report would be “Sham marriages up despite ineffective new law“. Or some may prefer “Sham marriages up because of ineffective new law“.