Calendar of Events - March, 2023

Ireland addresses sham marriages – significant amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland

20.08.2015. On 18 August of this year amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland came into force, providing marriage registrars with more power in the assessment of suspicious applications to marry by giving special attention to couples in which one of the parties is a citizen of a European Union member state, whereas the other – a third country national. The amendments are aimed at preventing malicious use of the marriage institution for purposes of immigration by concluding sham marriages.

If the marriage registrars become suspicious of a certain couple, an investigation will be started, and if the suspicion is confirmed, they will be able to refuse the registration of the marriage and inform the Department of Justice and Equality about the respective case. Further on a marriage can be considered as a sham marriage in Ireland if: the couple is not able to communicate in one language; the two parties have known each other for a small period of time before applying for marriage; the parties applying for marriage do not know anything about one another; the couple is not living together; the couple does not have any plans as a family. It is also possible to use any other information that provides sufficient grounds for believing that the respective marriage will be a sham marriage.

The amendments also foresee the improvement of information exchange between the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to the suspicion of sham marriages.

Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality Ms Frances Fitzgerald stated that in addition to the EU Free Movement rights, the right to marry in Ireland is also protected in the Constitution, but the reality is though, that in some cases these rights are abused, and the abuse of the institution of marriage, for immigration purposes, cannot and will not be tolerated. The Minister also indicated that sham marriages have facilitated human trafficking of women to Ireland with the purpose of concluding sham marriages.

Lāsma Stabiņa, National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and Manager of the HESTIA* project: “Latvia has been addressing the phenomenon of sham marriages and the human trafficking issue related to it at various international events for many years, but this has not provided the desired results – there is still no common understanding regarding sham marriages and their direct relation to human trafficking within the European Union member states. That is why we are truly pleased about Ireland’s understanding and practical actions in solving the sham marriage problem, thus providing a significant contribution to the prevention of human trafficking, including in Latvia.”

History of events:

  • 2006: The competent authorities of Latvia identify the growing trend of sham marriage conclusion – citizens of the Republic of Latvia cooperate with foreign citizens living in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and other countries in order to organise marriages for other persons without the aim to establish a family (sham marriages), so that citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and other countries could acquire residence permits for living in a member state of the European Union, member state of the European Economic Area, or the Swiss Confederation by bypassing the laws and regulations in force.
  • 2006-2011: trends show that the phenomenon of sham marriages is related to the activities of criminal groups, and there are also signs of human trafficking. Issue of sham marriages are updated on the level of Europol and Eurojust from the Latvian side. Several informative campaigns are implemented in Latvia in order to draw public attention to the negative consequences of sham marriages. The issues of sham marriages and their relation to human trafficking are regularly addressed at cooperation forums, conferences and bilateral meetings of various representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Embassy of Latvia in Ireland.
  • 2011: Latvia makes a recommendation to Ireland to introduce amendments in its legislation by criminalising organisers and facilitators of sham marriages within the framework of the UN Universal Periodic Review on 6 October 2011 in Geneva.
  • 2012: Introduction of amendments to the Criminal Law of the Republic of Latvia by prescribing a new legal provision – Section 285.2 of the Criminal Law “Ensuring in Bad Faith a Possibility to Acquire the Right to Stay in the Republic of Latvia Legally, other Member State of the European Union, Member State of the European Economic Area or Swiss Confederation” that came into force on 1 April 2013. The new regulation provides possibilities to impose criminal liability on persons who recruit people and organise or conclude sham marriages not only in Latvia, but also in other European Union member states, states of the EEA or the Swiss Confederation. The following amount of criminal proceedings have been started in relation to this crime: 7 in 2013, 15 in 2014, and 9 in 2015.
  • 2013: governmental and non-governmental institutions of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Slovakia and Ireland cooperate in order to develop the HESTIA project application on the prevention of sham marriages and human trafficking for the tender to receive co-financing from the European Commission.
  • 2014: On 4 December 2014 amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland come into force, burdening the conclusion of sham marriages or marriages of convenience, as well as civil partnership agreements, thus preventing sham marriages.
  • 2015: implementation of the HESTIA project is started in January. During the course of the project’s activities – in June – representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality of Ireland acknowledged that the HESTIA project is very adequate for the current situation regarding sham marriages and human trafficking, and they expressed their belief in the implemented project’s ability to ensure a general overview and a common understanding regarding the situation.

On 18 August 2015 amendments to the Civil Registration Act of Ireland came into force, providing marriage registrars with more power in the assessment of suspicious applications to marry and the ability to refuse to register a marriage in the case that suspicions about a sham marriage are confirmed.

According to the information provided by the society “Shelter “Safe House””, which provided state-funded social rehabilitation services to victims of human trafficking during the period from December 2007 to June 2015, during this time help was provided to 113 victims of human trafficking, with 59 of the persons having suffered from human trafficking with the purpose of a sham marriage. Portrait of the victim: a woman aged up to 28 years old, elementary/secondary education, no children/ with 1 or 2 children born in an unregistered marriage and being raised by the mother alone.

According to the information provided by the Embassy of Latvia in Ireland, more than 1,600 marriages between citizens of Latvia and third country nationals have been registered in Ireland since 2004. Since 2006, almost 2,000 third country nationals have submitted their documents to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in order to receive a residence permit on the basis of a marriage with a Latvian citizen (the marriages are often concluded in Pakistan, Nigeria, India or in another European Union member state – Denmark, Cyprus, Spain, Sweden – with the residence permit being requested in Ireland). Many of these marriages are concluded with the aim to establish a family and there are no grounds to believe that they could be sham marriages.

Project "Preventing human trafficking and sham marriages: A multidisciplinary solution" (HESTIA) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Grant Agreement Nr. HOME/2013/ISEC/AG/THB/4000005845. #HESTIA_THB

HESTIA project partners:  Ministry of the Interior (Latvia), NGO "Shelter “Safe House"" (Latvia), NGO "Mittetulundusühing"" "Living for Tomorrow" (Estonia); NGO "Caritas Lithuania" (Lithuania); Immigrant Council of Ireland (Ireland); Ministry of the Interior of Slovak Republic (Slovakia); European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control of the United Nations (HEUNI) (Finland). Project associated partners: The State Police (Latvia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Latvia), Department of Justice and Equality (Ireland).

The information was published 15.04.2016. by: Rasa Saliņa, Public Relations Specialist of the project HESTIA, e-mail: