Foreign nationals can get UK residency by marrying EU citizens in overseas ceremonies which they do not even have to attend, it emerged last night.
Details of the little-known practice have been spelled out in the case of a Ghanaian man, who has fought a four-year legal battle to live in Britain following a ‘proxy wedding’ 3,000 miles away.
Mr Awuku’s solicitor, Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh, pictured, defines proxy marriage as ‘the process where a couple can get married with their consent but without being present at the ceremony’
Neither Albert Awuku, 43, or his bride – a German citizen who can live in the UK under EU free movement rules – needed to be present at their nuptials in Ghana in February 2013.
Instead, they are thought to have been represented by their families in accordance with the country’s ‘customary law’ on marriages.
At such weddings, the groom’s father typically offers gifts and drink to the bride’s father for her hand in marriage.
Months after the couple tied the knot, their marriage was registered in Ghana and the wedding certificate used in Britain in a bid to win residency rights for Mr Awuku.
As there were no exit or entry stamps from Ghana or the UK on his passport to show he had attended the ceremony, his marriage was considered by the Home Office to have ‘taken place by proxy’.
Then-home secretary Theresa May refused his application for residency because she was not satisfied Mr Awuku’s ‘claimed marriage’ was registered in accordance with Ghanaian law.
Her decision was later overturned by a judge at a first-tier immigration tribunal – who was happy with the documents provided by the couple and satisfied the wedding was ‘properly executed’.
But Mrs May appealed to a higher tribunal and won. However, Mr Awuku then went to the Appeal Court to challenge that ruling, claiming that his human right to a family life with his wife – who is of Ghanaian descent – had been breached.
Now after a four-year battle, Mr Awuku – represented by human rights barrister Zane Malik and a London-based solicitor specialising in proxy marriages – has scored a major victory at the Appeal Court which has paved the way for him to be granted residency in the UK.
Mr Awuku has scored a major victory at the Appeal Court, pictured, which has paved the way for him to be granted residency in the UK
Immigration lawyer Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh works for Danbar Solicitors in London which published a guide to marriage by proxy and how it can be used to win resident rights in the UK
The man from Ghana, pictured, fought a four-year legal battle to live in Britain following a ‘proxy wedding’ 3,000 miles away (stock photo)
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones said: ‘The law of England and Wales recognises proxy marriage if valid by the lex loci celebrationis (law of the land).
‘Accordingly a spouse of an EU national who has concluded such a marriage will qualify as a family member.’
The ruling came after current Home Secretary Amber Rudd apparently ‘changed her position’ and invited judges to allow the appeal.
It comes three years after a watchdog report said proxy ceremonies – legal in countries including Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil – are becoming increasingly common in immigration applications.
John Vine, chief inspector of borders and immigration, said in June 2014 that more than 80 per cent of 29 sample proxy marriages that involved an EU national marrying a non-European partner proved to be invalid.
In the report, Mr Vine revealed his inspection found increasing attempts to exploit the EU’s free movement rules.
The man did not need to leave or re-enter the EU because his marriage was conducted by ‘proxy’ (stock photo)
‘The European route is becoming an increasingly important way into the UK for those whose origins lie outside the European Economic Association area, particularly now that the immigration rules have been tightened,’ he added.
‘I found that many of the non-EEA spouses refused residence cards were overstayers.’
There is no suggestion Mr Awuku’s marriage was designed to subvert immigration rules, or that he entered or remained in the UK unlawfully.
While the court documents do not go into detail about his background, inquiries by the Daily Mail in Ghana found a man with Mr Awuku’s name and date of birth was born the son of a marine fitter in Tema, a port about 15 miles from the capital Accra.
Neighbours of the humble property in a bustling suburb of the city did not remember him and his family. It is believed his proxy marriage was registered in a district outside the capital.
The Mail was unable to contact Mr Awuku, with his whereabouts unclear last night. His family in Ghana could not be reached, and neither his barrister Mr Malik or solicitor Jennifer Owusu-Barnieh responded to requests for comment.
As there were no exit or entry stamps from Ghana or the UK on the man’s passport to show he had attended the ceremony, his marriage was considered to have ‘taken place by proxy’ (stock photo)
The Home Office declined to answer specific questions about Mr Awuku’s case, including whether he had officially been granted residency.
It said: ‘The judgment of the Court of Appeal confirms that it is for the rules of private international law in the law of England and Wales to determine whether a proxy marriage can be recognised.
‘Whether to recognise such marriages is decided under the rules in our national law.
‘A proxy marriage will generally be recognised if it is legally valid in the country in which it was contracted.
‘There is also a requirement under our law that the parties should have had capacity to enter into the marriage.
‘All cases are given full and careful consideration to prevent any opportunities for abuse of any kind.’