From ‘More convicted over sham marriages’, 28 July 2013, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times
Immigration authorities are cracking down on those involved in sham marriages, with 139 people convicted in court in the first half of this year. This is a sharp jump from the 89 people dealt with in court for the whole of last year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Sunday Times.
The increase follows stepped-up enforcement by the ICA against marriages of convenience, where a Singaporean marries a foreigner to enable the latter to enter or remain in Singapore. Middlemen who arrange such unions were also among those convicted.
…The Sunday Times understands that women entering into such marriages are usually from China and Vietnam, and they marry Singaporeans to extend their stays here. They often come as tourists, but want to find work here. Some find their “husbands” on their own, while others go through middlemen, who include Singaporeans and foreigners.
The women pay the middlemen, who in turn pay the bogus Singaporean bridegrooms. The men – mostly manual workers or jobless – are often paid between $2,000 and $5,000 for their part in the scam. On top of that sum, some men also receive a few hundred dollars more for each visa extension obtained after the marriage is registered. The couples in these marriages usually live apart and no sex is involved.
…Under the new law, those found guilty face up to 10 years’ jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
…Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan noted that sham marriages have been going on for years and syndicates are often involved as it’s “big business”...He has a Vietnamese client in her 20s who felt she needed more time than her tourist visa allowed to find a good Singaporean man to marry. To extend her stay, she agreed to go through a sham marriage and paid a Singaporean less than $1,000.
“The irony is that she had a fake marriage in order to find a real one,” he said.
Lawyer Hri Kumar Nair, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, welcomed the crackdown on sham marriages, but warned of a downside. He said: “Because the ICA now has to impose rigorous criteria and checks to ensure that marriages are not sham, it affects genuine marriages as well.
“Some in genuine marriages are finding it difficult to secure long-term stays for their spouses. This creates uncertainty for the couple and makes it difficult for them to plan a family.”
In 2011, 1 out of 5 marriages was between a Singaporean and a foreign spouse. No one can know for sure how many of these were ‘genuine’ marriages, nor is it easy to define a ‘marriage of convenience’. For example, would you call arranged marriages or shotgun weddings ‘marriages of convenience’? Yet both are perfectly legal even if there’s no love involved. If such a union leads to sex and babies, is it still a sham marriage if the purpose of having babies is to grant one a Long Term Visit Pass? Last year, China nationals bore Singaporean men twice the number of babies (2034) compared to 2000 (1122)(Fewer kids with both parents from Singapore, 21 July 2013, Sunday Times). We assume these are ‘genuine’ cases because people only have babies with those they love, no?
I’m thinking the ICA data is an underestimate, and you can probably get away with a sham marriage without ever sharing the same bed with someone as long as you play ball with your partner in crime. Conversely, a ‘genuine’ marriage is one that should involve some degree of sacrifice and consummation, preferably leading to babies which our government will welcome happily with open arms. And yes, you’re supposed to love each other till death do you part as well. In other words, a fairy tale wedding.
Men who seek foreign brides for ‘love’ have given reasons such as loneliness, family pressure, or blame Singaporean women for being too pampered or materialistic while foreign brides have less expectations and are better at cooking or foot massages. The guy gets a girl who doesn’t nag him to death, the girl gets someone to look after her and a chance to escape from a miserable home country to become Singaporean eventually. It’s a win-win situation. It becomes a crime if you’re entering the marriage just for money. Oh, wait. Hmm.
Sham marriages, or ‘marriages of convenience’ as euphemistically termed, have been recorded as early as the late 50’s. In 1975, a shoemaker and a Dutch national were caught in a MOC, the former not even knowing what his wife’s name was at the time. They married in 1956 and never saw each other again after they registered their union. In 1969, a Hong Kong woman was charged for corruption after marrying a local widower so that she may apply for permanent residency. In the same year,a local labourer filed for divorce, exposing his MOC to an Indonesian woman in the process because his wife refused to have sex with him until she got her IC. Taiwanese entertainer Chen Chin Pei was declared an illegal immigrant after being accused of contracting a MOC with a local man for a PR status in 1987. More recently, Chinese immigrant Lin Yanmei was probed by the CPIB for MOC with a cleaner. She was also hanging out in hotels with another man whom she called her ‘godfather’.
Not all MOCs are initiated by foreigners who want an extended stay in exchange for marriage. In 1975, a local clerk married a teacher whom she did not love because she wanted to ‘get away from home’. Some Singaporeans marry just to land a HDB flat. Supermodels or Playboy bunnies marry old tycoons who are only capable of consummation with urinary catheters. I could marry a woman whose father is a powerful politician to get ahead in my career, a roundabout, perfectly legal way of getting paid for marrying someone I do not love nor want to have children with. Yet a low-wage male worker desperate for money, in the hope of some female company on the side even if he knows it’s all fake, stands to face jail-time for agreeing to an indecent proposal while his wife fools around as some rich bloke’s mistress so that she can afford to keep the scam alive.
Or you can choose to believe Hollywood that some good may come out of bogus marriages after all. In the case of movies like Green card and The Proposal, that ‘good’ is called love. But sappy endings aside, in the case of Sandra Bullock’s character in the Proposal, a high-flying immigrant professional marries a local out of convenience to attain permanent residency. I doubt the same crackdown would apply to ‘foreign talents’ in a similar position here, though it’s likely that if you’re a foreign-born billionaire we’re more than happy to make you a Singaporean without you having to bear the inconvenience (or is it convenience?) of marrying anyone anyway.