The sham weddings allow an EU citizen to marry another person in a ceremony outside the EU at which neither the bride or groom are required to be present.
Instead, stand-ins take “vows” on their behalf – and a marriage certificate is issued which can then be used in Britain to win residency rights for a non-European spouse.
A report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the ceremonies – legal in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Brazil – are becoming increasingly common in immigration applications.
The Home Office, which accepts the proxy certificates if ceremonies are conducted properly, found in a spot check last year they made up almost one in five marriage papers submitted.
Borders Inspector John Vine looked at 29 proxy couples and found that 24 were refused on the basis that the marriages were invalid.
He has criticised the Home Office for failing to clamp down on the bogus weddings, but Whitehall officials hit back, saying the number of sham marriages they discovered had more than doubled over the past year.
In his report, published yesterday, Mr Vine found that 36 per cent of European nationals applying to stay in this country were born outside the EU and had gained European nationality before arriving in Britain.
A massive backlog meant cases did not all receive proper scrutiny, he said. One case showed immigration officers raised suspicions about a marriage between a Pakistani man and a Lithuanian woman but handed the groom a residence card without a full interview.
Article prepared by Leon Dubois