Immigration director: Marriages of convenience serious concern
By ROYSTON JONES JR.
Guardian Staff Reporter
Director of Immigration William Pratt yesterday raised a red flag over marriages of convenience in The Bahamas.
While Pratt could not provide statistics, he said the department constantly receives letters from Bahamians who report that they feel they have been taken advantage of by their foreign spouses, who only married them for status.
He said, in some cases, people are paid up to $5,000 to marry a foreigner in order for them to obtain a spousal permit.
He noted that the motivation behind the move is that a spousal permit costs $250 for five years whereas a work permit can range from $1,000 to $12,500 per year.
“We heard through the grapevine that there are a lot of marriages where Bahamians are being paid up to $5,000 to marry certain nationalities,” Pratt said.
“Bahamian citizens, who are concerned about their country, they call and give this information to us.
“And when we become aware of it, we continue our investigation.
“If we have good evidence that this is so, they will not be recommended for any status.
“This has always been a concern.
“The problem is we know The Bahamas is close in proximity to the United States.
“Most of these people coming from down south, their final destination really is the U.S.
“They would do anything in order to be able to get visas and get to the U.S.
“But we are not going to allow our department to be used in this fashion.”
Marriages of convenience have been a source of concern for several members of Parliament and Bahamians in general as the government seeks to amend the constitution to enable a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man is able to pass on to his foreign wife.
The concerns stemmed from the belief that there would be an automatic right to citizenship after marriage.
However, The Nassau Guardian understands that the government intends to change constitutional amendment bill number two to indicate that the foreign spouse upon marrying a Bahamian citizen would have to apply for citizenship in addition to meeting certain criteria.
Pratt said the Office of the Attorney General is reviewing legislation to amend the Immigration Act to stipulate a $5,000 fine and/or up to one year imprisonment for a marriage of convenience.
“With this teeth in the amendment, at least we are hoping that Bahamians and whomever is involved in it would get the message that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
“...Once we find out, we do not give those people any status. They would be dealt with as an illegal immigrant.”
Asked what nationalities are often found to be in marriages of convenience, Pratt said, “You would be surprised that it happens among some nationalities that you would never expect.”
However, he did not provide specifics.
During her contribution to debate on the constitutional amendment bills last week, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cleola Hamilton said the government does not have the proper mechanisms in place to detect marriages of convenience.
The South Beach MP expressed concern that the amendment to the constitution could be open for abuse.
Yesterday, Pratt warned Bahamians against selling their country short.
“Your country is more precious than that,” he said.
“When this act is amended we will prosecute foreigners and Bahamians once we have evidence that they have entered in a bogus marriage to the fullest extent of the law.”
August 20, 2014