Marriage Scams

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

Immigration to our shores is running at record levels and so too is the boom in illegal immigrants. One of their favourite methods for scamming permanent residency is to catch and marry single Aussies. Immigration officials are cracking down on fake marriages, but as Bryan Seymour reports, it's sometimes impossible to know when love is true or false.

In the last decade, spousal visa applications to Australia jumped from 26,000 to 40,000 a year. Hundreds of phoney fiancés and spouses were kicked out last year

Less than three per cent of applicants are investigated.

"After meeting her for six weeks, she was pregnant, we were married," said Darwin man Neil Forsyth. Mr Forsyth claims he was targetted by a Thai woman.

"I've always liked Asian women and she was very clean, she wasn't a working girl, she was a very good cook, very good in the house. I was led to believe that she was an accountant, I was led to believe that she would pay for her ticket out here [And you were led to believe she loved you?] Yes. I think, she loved Australia and I was just the stepping stone to get there," Mr Forsyth said.

Neil's ex wife Pharin also lives in Darwin with their three year old daughter. Pharin claims their marriage was genuine but Neil was no great catch and that's why it broke down.

This was confirmed after an investigation by the Department of Immigration.

"The Department, other independent organisations and agencies including the Commonwealth Ombudsman have all looked at the claims that he (Neil) has made and there has been no substantiation and no evidence to support the suggestion that there has been a marriage scam or marriage fraud" says Sandi Logan from the Department of Immigration. He is adamant that the two stage process for spousal visas is a good deterrent to scammers.

This process requires foreign spouses to live with their partner for two years and they may be tested on their truthfulness by the Bona Fide units, set up in states across the country.

"Differentiating between love and fraud is not a given, what we are interested in determining is that the evidence and the paperwork and the documentation put before us is true and accurate that it is not a forged document," Sandi said.

A documentary on Thai woman seeking foreigners to marry (see link below) detailed the desperate lives these women lead and showed how marrying a western man is their best hope out of hardship and misery.

They're even more brazen in India where migration agents and internet surfers state plainly what they want, with posts including: "Paper marriage for Australia" and "Looking for a girl to do a paper marriage just to get residency in Australia."

The Times of India newspaper detailed how brides and grooms are contracted to marry, just so they can move here.

"If they are operating in India, or in China, or in Canada, or in the UK or anywhere overseas, our laws don't control their activities so it is a real challenge for us," said says Sandi Logan.

Neil Forsyth reckons he's spent more than $20,000 on his failed relationship, while the other woman we spoke with estimated she's out of pocket to the tune of $60,000. There's also a hefty cost for the scammers, if they're caught.

"It can include criminal charges under the Migration Act, under visa fraud it can include cancellation of the visa, and ultimately removal from the country. In the least we can refuse and we often do in 3000 instances to grant a visa in the last financial year," said Logan.

"The first time I met him was through a chat session." This person told us, on condition of anonymity, about her foreign husband. The couple are estranged although her ex is being paid by Centrelink because he's now a permanent resident.

He married her and came here. As soon as the two years was up he left her and she discovered he was already married to a woman back home.

"I know her first name, I can't pronounce it because it's some Muslim name and I'm not racist by any means and I must stress that," said the woman.

She warned that her estranged husband and his countrymen laughingly abuse our system; marrying under false pretences and even claiming worker's compensation because we are, in their words, stupid enough to offer it.

"I can't say that 100% with certainty each and every partnership visa is not in someway or another contrived but in 99.9% of cases we are

quite confident that we have made the right decision to grant a visa or to reject a visa application," Sandi Logan said.

"I love him and him love me, I don't tell him he have to marry me, no, nothing," said Pharin.

Neil and Pharin's daughter is now three years old and they now share custody of her. Both say they want to remain friends for her sake.

"I probably should be angry with myself cause I married her, but I trusted the information that was fed to me at the time," said Neil.

Story Links:

Department of Immigration

Dob-In Line: 1800 009 623

Documentary: My Boyfriend the Sex Tourist (Used with permission of SBS)