A BBC investigation found couples have tried to fraudulently exploit the scheme by entering into a sham marriage – with the EU national extending their residency rights to their non-EU bogus partner.
The scams were often set up by organised crime gangs who paid individuals cash to participate. Some 146 Albanians were involved, more than a third of the total 365 sham marriages between March 2018 and September 2021.
The last criminal prosecutions were in 2018, when nine people were convicted and four of them removed. Since 2020, no-one has had their leave to remain revoked, according to Home Office data. Nationals from a total of 60 countries were implicated.
Dr Ervin Muco, in Albania, told BBC News people paid criminal gangs for what they saw as a ticket to a new life: “These networks know how to cheat the system and they are making money from people who are prepared to pay.”
“In recent years, most Albanian men who have left this country have gone to Italy or Greece – but some of them haven’t been able to get citizenship in these countries.”
“So some do try to find women from European countries they can marry. They can have all the benefits of being a European citizen. And because Britain was an EU member, many Albanians have been attracted to the UK.”
The Home Office said “As the public rightly expects, we take abuse of the spouse-and-partner immigration routes very seriously – and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”
“We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against individuals found to be in a sham marriage or civil partnership, including cancelling their leave and removing them from the UK.”