IMMIGRANTS are using “proxy” marriages they do not even have to attend to bypass tough UK visa laws, an official watchdog has discovered.

The sham weddings allow an EU citizen Settled Status 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.

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.

Mr Vine said: “I found significant attempted abuse by non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals applying on the basis of marriage or civil partnership with a European citizen.

“If the Home Office does not act decisively to identify and tackle these abuses, many of the individuals involved may go on to obtain settlement in the UK.”

He said the findings suggest European citizenship is an “increasingly important way into the UK”.

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