What are Sham Marriages and are They Illegal in Singapore?

Last updated on August 3, 2018

Featured image for the "What are Sham Marriages and are they Illegal in Singapore?" article. It features a sham marriage photo shoot.

Singapore citizenship is highly coveted by foreign nationals from nearby countries. For many who do not qualify for citizenship status or work permits, a common but illegal way to continue staying in Singapore is through a sham marriage.

This article will explain why and how a sham marriage is arranged and, what you can do if you are a victim of a sham marriage.

What is a Sham Marriage?

A sham marriage, otherwise known as a marriage of convenience, is a marriage between 2 people for the sole intention of acquiring a benefit or advantage.

This is different from marriage fraud, where one person has been deceived into a marriage by his/her spouse without knowing he/she is being taken advantage of for certain benefits.

Why Might a Person Enter into a Sham Marriage?

Many people who enter into sham marriages are in financial distress and are easy prey for the syndicates. Some foreign nationals, particularly those from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, may be desperate for employment in Singapore.

Hence, they may resort to such schemes to prolong their stay. Local Singaporeans who face financial difficulties may also fall for such “fast money” schemes.

How Does a Sham Marriage Work?

Sham marriages are nothing more than monetary transactions conducted between different parties for immigration purposes.

As recent as 2017, members of a syndicate were arrested for arranging a series of sham marriages. This case illustrates who are the parties involved and how a sham marriage is organised.

  • The syndicate looks for foreign nationals who are desperate to extend their stay in Singapore
  • Their brokers seek out Singaporeans facing financial difficulties
  • With assistance from the syndicate, both Singaporean and the foreign national agree to enter into a sham marriage
  • The Singaporean citizen is the main spouse. He/she either provides citizenship status in the marriage or sponsors a visit pass
  • His/her partner is a foreign national who will acquire citizenship status/visit pass/work permit extensions
  • The foreign national pays a fee to the syndicate for providing this service
  • Both the main spouse and the brokers are given a cut of this transaction for their respective services

In order to stage the marriage as a legitimate affair, the syndicate may also arrange “photo-shoots” for the couples and provide lodging for them to live together temporarily.

Since the union is not genuine, the marriage may also not be consummated.

Are Sham Marriages Illegal in Singapore?

Entering into a sham marriage is illegal in Singapore. According to section 57C of the Immigration Act (IA), if you enter into a marriage:

  • Knowing or having reason to believe that the purpose of the marriage is to help either you or your spouse to gain an entry permit to Singapore; and
  • Either you or your spouse are offered or given a reward for entering into the marriage,

you will be guilty of an offence. This applies even if the marriage is solemnised outside of Singapore.

At the same time, any person who arranges or otherwise assists in arranging a sham marriage is also guilty of committing an offence.

In both cases, if convicted, the guilty offender is liable to a fine up to $10,000 and/or to imprisonment up to 10 years.

If anyone deliberately provides false information to deceive the authorities in sham marriages, they will be considered to have furnished false information under section 177 of the Penal Code.

If found guilty, the offender shall be liable for a fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months.

Section 37 of the Women’s Charter also states that any person, who, for the purpose of procuring marriage makes any false declarations, will be liable on conviction to a fine up to $3,000 and/or to imprisonment up to 3 years.

Foreigners who obtain entry into Singapore through sham marriages may have their visit passes or work permits cancelled. If so, they generally cannot remain in Singapore and may be repatriated.

Case Study: An Illegal Sham Marriage Ring in Singapore

Earlier in 2018, the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) was able to solve a series of sham marriages between Vietnamese women and Singaporean men after obtaining a confession from one of the couples.

It was revealed that the men were in need of money and were paid between $800 to $4,500 for their role in the marriages.

The mastermind behind the sham marriages was unemployed 32-year-old Jeremy Tan Chin Hock. Tan and his brokers were paid by the Vietnamese women who wanted to extend their stay in Singapore.

As a result of this offence, Tan was fined $42,000 and sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment. The other 11 participants, 6 Singaporean men and 5 Vietnamese women were jailed between 6 and 18 months.

How Can You Know If You are Being Deceived into Entering a Sham Marriage?

Unlike most situations in sham marriages where both parties enter into the marriage of convenience knowingly, there are instances where one spouse is not aware that their marriage is a sham.

Hiring a private investigator who can perform a background check on your partner will be useful in helping to avoid becoming a victim of a sham marriage.

Discreet and professional, these private investigators utilise different methods like surveillance and monitoring to find out if your marital partner is only invested in the relationship to obtain an immigration advantage instead of out of true affection for you.

How Can You Get Out of a Sham Marriage?

Apply to annul your marriage

Under section 105(aa) read with section 11A of the Women’s Charter, a marriage can be ruled void.

This is provided that your marriage was solemnised on or after 1 October 2016. If so, you can apply to have your marriage annulled.

However even after you have annulled your marriage, note that you can still be criminally liable under section 57C of the IA for entering into a sham marriage in the first place.

To avoid such liability, you will have to prove that even though one purpose of the marriage was to help either you or your spouse gain an entry permit to Singapore, you had reasonable grounds to believe that the marriage would result in a genuine marital relationship when entering into it.

File for divorce

Alternatively, you may file for divorce. This option applies even if your marriage was solemnised on or before 1 October 2016.

However, check that you fulfil the requirements for filing for divorce.

After reading this, you should be better informed of the circumstances behind sham marriages and how to get out of one. If you are caught in a sham marriage and are unsure of what to do, feel free to consult a criminal lawyer for assistance.

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