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Love or convenience? Sham marriages under suspicion in Germany

 BISS - Germany 21 June 2019

When Germans get married to foreigners, the authorities stick their noses right in. The bride and groom will have to go through a rigorous interview process, and failure to answer questions the same way might result in visa rejection. (871 Words) - By Katharina Zeckau



 Courtesy of BISS

"When asked about your wife's hobbies, you said she likes sports while she says she likes music."  "And your wife says your parents don't work while you say you're being supported by your parents."

These are quotes from a three page ruling from the German embassy in Tunisia from February 2010, in which Tunisian Kerim Tounsi's* spousal immigration to Germany to be with his wife Inge Maier* was refused. The report says there are "considerable doubts to confirm a marriage worthy of protecting. It may be assumed that it's merely all about extending a residence permit."  It continues: "The authorities suspect a so-called sham marriage after having interviewed the married couple separately on life habits, family relationships and hobbies. " The analysis of the interviews shows "considerable differences".

Lawyer Angelika Lex from Munich thinks "it's a bit far-fetched."  She has worked in the chancellery dealing with foreigner's rights since 1987 and is confident that she can counter the accusations by Berlin's administrative court. She believes the arguments are not valid, as Kerim's parents might have other sources of income and hobbies like sports and music are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

According to Lex, the main thing that makes the authorities suspicious is a big difference in age, particularly in the scenario of an older woman with a younger man. Alternatively, alcohol related problems or a German partner's social security benefits, the lack of a shared language or the German partner's previous marriages to foreigners are suspicious.

When Lex begins to explain the testing methods used by the authorities, she gets visibly frustrated. She recalls a case in which officials were questioning the caretaker at a couple's house and were showing photos of the suspected sham marriage to nosey neighbours.  "Of course this is totally awkward for the people involved and above all, it is not a way of proving anything at all. A neighbour may have never seen someone in a place- that does not mean they don't live there!"

Lex does not agree with the humiliating and ineffective methods used in investigating sham marriages, however she does admit there is a need to look closely at suspected cases. Even more so, she says, with lucrative business being made through sham marriages, leading to organised crime and in some cases abuse, human trafficking or forced prostitution. There are known cases of parents paying over a thousand Euros for the cooperation of a fake groom or bride.

A few years ago, the Foreign Office in Munich reported they had discovered "a whole network of organised sham marriages with dozens of parties involved, making more than ten thousand Euros worth of profit."

However, in most cases there is no hard evidence to expose a sham marriage.  How exactly can one judge whether a marriage is one of love or calculation? And how do you take cultural differences into account, for example in arranged marriages? Angelika Lex also points towards cultural differences, as most of her clients are from Iraqi origin. She agrees the range between a love marriage and a sham marriage is wide. "In this country we have a truly abstract term for the word marriage".

Exact figures on the number of sham marriages in Germany are hard to get. Data is scattered across several governmental departments, amongst them the Federal Ministry for the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office, as well as local offices like the Bavarian Ministry for the Interior and the foreign authorities in Munich. Also, records regarding the refusal of resident permits do not specify a reason for the refusal.

The numbers that are available, however, do not show a problem of huge size. The Berlin court estimates to have dealt with about 900 sham marriage related trials in 2009. According to court spokesperson Stephan Groscurth the claim of a suspected sham marriage has been substantiated in just under 700 of those cases.

Apart from sham marriages, there are those who argue it is the so called 'spouse reunification visas' that make up the big numbers. The official figures for 2009 point in the direction of 33,000 of such visas granted in the past year, which Bremen prosecutor Kathi-Alexandra Hartmann calls "a very small number." Hartmann wrote her dissertation on the subject of sham marriages. She points out that "out of all marriages in Germany, only maximum of three percent are dual national marriages."

Angelika Lex agrees that the situation is not as bad as it used to be: "The sham marriage is certainly not as scandalous a problem anymore; the numbers nowadays are marginal. And compared to o the beginning of the last decade the handling of the matter by the foreign authorities in Munich has improved. In most case there is communication taking place between the authorities and the people involved and any doubts from either side can be discussed." That might provide some hope for people like Kerim and Inge in the future.

(*Names are changed for privacy reasons)


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Originally published by BISS. ©

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