What is a sham marriage?
A sham marriage (or “marriage of convenience” at law) is a marriage between a Singaporean and a foreigner for the purpose of obtaining an immigration advantage. Under Section 57C of the Immigration Act, an immigration advantage means the grant or extension of the validity of any visa, pass, permit or re-entry permit into Singapore. This includes orders made for the children and/or parents of the party receiving the permit.
Are sham marriages prohibited Singapore?
Yes. It is an offence under the Immigration Act and prohibited under Section 11A of the Women’s Charter. There are two elements of the offence:
- The party contracts or enters into a marriage knowing or having reason to believe that the purpose of the marriage is to help one of the parties obtain an immigration advantage; and
- There was a gratification that was offered, given or received as an inducement or reward to any party to the marriage for entering into the marriage. The giver of the gratification need not be the other party – it could also be some other person.
The definition of gratification under the Immigration Act is very wide. Under Section 57C(6) of the Immigration Act, “gratification” includes:
Related Article: Is my marriage valid?
- money or any gift, loan, fee, reward, commission, valuable security or other property or interest in property of any description, whether movable or immovable;
- any office, employment or contract;
- any payment, release, discharge or liquidation of any loan, obligation or other liability whatsoever, whether in whole or in part; and
- any other service, favour or advantage of any description whatsoever.
What are the criminal consequences if a person is charged under the Immigration Act?
The parties to the marriage may be guilty of an offence and sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment, up to $10,000 in fines, or both.
Third parties who arrange or assist in arranging a sham marriage between two other persons with the intention of helping one of the parties obtain an immigration advantage may also be guilty of an offence. They can likewise be sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment, up to $10,000 in fines, or both.
Are there any defences available to persons accused of participating in a sham marriage?
Yes. It is a defence for the person charged with the offence to prove that although one purpose of the marriage was to assist a party to the marriage to obtain an immigration advantage, the defendant believed on reasonable grounds at the time of contracting / entering into the marriage that the marriage would result in a genuine marital relationship.
What are the civil consequences if the marriage is found to be a sham marriage?
Upon conviction under s 57C of the Immigration Act, Section 11A of the Women’s Charter operates to render the marriage between the parties void. This means that there is no marriage between the parties at law, and this applies to sham marriages that were solemnised on or after 1 October 2016.
However, that does not mean that sham marriages entered into for the purposes of an immigration advantage that were solemnised before 1 October 2016 are therefore valid. In the recent case of Gian Bee Choo v Meng Xianhui  5 SLR 812, the Singapore High Court found that the marriage in question was a sham intended to help Meng obtain PR status in Singapore. Even though Meng’s marriage to the now deceased Gian Beng Hwee was solemnised on 20 January 2007, the court held that the marriage was still void under the Women’s Charter.
Whether or not the court will find that the marriage is a sham depends on the type, amount and quality of evidence available. Should you need a lawyer’s assessment on your case, you can contact Gloria James-Civetta & Co to set up a free 30-minute consultation with one of our Criminal lawyers. Our goal is to help you find a resolution that works for both you and your family. When you contact our expert team, we will provide you with a consultation tailored to your specific circumstances and goals in mind.
Related Article: Filing for Divorce in Singapore