Marriages of convenience (2010)

A comparative study. Rules and practices in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

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Marriages of convenience. A comparative study. Rules and practices in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands (pdf, 929 kB)


This study, commissioned by the Norwegian Directorate for Immigration (UDI), discusses the rules and practices for handling applications for residence permits on the basis of marriage, and the process of identifying potential marriages of convenience. The report
provides a more detailed review of Norwegian rules and practices, and draws comparisons to the situation in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The purpose of the analysis is to present similarities and differences in the rules and processes of identifying potential marriages of convenience across countries.

The study is based on literature review and interviews in Norway and the four other countries. The analysis of the situation in Norway is more detailed with regards to the legal situation, the likely extent of the phenomenon and the actual decision process than the
four country cases. As far as the extent of the phenomenon is concerned, exact comparisons are difficult to make since Norway is the only country in this study where statistics regarding the extent and characteristics of marriages of convenience are available.
However, estimates indicate that the incidence of marriages of convenience is lower in Denmark and somewhat higher in Germany, at least in Berlin. Longitudinal analyses of marriages registered in Norway do not suggest that there is any significant number of
unrecorded cases, but such estimates are problematic and should not be treated as exact science. An in-depth discussion of actual practice in the four other countries apart from Norway is beyond the scope of this analysis.

The regulatory framework in the five countries is partly similar and harmonized with EU regulations on the issue. There are however some important variations between countries:

  • The first variation is with regards to the definition of what constitutes a marriage of convenience, where Norway and Denmark have a somewhat broader (and therefore stricter) definition than the other countries and the EU framework.
  • The second concerns the general requirements for family reunification on the basis of marriage in the respective countries. The countries operate with different requirements regarding financial situation of the applicant and reference person, and not all of them require applicants to fulfill conditions such as satisfactory language skills, close ties to the country or, in case of the reference person, four years of work or education in the receiving country in order to gain the right to establish a family there. In this respect, Denmark and the Netherlands together with Norway have the most restrictive policies.
  • A third difference lies in the methods that are employed in order to identify potential cases of marriage of convenience, with Sweden being the only country that does not carry out domicile verifications. 
  • A fourth difference concerns the sanctions that are available in case a marriage of convenience is detected, and how these are practiced. Norway and Germany are the only countries with legal provisions and practice for expulsion as a result of having identified a marriage of convenience. Norway and Germany are also the only countries where the Immigration Act or comparable legislation contains provisions for criminal prosecution of marriages of convenience which have been identified.
  • Fifthly, there are important differences in the institutional framework and the degree of centralization in the administrative treatment of cases between the countries in this study.
  • Finally, the process of appealing against decisions based on marriage of convenience varies. Norway is the only country whe appeals are handled by an independent administrative board

Comissioned by :UDI

Delivered by: Econ Pöyry

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