Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marrying for money

Some Malaysian men are being hired by syndicates to marry foreign women for easy entry into the country.
WHEN he lost his job and found himself in financial dire, factory worker Low was happy to get a “business” offer from his friend.
“All I had to do was marry a girl from China and pretend to be a real couple. For that, I’d get RM4,000.”
Low is one of many Malaysian men who have found a new way of making money – by selling their hand in marriage to foreign women.
Usually in their 30s or 40s, most of these husbands-for-hire are unemployed or do not hold stable jobs. Many are from the small towns here. For accepting a foreign spouse, they can rake in from RM3,000 to RM20,000 each.
As Jeff (not his real name) a middleman for these unions in not-so-holy matrimony pointed out, it is a win-win partnership for the couple.
“These people do not mind earning some extra income. The women, mainly from China and Vietnam, can obtain visas to stay longer in the country.”
He adds that they usually find friends of friends for these jobs, “so that we know who they are. There is no fixed price for the ‘job’ and they can always negotiate with the woman on the best price.”
According to the Immigration Department, however, most of those foreign “brides” are involved in vices like prostitution here.
Syndicates are believed to be behind this racket, and they are reportedly rampant in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh.
In Ipoh, the going rate can reach RM15,000, and depending on the prospetive bridegroom, the asking price could even go as high as RM20,000, said a resident who has many friends involved in such marriages of convenience.
“The marriage normally lasts for two years and the payment will be made in instalments,” he says.
The source adds that once the two-year marriage contract is up, the woman would “apply” to the husband to dissolve the marriage.
Legal entry: Foreign spouses get a three-month pass when they enter Malaysia, and they have to reside in the country for at least seven days before applying to be married.
“There is even a lawyer who does such arrangements,” he claims.
As a parting gift, the men would be paid between RM3,000 and RM5,000 as settlement fee.
He says that there is normally a pool of bachelors for the foreign women to get married to.
“Foreign women who had successfully registered their marriages to local men here will normally share their information with their counterparts who want to go through such arranged marriages. They have their own networking.”
However, says the source, there is an unwritten code that the marriage will not involve sex.
Besides such “marriages of convenience”, work permits are also reportedly being abused by syndicates who work with factories which hire foreign workers.
“If a factory applies for 100 permits for their foreign workers, 10% of the approved permits will be given to the syndicate. Each permit can fetch as high as RM10,000,” says another source from Ipoh.
Nothing new
These bogus marriages have been taking place for more than half a decade, according to the immigration authorities.
As a middleman from Penang highlights, “The foreign women used to apply for student passes and work permits but the authorities have been very strict in issuing these passes lately, so hiring a husband is their next option.
Some women are even taken in as second wives by wealthy Malaysian men.”
Jeff concurs, sharing that the husband-for-hire business used to be quite lucrative in 2008 but with the stringent policy and frequent operations, syndicates involved in such businesses have been forced to keep a low profile now.
“They will usually introduce one to the other while we act as the middleman for the entire process.
“We charge the takers about RM6,000 for the necessary document processing fees but that excludes the extras such as their wedding photos, house rental and other miscellaneous. These expenses will have to be worked out among themselves,” he says, referring to three to five “customers” per month.
Immigration enforcement director Mohd Zamberi Abdul Aziz says that although they are aware of the scam, they have no complete data on the number of these marriage of convenience cases.
Most of the time, the cases are undetected until the foreign women are caught in a raid at vice dens and massage parlours.
“They usually won’t have their passport on them, so we have to detain them until it can be produced. This is when we get a few local men coming in to claim them as their wives. But some cannot even identify their “wives” from a line-up,” he says.
In other cases, it is the women themselves who cannot recognise their local husbands or give details such as their full namea, he highlights.
He stresses that the authorities will conduct investigations on the marriage legitimacy of the foreign women and their husbands whenever they find them suspicious.
“We have various strategies to uncover the fraud which we cannot make public, of course,” he says.
Penang Immigration Department director Abdul Qadir Siddiq Ahmad concurs.
“It may be difficult to prove but the married couple raise doubts when they do not stay with each other and the wives often get caught during raids in entertainment outlets.”
The main offenders, they both agree, are from China.
As revealed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein yesterday, 5,792 Chinese nationals were caught for abusing their social passes by working as prostitutes last year while 123 others misused their marriage visas.
For Penang, Abdul Qadir shares, six Chinese national spouses had their passes cancelled and were deported back to China as of February this year.
The spouses’ passes were cancelled when the ‘husbands’ did not show up and give their testimony after the ‘wives’ were caught.
“Some of them do not even know who their husband really are, where are they living now and who are their in-laws. This goes to show that they are not a real married couple,” he elaborates.
Citing the case of a Chinese national woman they detained last year, he says the woman claimed her husband was an expatriate working with the Second Penang Bridge project but when the authorities contacted the man, he told them he did not even know the woman.
“She was just using his name to pretend that she has a husband here,” he adds.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department chief Datuk Michael Chong, who has handled nine such bogus marriage cases over the last two years, confirms that the majority of cases involved women from China and Vietnam.
He too agrees that it is difficult to detect these marriages of convenience.
“Even for me, we only found out after questioning the local husbands who came to get our help locate their wives who had run away. At first they will have these sad stories, some even cry. When we push them, we find out that what they miss more is the money they will get if they help renew their women’s social visit passes,” Chong recounts.
In the suspected cases, Mohd Zamberi says, the Immigration Department has the right to detain them for further investigation even if they present valid papers. If found guilty, they can be charged under the law.
“We have enforcement powers under three acts: the Immigration Act, Passport Act and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.”
However, unless they are tipped off, it is difficult for the Immigration enforcement officers to crack down on the foreign women who are abusing their spouse social passes.
They cannot discriminate foreign women, even from the so-called “hot” source countries, who come here to get married or work legally.
According to the National Registration Department (NRD), from January to Dec 16, 2010, some 74,357 long-term social visit passes for spouses had been issued in Peninsular Malaysia.
Under immigration procedures, foreign spouses get a three-month pass to stay when they enter Malaysia, and they have to reside in the country for at least seven days before applying for marriage with a Malaysian citizen.
Along with passport and the usual fee, the marrying couple only need to submit a letter confirming she is single from her respective consulate. The processing takes about 21 days, after which, if it is accepted, they will get a six-month visa.
When they are married, the department can issue permits for five years before allowing the foreign spouses to stay in the country without having to go back to their home countries for documentation purposes. According to an NRD spokesperson, marriages between Malaysians and foreigners are allowed as long as the couples complied with all the requirements.
New interview system
In 2008, the NRD stopped interviewing foreigners and their local spouses before allowing the marriages to be registered but since last year, when new cases of the husband-for-hire scam were brought to light, they decided to review the move, says the spokesman.
“Reviving the interview system is the best way for us to find out whether the marriages are genuine. Otherwise it will be difficult to prove,” he adds.
The NRD has also been working with the Immigration Department and police to crack this bogus marriage racket since last year.
However, the syndicates appear to be making efforts to stay one step ahead.
Previously, many of the husbands lived separately from their foreign “wives” – some did not even know their names or what they looked like – making it easy for the authorities.
Now, more care is taken to get the “husband” and “wife” to be familiar with each other and present a fa├žade of married life to the outside world, says Jeff.
First, “dates” would be arranged for the foreign women to meet their future local husband so that they get to know each other better.
Next, they would be furnished with possible questions that the immigration officers would be posting during an interview before giving them the green light to get married.
“The usual questions will be how they met each other, what is the colour of his favourite clothes, how long they have been together and so on.
“They will be put in two different places for the interview so they will have to do some ‘homework’ prior to that to make sure the answers tally,” Jeff adds.
Once they pass the ‘test’, they are ready for wedding photo shoots and house hunting.
“You must show the immigration department your wedding photos in order to get your marriage certificate. And even if it is just a sham marriage, the show must go on, so we have to get them a house. In the house, there must be their wedding photo put up in the master bedroom, and the closet must contain their clothes,” he shares.
Jeff says there are times when the enforcement personnel conduct a spot check at their house to see if the couple is staying together.
“That is why they must stay together for some time. But in case only one of them is in the house during the operation, they will usually tell them that their partner has gone out,” he adds.
While this process of creating a public image for the “couple” is underway, applications for the wedding certificate and pass from the Immigration Department are submitted.
Usually in a month, everything will be complete, says Jeff, and the couple will be “legally” married and obtain the papers they need.
Abdul Qadir warns that there might be a growing trend in the island state.
“Last year, we cancelled 23 passes (compared to six in the first two months this year).
“With an average of three passes per month this year, we are estimating more than 30 passes being cancelled towards the year end, so there might be an increase in the trend,” he adds.


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