Foreign Ministry tries to crack down on suspected pro forma marriage

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Norway’s Foreign Ministry is refusing to grant a visa to a man in Tunis even though the Norwegian immigration agency already has approved his application for residence permission in Norway. The ministry suspects he’s entered into a pro forma marriage to win that permission, and that the immigration agency isn’t being tough enough.

The Foreign Ministry is sharply criticizing Norwegian immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) , reports newspaper Aftenposten , suggesting that UDI is not following the government’s new, stricter rules on immigration and asylum cases. UDI defends its decision, while the man’s Norwegian wife says she’s furious with the ministry.

“They’re accusing me of buying a foreigner,” she told Aftenposten . “This is serious discrimination.”

The ministry can’t understand how UDI could have approved the Tunisian man’s application to be reunited with his Norwegian wife, claiming there are many indications their marriage is pro forma:

** The couple married after knowing each other for just one week.

** During an interview, the Tunisian man displayed little knowledge of his new Norwegian wife or her family.

** Neither the man nor his wife share a common language, not even English.

** The Norwegian woman is 16 years older than the Tunisian man, uncommon in Tunisian tradition.

Norway’s ambassador to Tunisia and Algeria, Per Kristian Pedersen, has thus refused to allow the embassy in Tunis to issue the Tunisian man a visa to enter Norway, at least until the ministry responsible for UDI (in this case, Labour), has reviewed the case.

Pedersen wrote to UDI that the embassy in Tunis doesn’t believe the man’s application for “family reunion” (familiegjenforening) is based on a legitimate marriage but rather on his desire to gain legal entry to Norway. His application “follows a well-known pattern that applies to pro forma marriage, and should therefore be rejected,” Pedersen wrote.

He referred to internal ministry research that shows how nearly all marriages tied to residence permit applications and involving husband-wife reunions ended in divorce after the foreign spouse had satisfied a three-year waiting period for permanent residence permission.

UDI claims it’s not aware of such research and calls the ministry’s visa refusal “highly unusual.” A UDI official, however, told Aftenposten that he thinks it’s “positive” the ministry has become so involved.

“We have a common interest to reveal whether people cheat to get into Norway,” said Karl-Erik Sjøholt of UDI.

‘Private issues’

He conceded that the Tunisian man’s application contained grounds for suspicion but said it’s difficult to prove cases of pro forma marriage. “We have to get into very private issues,” Sjøholt said, adding that he didn’t think the embassy or the ministry had all pertinent information in the case.

That includes the results of an interview conducted by police in Norway with the Norwegian wife. It apparently convinced UDI that the marriage was legitimate.

The 39-year-old Norwegian wife maintains that her 23-year-old Tunisian husband speaks Arabic, French and English and they have “very good communication.” She told Aftenposten the couple met and fell in love while she was on vacation in Tunisia.

As for the age difference between them, she claims it would never have been an issue in a case involving an older man and a younger woman. “I have resources, education and a good job,” she said. “I get so frustrated that someone is trying to tell me how to live my life.”

Around 35,000 persons, mostly from Poland, Somalia, Lithuania, Russia, Thailand and Afghanistan, have received residence permission in Norway based on marriage to a Norwegian citizen.