SOUTH Africans and foreigners who enter into fraudulent marriages to enable the foreigners to get citizenship could face up to 15 years in jail when a new law comes into effect.
The South African Citizenship Amendment Act, which comes into effect in January, will impose stiff penalties on both the foreigners and any South African helping them obtain citizenship via illegal marriages of convenience.
Vusi Mkhize, the deputy director general of civic services in the Home Affairs Department, said in parliament yesterday that the existing law was too lenient on transgressors and the punishment did not fit the crime.
"Once the new act comes into effect, there will be a penalty of 15 years [for] anyone who aids and abets because for too long we've been ignoring this issue by just deporting [foreigners entering into illegal marriages] or nullifying the marriage," he said.
The normal modus operandi was for foreigners to arrive as visitors, then claim asylum status. Shortly afterwards, they would buy or rent a wife or a husband.
The going rate could be anything from around R10000 as a once-off payment to R2000 on a rental basis, he said.
Once they acquired South African citizenship, they would then get divorced, leaving the window open for their real spouses and children from outside the country to join them.
Mkhize said the other popular means of gaining citizenship was through the abuse of the system by corrupt Home Affairs officials.
He said the new biometric smart card IDs with enhanced security features would make it harder for duplicates and false identities to be created.
Beefed-up security in local offices would also help to curb money changing hands between the public and corrupt officials.
Mkhize said the act would also clamp down on immigrants deliberately giving birth to children inside South Africa so their children could gain citizenship.
The family would then be eligible to access the social grant system.
According to the act, only a child born to a South African parent and recorded on the birth register will gain automatic permanent citizenship.
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