SINGAPORE: There were 12 cases of 'sham marriages' or marriages of convenience in the first half of this year, compared to just four or five annually over the past five years.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Mr S. Iswaran, revealed the figures on Monday as the Immigration (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament.
The bill seeks to safeguard the country's security and border integrity, as well as maintain law and order.
One of the changes was to criminalise marriages between couples who seek to obtain citizenship or residency status in Singapore.
Currently, there is no specific law against such 'sham marriages'.
Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs, said there's a "significant rise" of such cases, which is "symptomatic of a larger trend".
Those found guilty could now face fines of up to $10,000 and a jail term of up to 10 years.
The prosecution though has to take into account if one party in the marriage had received or offered gratification.
Some MPs questioned if this condition is too narrow.
Mr Iswaran said: "We are creating a new criminal offence. We want to be careful about it. So we thought it would be prudent to not just have subjective criteria but also an objective test to ensure that when action is indeed taken, there are good grounds to proceed."
He said if there is no objective test, then in effect, all marriages could potentially be subjected to investigation.
While the government will take a tough stance, Mr Iswaran said to prevent malicious complaints, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority will conduct thorough background checks before launching full investigations. This is to protect genuine marriages.
Other changes include allowing authorities to collect more detailed information on people even before they reach Singapore, requiring operators of gazetted checkpoints such as privately-owned marinas to provide and fund specific security facilities, and imposing a good conduct condition on the re-entry permits issued to Permanent Residents.
Mr Iswaran said immigration policies must be responsive to socio-economic circumstances and needs.
He added it entails choices and trade-offs in society. The aim, he said, is to have a sustainable population strategy that strengthens social cohesion, ensures a good living environment and maintains the country's economic vitality.