Three dozen middlemen who arranged sham marriages to help foreigners extend their stay here have been convicted in the past two years, as the authorities continue to crack down on marriages of convenience.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Sunday Times that the go-betweens are mostly solo operators who earn between $3,000 and $5,000 for every sham marriage they arrange.
They include Singaporeans and foreigners, both men and women, and they tend to be in low-wage jobs such as cleaners.
In 2012, it became a criminal offence to arrange or enter into a sham marriage, as more foreigners were found doing so.
In 2013, 284 people were found guilty of being involved in sham marriages. Last year, 170 people were convicted. The figures include the couples in false unions as well as the middle- men.
Asked about last year's lower figure, the ICA spokesman said: "The new law could have had a deterrent effect."
Lawyers say the foreigners seeking bogus spouses are usually Chinese and Vietnamese women, some of whom are involved in the vice trade here. Male Indian nationals seeking jobs here are also known to be involved.
The Sunday Times understands that these foreigners often come to Singapore as tourists and enter into a marriage of convenience in order to stay here for much longer. No sex is involved and the couple do not live together after getting married.
From the cases dealt with in court, the foreigners pay the middlemen up to $26,000 to get a Singaporean spouse. The Singaporean spouses are usually paid between $2,000 and $5,000.
Some of the Singaporeans also receive a few hundred dollars each time their foreign spouses get a visa extension, said lawyer Kertar Singh.
Lawyer Josephus Tan suspects that syndicates are often involved in these shams, as a host of people here and overseas are involved in linking the couples. But he also felt that the recent law with its tough penalties has had a deterrent effect.
Before the law was passed, those suspected of being involved in a sham marriage could be charged only with giving false information to the authorities, an offence carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both.
Under the new law, the culprits face up to 10 years' jail or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Some of the middlemen caught have married foreigners for money themselves, although this is not common, the ICA spokesman said.
Singaporean Vickneswari Pillai Rajoo, 41, a jobless woman, married an Indian national for $2,000 in 2013 as she was in financial difficulty.
She later arranged for jobless Singaporean Melisa Sue Annylou Dass Maniam, 33, to marry Indian national Jatinder Singh, 23, who wanted to find work here.
Melisa was paid $2,000 but Vickneswari received only $200 for her part.
Vickneswari was sentenced to nine months' jail last year. Melisa received a six-month term and Jatinder, six months and six weeks.
"The ICA takes a tough stance and prosecutes errant couples and middlemen trying to circumvent our system by engaging in marriages of convenience to obtain immigration facilities, such as long-term passes and permanent residence, in Singapore," said the spokesman.
Members of the public can report suspected cases by calling the ICA on 1800-391-6150.
This article was first published on March 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.