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Fake Weddings Made To Order In Punjab

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The yearning to settle abroad has turned illegal travel into a lucrative business in Punjab.

Undaunted by reports of frauds, tales of treacherous desertion between borders, starvation, near-fatal encounters and even prison terms, billboards and advertisements in vernacular dailies offering quick visas remain alluring for many.

The arrangement for contract marriages is simple: a local English-speaking woman with the required scores in the International English Language Testing System enters a fake wedding alliance. The foreign-based man pays for her visa process. Once abroad, they go their separate ways.

For marriage palace owners, these alliances are money-spinners. They arrange the entire wedding scene — the party, guests, friends and relatives who pose for photographs to go with the visa. “Business is booming,” said Mohinder Singh, the owner of one such venue here.

At the tehsil offices, fake marriage registration certificates are sold for anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000, an agent told HT.

When this correspondent visited offices of about a dozen immigration consultants in Moga, posing as a student aspiring to study abroad, he was told no original documents would be required. For a UK visa, all the paperwork would be arranged for Rs 500,000 to Rs 700,000. The sum would cover tuition fees for the first semester, the consultants claimed.

A student visa requires a statement of account showing up to Rs 20 lakh (Rs 2 million) in cash, depending on the course and the country.

The financers are all too happy to lend — at high rates of interest, of course.

Aware of such frauds, foreign consulates have devised means to verify facts.

Immigration consultant Arun Kumar said, “Most visa refusal cases cite false evidence of funds or suspicious wedding alliances.”

But in Punjab, the gullible are still willing to part with land and home for a chance at a life on foreign shores.

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