Sham marriages become big business

Unemployed Spaniards are tying the knot in Brazil, where jobs are abundant

Spaniard Luis gazes at the São Paolo skyline.
Spaniard Luis gazes at the São Paolo skyline.María Martín

Luis is a 36-year-old advertising specialist who recently moved from Berlin to São Paulo and is now planning his wedding. His soon-to-be bride, who is also 36-years-old, is black and works as a maid. She has opened the doors of her home to him with a big smile. In a few weeks they will take their official wedding photos and in about another two months they will get married before a notary. After the ceremony, they will kiss each other and then say good-bye.

 Luis is homosexual and met his soon-to-be "wife" on Facebook. His marriage is a sham so that he can get his legal working papers in Brazil.

"I am a little bit scared but I know three Germans in Rio de Janeiro and one American in São Paulo who have done this," says Luis.

The scheme is similar to the wave of false matrimonies that took place in Europe in the early 1990s, when people would pay up to 10,000 euros to marry a Spaniard in order to get legal papers.

When Brazil's Federal Police visit Luis at home as part of the process before authorizing his work permit, they will ask the neighbors about the couple, closely scrutinize photographs, and rummage through drawers to determine if he genuinely loves his wife. If he passes the test, Luis could become a nationalized Brazilian within a year.

If discovered, Luis and his wife could both face five years in jail.

But if discovered, Luis and his woman could face criminal fraud charges that could put them both in jail for five years. And after he serves his time, Luis could be expelled from the country. But he isn't worried. The other alternative is for him to remain in the country illegally and not earn a regular salary.

From 2009 to 2010, visa requests through marriage increased by 95 percent to 6,303 petitions, according to Brazil's Justice Ministry. In 2011, the figures fell, with 3,479 petitions from foreigners requesting visas. About 13 percent were denied.

When Carlos, another Spaniard, came to São Paulo, he met with a lawyer and found out how difficult it was for him to get a visa. "You have to demonstrate that the work you do cannot be performed by a Brazilian and the bureaucracy is enormous," he says.

"The lawyer spoke to me about the possibility of a common law union with a Brazilian but we never discussed any type of fraud even though he knew that we were not together."

Carlos spoke to his roommate, telling her: "I have a job for you, but this is my budget." He paid her 3,000 reals, or 1,200 euros.

They spent four months gathering papers, and their friends helped them with their photographs to prove their romance.

Common law unions with foreigners are very popular in Brazil. Spaniards, after Germans and Britons, make up the third-largest nationality that forms partnerships with Brazilians.

Two weeks ago Luis met Carlos, 34, who is from Barcelona, for the first time. The requirements for a common law union, which allows gays to register as domestic partners in Brazil, are much stricter than those relating to marriage - the couple must have a joint bank account, life insurance policy in both their names, etc. But the authorities do not inspect them regularly unless they suspect fraud.

With 24.6 percent unemployment in Spain and 10.4 percent throughout Europe, Brazil has become a popular destination for the jobless. The South American giant only has about five percent unemployment. In Brazil, there are 100,622 Spaniards - 28 percent more than three years ago - according to Spain's National Statistics Institute (INE).

Pedro, a 28-year-old physical education teacher, opted to marry to save money and time having to travel back to Spain and file his petition papers with the Brazilian embassy. But his family has no idea that he is planning to tie the knot.

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