Fake bride regrets ruse to live in Hong Kong
Immigration chiefs cracking down on sham marriages
Ah Lan saw a fake marriage as a way out of poverty in Guangdong province and a ticket to a new life in Hong Kong.
But after three years hiding from the authorities and working illegally, she is finding life is not as easy or as glamorous as she had expected.
'I paid to come to Hong Kong because my home back in the mainland was really poor,' she said, on condition her full name would not be disclosed.
'I thought I could find a job here and improve my family's living condition. But I never expected to be in hiding most of the time, as my two-way entry permit does not allow me to work here.'
Ah Lan is not alone. According to statistics from the Immigration Department, 126 fake marriages were investigated from April to December last year, with 23 successful prosecutions so far.
Four cases have been concluded this month, resulting in seven people being jailed for between 12 and 18 months for making false representations to an immigration officer or conspiracy to defraud or both.
Ah Lan, who is in her thirties, paid an agent about 20,000 yuan to arrange for a man to 'marry' her in Hong Kong.
'Women of my age usually work in residential homes as domestic helpers or take care of the elderly.
'We are paid very little, less than HK$100 a day,' she said. 'I seldom leave the house because I am afraid I'll get caught. Some of the people I know from my village were caught on the street or in a crackdown on illegal workers.'
Ah Lan said bogus marriages were not something new.
There were advertisements in mainland newspapers and agents visited villages to introduce their 'services'.
'An agent came to my village,' she said.
'They also promised to find me a job and arrange a divorce for us when I got an ID card.'
In retrospect, Ah Lan regrets the path she chose.
'Initially, I thought I could a get a Hong Kong ID card soon, work here legally and then divorce the man,' she said. 'But it seems to be the long way round.'
The Immigration Department set up a taskforce more than a year ago to combat sham marriages.
Since a fake marriage is not listed as a crime in the statute books, those prosecuted are charged with conspiracy to defraud or making false representation to an immigration officer.
Making a false representation to an immigration officer is punishable by a fine of up to HK$150,000 and as long as 14 years in jail. People convicted of conspiracy to defraud can also be imprisoned for up to 14 years.