Vicars have been ordered to direct couples including foreign nationals to apply for a common licence in a drive to crackdown on sham marriages.

The Church of England has been told to stop reading the banns before weddings that involve a foreign national from outside Europe.

The move follows an increase in bogus wedding ceremonies where couples get married just so a foreign national can stay in the UK.

Banns were originally introduced to prevent invalid marriages taking place as they enable any objections to be voiced.

Under the new rules, any couples including a foreign national who insist on their banns being published should have their details passed onto the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

The new rules will affect ceremonies involving a bride or groom from outside the EU, even if they are marrying a Briton.

If clergy are subjected to threats or pressure, they are advised to contact the police.

The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, said: “The House of Bishops is clear that the office of Holy Matrimony must not be misused by those who have no intention of contracting a genuine marriage but merely a sham marriage.”

He added: “The purpose of this guidance and direction from the bishops to the clergy and those responsible for the grant of common licences is, therefore, to prevent the contracting of sham marriages in the Church of England.”

Immigration minister Damian Green said: “Would-be fraudsters should remember that a marriage in itself does not equal an automatic right to remain in the UK.”

He added: “The UK Border Agency already works very closely with the Church not only to investigate and disrupt suspected sham weddings but also to provide advice and support.

“The new guidance is another step in the right direction in tackling these abuses.”

The Rev Alex Brown was jailed for four years last September for he married 360 illegal immigrants to total strangers.

The Daily Mail revealed last month that sham weddings have jumped from 282 a year to 934 a year in the last four years. That means that 18 sham weddings take place every week.