UK tightens immigration laws to discourage forced marriages
The International News (Pakistan)
April 6, 2007
LONDON: Forced marriages by Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian families to partners in their home countries have raised dust in Britain and the government proposes to prevent forced marriages by making it difficult for spouses to gain entry into Britain.
British immigration rules do not allow British citizens or UK residents to automatically sponsor spouses or fiances to live with them in the United Kingdom. There are requirements to be fulfilled for the spouse of someone settled in the UK to emigrate on a spouse visa.
About 3,000 people a year, mainly women from India, apply for spouse visa to the UK. Currently, some 200 cases of forced marriages are reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office each year.
Many cases go unreported. The majority of cases of forced marriage encountered in the UK involve South Asian families. This can partly be explained by the fact that the UK has a large Asian population, with an approximately 1.3-million-strong Indian community, The Hindustan Time reports.
Suspect marriages reported by registrars were 752 in 2001, steadily rising to 3,578 in 2004, before falling to 247 in 2005. Under current spouse visa regulations, the minimum age for a British citizen or would-be citizen to marry a foreigner is 18. The foreign spouse, too, has to be 18 or above.
A long campaign was launched by Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, to remedy the problem of forced marriages. She cited the example of a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl who was forced by her grandparent to marry in Bangladesh. She was allowed to come back to the UK only when she had a baby, by which time she was 16, the legal age to get married in the UK.
The police did nothing, although they knew about the situation. In fact, before the grandfather took the girl to Bangladesh, he was told by a judge that he must not take her there to force her into marriage.
Although we all knew what had happened, the police took no action against the grandfather when the girl returned, said Cryer.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne says, It is essential that we have a fair and effective migration system, trusted by the public as a whole and those who rely on it.
More people will face checks before entering the UK to further tighten the UKs borders, under measures announced by the Home Office.
Among changes proposed are tightening marriage visas by increasing the minimum age of sponsors and the person sponsored from 18 to 21. The government also intends to introduce confidential interviews for people entering the country who might have been forced into marriage.
Intended spouses will be expected to show some proficiency in the English language in a move to ensure they are able socially and economically to participate in British life.
Also, the waiting period for a British subject to sponsor a foreign spouse is proposed to be raised from two years to five.
Among other proposals is the setting up of a Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise ministers on where migration might sensibly fill gaps in the labour market. Also, identity cards will be mandatory for everyone.
A sponsored family visitor route will mean people in the UK will be required to vouch for their family member at the beginning of the application process.
According to government sources, 18 per cent, or 3,000 marriage visas, issued to people from the Indian subcontinent in 2005 were to those under 21.
The Home Office said if the age limit goes up to 21, young women would have a greater opportunity to be able to assert themselves to withstand parental pressure to marry someone against their wishes.