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Forced marriages and the new visa age


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forced-marriageThe Home Office recently increased the minimum age for both spouses to 21 if a foreign spouse is to enter the UK on a spouse visa. The same requirements apply to unmarried, same sex and civil partners.

As discussed previously on this blog, the justification given by the Home Office was that the change will help prevent forced marriages. Some very thin statistical evidence is cited for this claim, and the Home Office very lightly dismissed the concern that increasing the visa age would not stop foreign spouses coming in, it would force young settled men and women to move abroad instead, to be with their foreign spouses.

It turns out that the Home Office commissioned a respected team of specialist researchers to look into the question of whether raising the spouse visa age to 21 or 24 would help prevent forced marriages. The researchers did what sounds like some excellent work on the subject and found that forced marriage survivors and everyone else thought that the risks outweighed the benefits, Nand that there was no evidence at all to suggest that the previous rise in the visa age from 16 to 18 had done anything to prevent forced marriages. A summary of the findings is available [29/5/09: I’ve had to upload a saved version as the University of Bristol one vanished]. The risks were, amongst other things

“Increased risk of physical and psychological harm to victims and potential victims of forced marriage, which included young British women being taken abroad to marry and kept there forcibly until they were old enough to sponsor their spouses; entering the UK with false documentation; and implications for mental health, particularly attempted suicide and self-harm. The concern was that an increase in age could also prevent victims from accessing some potential sources of support, such as those provided via child protection legislation and education-based counselling support.”

It was also suggested the change would have a discriminatory effect and would adversely affect the human rights of those who entered into marriage by consent (the vast, vast majority).

These outcomes are the opposite of what the Home Office says that it hopes to achieve. Does the Home Office have access to some research results that suggest the above is all wrong? I think not. In truth, what has happened is that the Home Office commissioned the research, disagreed with the evidence and despite the risks to young people in this country and abroad have decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Oh, and the Home Office have decided not to publish the research in full. Evidence based policy making this most certainly is not.

Increased risk of physical and psychological harm to victims and potential victims
of forced marriage, which included young British women being taken abroad to
marry and kept there forcibly until they were old enough to sponsor their spouses;
entering the UK with false documentation; and implications for mental health,
particularly attempted suicide and self-harm. The concern was that an increase in
age could also prevent victims from accessing some potential sources of support,
such as those provided via child protection legislation and education-based
counselling su
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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


10 Responses

  1. 22 May 2009

    I saw on the “immigration news” on the UKBA website the following:-

    “The UK Border Agency is changing the way that it processes applications by European nationals and their families for registration certificates, residence cards, family member residence stamps or confirmation of permanent residence in the United Kingdom.

    From 1 June 2009, we will check all applications as soon as we receive them. Unless you have completed the application form correctly and provided the necessary supporting evidence, we will not accept your application as valid under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006.”

    Is this meant to be a CHANGE?!!! What does UKBA mean by checking applications as soon as they receive them?! Has UKBA finally cottoned onto the fact that if they don’t inform the applicant within 28 days of receipt of a form that there is something wrong they are stopped from treating it as invalid? Does this mean that UKBA’s previous policy of sitting on EEA applications for the customary 6-12 months has now stopped without consulting us? What is the world coming to?

  2. I just saw that this morning as well, Immie. It would be blatantly unlawful if they did what they say they will do – EC law does not require the use of application forms and there is considerable flexibility about proving one’s EC law case. It is about the Home Office recognising a pre-existing EC law right, not about the person applying for something they do not already have. I’ll probably do a post on it later on.

    1. Dear FM

      Ahh, that’s very useful to know. I have a soon to be ex spouse of an EU national and I am expecting that to blow up. Many thanks :-)

    2. “EC law does not require the use of application forms”

      I am not sure you can go that far, but it is clear that they are really pushing the limits of the law as far as they can. Amazing is that places like Germany will issue Residence Cards in a matter of days, and it usually takes the UK and Ireland more than the statutory limit of 6 months to issue the (in the UK) “optional” Residence Cards.

      What is the substance of the change though? Maybe UKBA will now take the documentation, and return it quickly with the Residence Card. Maybe they are actually going to stop messing around? Maybe I hope my glass is half full…

  3. Is this more evidence of the HO losing touch? I think so.

    The favourable union of Marriage is difficult enough these days (RE: 50% divorce rate in UK) without the HO imposing high fees, strict rules, and even separation. On the young and genuine it must often be devastating, even “psychologically harmful” to both parties.

    “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”.
    Oh, if only this was applied to MPs expenses sooner.

    “Lecturers may boycott ‘snooper’ rules”.

    What about the 9 students arrested, found innocent, but deported anyway by the HO.

    Also the Canadian singer fiasco at Gatwick, the film director refusal, the Arabic translator refusal.

    I’m guessing the HO will need a good spin doctor fast, as the political media will find something to jump on after the expenses scandal, and the HO seem the obvious choice at present (although a week is a long time in politics), be it immigration or ID cards. Still, I know who not to vote for next week.

  4. I am a British citizen but my wife is non-EU citizen and she is in her 20z. We have moved to Ireland as UK HO has changed the age limit from 18 to 21 which sounds too stupid to me.
    It is so strange that we can live, work in other EU country like we are in Ireland but I can go back to my home country. To be honest with you I don’t really understand what HO are trying to do?
    And yes spouse visa costs you around €800 which I don’t think I will be paying and might stay in Ireland till my wife gets Irish citizenship and then we both can move back to England.

    Shame on Home Office

  5. I think this law is ridiculous. I am a British Citizen and my husband is Turkish. I’m 18 and he’s 24 and we have been together for 2 and a half years. I have a full time job in the UK, my husband has a job offer, we have somewhere to live and we can easily support ourselves. However, his visa has been denied soley because i’m not 21. The UK is meant to be a free country so how can this be fair in anyway? This law just penalises young couples who are in genuine marriages. The judge at the appeal I went to even said he can see that this isn’t a forced marriage, I can see you two love each other. BUT….Because I’m 18 we are not allowed to live together in my country. It’s enfuriating!

    I created a group on facebook, join it if you like:


  6. i think this law it totaly ridiculous!! I am an american citizen and my husband is british. I am 20 and will have to wait till next year to actually be with my husband. I cant beleive it honestly. How can they grant us to get married then we cant be together? i dont understand. they need to take this law away cause it only cause more heartbreak, pain and debt in many genuine relantionship that want to be together because they love each other..its like we are paying for a crime… ****can u please sign my petition to send to gordon brown*** many thanks!!!


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