Lord pleads for change in young UK marriage visa rules

Published: 21/12/2010

The Joint Council of the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has got behind the Court of Appeal’s condemnation of the rise of the UK marriage visa age to 21.
Called ‘arbitrary and disruptive’ by the Court of Appeal, the legal ban on young foreign spouses entering the UK due to their age is calling for the Home Secretary to rewrite the rule.
The ban was initially introduced in order to drastically cut the problem of forced marriages, with bogus marriages often cited in cases where one or both of the partners were aged under 21, although it is still possible for couples where one or both is in HM Forces to be aged 18 and gain a UK marriage visa.
The JCWI said that young couples such as Diego and Amber Aguilar or Suhayl Mohammed and Shakira Bibi were ‘innocent victims of a blanket policy designed to target a few cases of forced marriages’.
Chilean Diego Aguilar met British girl Amber when they were at the same school in the UK, and married in November 2008 when Diego was 18 and Amber was 17. After his student visa ran out, he was refused a UK marriage visa on the grounds of his age, so Amber joined him in Chile as they were unable to live together in the UK until they are both 21.
In the case of Shakira Bibi, a 20 year old Pakistani national and her 20 year old UK citizen husband Suhayl Mohammed, who married when they were both 18, her UK entry clearance was also refused on age grounds, and the couple remain apart. Although the marriage was a traditional arranged marriage, there is no suggestion that it was forced or bogus, as confirmed by Lord Justice Sedley, one of three judges to hear the cases of the two young couples.
Lord Justice Sedley said that the ban, quoted as paragraph 277 of the UK immigration Rules on entry for settlement of foreign spouses, could not be applied in these two cases, or others like them, as its impact on innocent lives made it ‘impossible to justify’.
Although Lord Justice Sedley is keen that the ruling is changed, immigration minister Damien Green seems unlikely to do so. Mr Green said, “We are disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s decision and will be seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Forcing someone to marry is an intolerable act and for genuine couples, marriage is not something that should be taken lightly, especially when it involves moving to another country. I think it is reasonable to ask both parties to wait until they are 21.”

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