The changes to the UK visa application age from 18 – 21 were announced in November 2008, with the aim to reduce the number of sham marriages from people who abuse the marriage visa process.
Additional information has been offered on 13th March 2009 in order to add clarification to how such issues will be dealt with, with a Code of Practice published on 5th March. This Code is particularly concerned with how a UK visa or permission to remain application will be handled if the husband or wife has been identified as person that is vulnerable with regards to a forced or sham marriage.
The previous announcements has been quick to identify that raising the UK visa application or UK permission to remain application age needed to be changed from 18 to 21, but it had not touched on how to handle such applications when they had been identified. While it is clear that additional information is required in order to reduce the numbers further, and such information is likely to follow in the near future, the new Code of Practice certainly goes some way to clarifying the serious consequences of such applications.
Indeed, the Code of Practice is directed towards entry clearance officers overseas and UK visa application caseworkers, giving them additional support and information to clarify some of the previously blurred boundaries. It has been described as ‘giving greater certainty to victims of forced marriage’, with the UK Border Agency now having a clear system in place that allows them to effectively deal with forced marriage, with the appropriate support available to victims. A further advantage of the Code is that there will now be consistency in how such UK visa applications and permission to remain applications are handled.
The Code of Practice is widely considered to be the most comprehensive staff guidance document produced by the UK Border Agency on the subject of forced marriage, which continues the obvious importance placed on the issue by the UK Government.
There are a range of strict measures that illustrate this belief; ‘The aim of this change is to protect young people from being forced into relationships they do not want, at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as adults through further education or through work,’ a UK representative quoted.
The document offers clear goal-setting in order to quantify its positive aims, with plans to add to these guidelines as additional rules are established. Such goals include introducing a pre-Entry English test for those applying for marriage visas, the power to revoke indefinite leave to remain where the marriage visa application process has been abused and a requirement for those already resident in the UK wishing to sponsor a spouse to declare their intentions prior to leaving for marriage overseas.