New crackdown on forced marriage

A new government crackdown on forced marriage looks set to increase the age at which someone can apply for a marriage visa from 18 to 21.

“British citizens have the right to marry whoever they choose,” said border and immigration minister Liam Byrne.

“But we want newcomers to succeed in our society and sign up to the standards we have in common.”

The new Home Office plan comes despite statistics showing only 30 per cent of cases dealt with by the government’s Forced Marriage Unit involve victims aged between 18 and 21.

The necessity of learning English forms another contentious parts of the proposals.

Foreign spouses will be asked to sign an agreement to learn English before they come to the UK. Soon after arrival, the UK Borders Agency will check to see they are doing so, with the threat of cancelling their leave to remain as an incentive.

Other proposals include a power to revoke leave to remain where there is evidence that the marriage route has been abused and a requirement for sponsors to register their intention to marry overseas before they leave the UK.

The Conservatives have welcomed the proposals but said many of them were ripped from the Tories’ own ideas.

“Last May Conservatives called for the minimum age for foreign spouses to be raised to 21,” said Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary.

“We also announced policies which include a mandatory English test for those wishing to come here as spouses, and registration before leaving this country for all young women going abroad to be married.”

The Forced Marriage Unit handles approximately 5,000 enquiries and 400 cases per year concerning young British nationals at risk of being forced into marriage overseas.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne welcomed the move but pointed to government double standards in its language requirements.

“The government’s proposal to ensure people learn English is welcome, but it would be better coming from ministers who were not cutting the budget for English as a foreign language,” he said.

“This is a false economy, not just in terms of integrating immigrant communities but also when providing translation and other official services.”