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Family Migration

Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

The Government launched a consultation on family migration on 13 July. This sets out proposals for tackling abuse of the family route, including sham and forced marriages. It also contains proposals to promote integration and reduce burdens on the taxpayer.

Does the Minister agree that family migration must be based on a real and continuing relationship and not on a marriage of convenience or a forced marriage?

That is an important point, because sham marriages not only undermine our immigration system; they damage the institution of marriage. Forced marriage is, if anything, even worse. It represents a breach of human rights, and it is a form of violence against the victim. That is why we are proposing in our consultation to define more clearly what constitutes a genuine and continuing marriage for the purposes of the immigration rules, to help to identify sham and forced marriages. We are also exploring the case for making sham a lawful impediment to marriage in England and Wales.

Does the Minister agree that British citizens who cannot support their foreign partners should not expect the British taxpayer to do it for them?

My hon. Friend makes another good point. Part of our consultation involves ensuring that those who arrive here to get married come into a family that has sufficient means to support them. One of the problems that we inherited was the fact that the institution of marriage was being exploited to circumvent the immigration rules. In tightening up on this, we are not only restoring confidence in the immigration system but helping to bolster the institution of marriage. Both of those are extremely worthwhile efforts.

But is it not right that husbands and wives should be able to live together? Will the Minister assure me that spouses applying in countries with very few English language testing centres will not be kept apart from their spouses in this country simply because they cannot prove their competence in English? That is illustrated by the case of the wife of a constituent of mine who has been applying in Brazil for months to prove that she can speak sufficiently good English to join him here.

If the hon. Lady wishes to write to me about that individual case, I will take a look at it. We have established a network of testing stations around the world so that people are able to take the test. I hope that she will support the concept that, if people come to settle here, they should be able to speak English at a basic level so that they can integrate into British life. If they cannot do that, they can end up leading separate lives, which can cause many problems, especially in our inner cities.

Does the Minister share my concern that refugee family reunion has been classified as immigration for the purposes of legal aid? Given that refugees are in exile and to be reunited with their families, they have no option other than to use the legal system here, will he make representations to the Ministry of Justice on this important point?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I assume that she is talking about refugees who have already been all the way through the system. Obviously, while people are applying for asylum or for refugee status, our checks have to be more robust than they have been in the past so that we can be absolutely sure that those who benefit from refugee status are those who need Britain’s protection, which we have always traditionally given and are happy to give. I will look into the details of the case that she has raised.