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Immigration: Marriage

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and Minister for the West Midlands (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

We are this year undertaking the biggest reform of Britain’s immigration and border security system for 45 years.

Alongside the introduction of a points system for migrants who want to work and study, we are modernising the visa system for short-term visits and marriage.

Today I am publishing the results of our consultation on reform to spouse visas published in December 2007: Marriage to partners from overseas and Marriage visas: pre-entry English requirement for spouses. Copies are being placed in the House Library.

Our ambitions in preparing reform were twofold: first, to strengthen our work to prevent forced marriage; and, secondly, to ensure that our policy supports our wider ambitions to aid newcomers to rapidly and happily integrate into British life.

A small majority of consultation responses were in favour of increasing the minimum age at which a person may sponsor or be sponsored as a spouse from 18 to 21. There was also support for the proposal that those intending to sponsor a spouse should declare their intention before leaving the UK; for a code of practice to provide consistency and a safeguard to protect the vulnerable; and for stronger measures to allow the UKBA to revoke indefinite leave to remain following abandonment of spouse or evidence of abuse of the marriage route to gain settlement. Respondents also suggested to us a range of signs that might signal a vulnerability to a forced marriage but highlighted the need to avoid discrimination.

Although a majority of consultation respondents did not favour a requirement for spouses to demonstrate English before they enter the UK, there was a strong appreciation of the need for newcomers to speak English. A key theme expressed by many was that English is best learnt in the UK where facilities are available and the spouse is immersed in the British way of life.

We are very grateful for the responses to the consultation. We will now consider carefully the recent report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the summary we publish today and the views of the parliamentarians before setting out proposals for reform before the summer.