The government has today announced proposals to crack down on sham and forced marriages, as part of a new consultation on better family migration.

The consultation also seeks to ensure that family migrants can integrate into society, and opens up debate on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the circumstances where the public interest in removing someone from the UK should outweigh the right to respect for family life.

Immigration minister Damian Green said:

‘This consultation is about better family migration – better for migrants, communities, and the UK as a whole.

‘We welcome those who want to make a life here with their family, but too often in the past the family route has been abused as a means to bypass our immigration laws.

‘That includes too many times when we have seen Article 8 used to place the rights of criminals and illegal migrants above the rights of the British public. That balance must be redressed where there is a clear public interest in removing someone from the UK.

‘Our message is clear – we will not tolerate abuses. And if you cannot support your foreign spouse or partner, you cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for you.’

The consultation focuses on stopping abuse, promoting integration and reducing burdens on the taxpayer. Its key proposals include:

  • defining more clearly what constitutes a genuine and continuing marriage, to help identify sham and forced marriages;
  • introducing a new minimum income threshold for sponsors of partners and dependants, to ensure that family migrants are adequately supported as a basis for integration – the independent Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to advise on what the threshold should be;
  • extending the probationary period before partners can apply for settlement in the UK from 2 years to 5 years, to test that relationships are genuine and to encourage integration into British life;
  • requiring partners and adult dependants aged under 65 to demonstrate that they can understand everyday English (B1 level on the Common European Framework for Languages) when they apply for settlement;
  • exploring the case for making ‘sham’ a lawful impediment to marriage in England and Wales, and for giving the authorities the power to delay a marriage where sham is suspected;
  • working closely with local authorities to ensure that vulnerable people are not forced into marriage; and
  • reviewing the full right of appeal for family visitor visas, and inviting views on whether there are circumstances (beyond race discrimination and human rights grounds) in which an appeal right should be retained.

In 2010, 48,900 visas were granted to people on the family route. Of these, 40,500 were granted on the basis of a marriage or civil or other partnership, and 8,400 were granted to other dependants.

At present, anyone who is refused a family visitor visa has the right of appeal. In 2009/10, these appeals – which were often based on new information which should have been submitted with the original application – made up approximately 40 per cent of all immigration appeals and cost around £40 million.

To reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer, and deliver an appropriate system for applicants, the government is reviewing this right of appeal. Appeals based on grounds of race discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be allowed, but the government is inviting views on whether an appeal right should be retained for family visitor visas in other circumstances.

The consultation was announced by Damian Green this morning in a written ministerial statement.

The consultation is part of the government’s major overhaul of the immigration system. It follows the changes that have already been made to the work and study routes, and the ongoing consultation on settlement rights.

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