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Marriage visa age raised to prevent forced marriages

Marriage visa age raised to prevent forced marriages

HOME OFFICE News Release (135/2008) issued by The Government News Network on 23 July 2008

The age at which someone can apply for a marriage visa will increase from 18 to 21 as part of a crackdown on forced marriage, the Home Office announced today.

Statistics show that 30 per cent of the cases dealt with by the Government's Forced Marriage Unit involved victims aged between 18 and 21.

The new steps significantly strengthen the safeguards against forced marriage. The five key proposals announced today are to:

* raise the age of sponsorship for a marriage visa from 18 to 21;

* ask foreign spouses to enter into an agreement to learn English before they come to the UK;

* introduce a power to revoke leave to remain where there is evidence that the marriage route has been abused;

* require all sponsors to register their intention to marry overseas before they leave the UK; and

* ensure through a code of practice that specialist teams can identify vulnerable people at risk of forced marriage.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

"Forced marriage leads to victims suffering years of physical and mental abuse and - in extreme cases - unlawful imprisonment and rape. It has no place in our society. That is why the Government is determined to do everything it can to stamp it out and to ensure that victims receive the help and support they need.

"That is why we are raising the age limit for visas, checking anyone entering into a marriage does so of their own free will, and demanding that those coming to the UK learn English."

Any British citizen applying to 'sponsor' someone to come to the UK as their spouse will have to declare their intention before they leave the UK and marry abroad. This will mean that a young person will know in advance that a marriage will take place overseas and who their prospective partner will be.

Practical guidance is also being introduced so the UK Border Agency staff can spot any risk of abuse or those who are vulnerable to forced marriage and prevent them from being coerced into marriage. In these cases we will make clear what the rights of victims are and how the marriage visa will be dealt with.

Tough new rules will mean that anyone abusing the marriage visa system will be removed from the UK by the UKBA under a new power to revoke people's right to stay in the country.

The Government believes that those who stay in the UK must have a good grasp of English to ensure they integrate into British life. Before they come to the UK, spouses will need to sign up to an agreement to learn English. Soon after their arrival, the UKBA will check they are fulfilling their promise. If they are not, their leave could be cancelled.

Border and Immigration Minister Liam Byrne:

"British citizens have the right to marry whoever they choose. But we want newcomers to succeed in our society and sign up to the standards we have in common. That means freedom, not being forced to marry someone, and it means newcomers quickly acquiring a command of English, with consequences for those who break the rules."

New guidelines will help ensure that police, teachers and health workers can recognise the signs of a forced marriage, take action and help victims escape. A consultation published today will ensure the Government gets this advice for workers right.

Today we are also publishing the Government's response to the Home Affairs Committee Report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and "Honour"-Based Violence, published on 7 June. The new proposals on marriage visas fulfil a number of recommendations from the Home Affairs Committee, relating to forced marriage

This work shows the Government's commitment to preventing forced marriage and supporting its victims.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. Today's proposals are set out in "Marriage Visas: The Way Forward", which can be found at the following link: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.

2. This document follows two consultations: "Marriage to Partners from Overseas", which can be found at the following link: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk and "Marriage Visas: pre-entry English Requirement for Spouses", which can be found here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk

3. 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.

4. In 2007 the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 215 cases of overseas forced marriage where the age of the victim was known, 69 of which involved people aged between 18 and 20.

5. A consultation on guidance on forced marriages for frontline workers was published by the Home Office today and can be found here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.

6. Today the Home Office also published its response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on domestic violence and forced marriage, which was published on 13 June. This document can be found here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.

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