It opens up the 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 this right to respect for family life.
The consultation also seeks to ensure family migrants can integrate into society, forms part of the government’s major overhaul of the immigration system - following the changes that have already been made to the work and study routes and the ongoing consultation on settlement rights.
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 contribute and 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 where 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. 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 spouses, partners and dependants, to ensure 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 spouses and partners can apply for settlement in the UK from 2 years to 5 years to test the genuineness of relationships and to encourage integration into British life
- Requiring spouses, partners and adult dependants aged under 65 applying for settlement to be able to demonstrate that they can understand everyday English (B1 level)
- 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 from taking place where sham is suspected
- Working closely with local authorities to ensure vulnerable people are not forced into marriage
- Reviewing the full right of appeal for family visit visas and inviting views on whether there are circumstances in which an appeal right should be retained beyond race discrimination and human rights grounds
In 2010, there were 48,900 visas granted to people on the family route, of which 40,500 were granted on the basis of a marriage or civil or other partnership. 8,400 were granted to dependants.
At present anyone who is refused a family visit visa can appeal and, in 2009-10, these appeals, often based on new information which should have been submitted with the original application, made up around 40 per cent of all immigration appeals and cost around £40 million.
In order 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 race discrimination and ECHR grounds will continue to be allowed, but the government is inviting views on whether there are other circumstances in which an appeal right should be retained for family visit visas.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Contribute to the family migration consultation
Examples of abuses:
Abuse of the marriage route - repeat sponsorship
Mr H, a Pakistani national, applied for a spouse visa on the basis of his marriage to someone settled in the UK. He obtained indefinite leave to remain and then immediately divorced his UK-based spouse. He returned to Pakistan and re-married and then applied for entry clearance for his new spouse.
Abuse of the marriage route – relationship not as claimed
Mr F sponsored a visa for a woman he claimed to be his wife and for his 21 year old son. The application for his alleged spouse had a photograph attached to it that appeared to relate to a much younger woman than his 51 year old wife. An investigation was carried out and it was found that the lady in the photograph was not his wife but was his daughter-in-law.
Abuse of the family route – indefinite leave to remain applications
Mrs A was living in the UK as a student before switching into the marriage route. She was granted a 2-year probationary period before applying for indefinite leave to remain. Her husband had previously sponsored somebody who was granted indefinite leave to remain on the basis of marriage in 2003. The couple were interviewed and it became apparent that their relationship was a sham. The husband could not tell the officer the names or ages of his wife’s children, who were supposedly living with the couple.
Mrs A’s application for indefinite leave to remain was refused.
1 February 2011 - A sham marriage gang arrested shortly after staging a bogus wedding ceremony in Sheffield were jailed for five years for attempting to subvert immigration rules. The investigation team captured the newlyweds and the wedding fixers on CCTV as they arrived and left the town hall. Footage showed the couple leaving and then meeting with the gang leader, a Pakistani male, and two of his gang, both Slovak nationals. Officers followed the wedding party and arrested them as they pulled up at a garage outside Meadowhall shopping centre. During the search of the vehicle, officers uncovered a note detailing in full the ‘price list’ for the sham marriage, totalling £10,695.
28 September 2010 - Seven people involved in a large scale sham marriage scam to try and beat UK immigration rules were sentenced to a total of 14 years. The Czech gang arranged for bogus brides and grooms to take part in marriages to Nigerians, Pakistanis and a Syrian who all wanted to stay in the UK. Six of the gang committed bigamy after being involved in multiple fake wedding ceremonies. The gang organised sham marriages at unsuspecting churches and register offices in the North of England and in London.
Mrs T was forced to marry by her father and sponsor her husband’s visa application.After the applicant arrived in the UK Mrs T admitted to the UK Border Agency that the marriage was not subsisting but that they still lived under her father’s roof andthat shewas being forced to support the application.
She would not allow the caseworker to use any of this information in the refusal for fear of reprisal.
Family visit visas
Visa officers have evidence of agents who help people make their family visit visa application by taking documents (utility bills, bank statements) from sponsors in genuine cases and recycling them in fraudulent applications. Visa posts then receive complaints and enquiries from UK sponsors whose identities have been misused to bolster the credentials of applicants who are not known to them.
Bangladeshi national who posed as a 15-year-old schoolboy in South Devon was jailed for four years for attacking two youths with a broken bottle. Mr X initially claimed he was a 15-year-old schoolboy under a different name and he and his brother managed to obtain discretionary leave as minors. However, investigations by the UK Border Agency discovered that he was in fact 20 years old and was left in the UK with his brother by his parents following a family visit. This information led to the overturning of the discretionary leave decision. He was sentenced to four years in prison in May 2011 at Exeter Crown Court for smashing a beer bottle and thrusting it into the face and neck of two teenagers outside a Torquay nightclub in June 2010.
He will be removed from the UK at the end of his jail term.