The Conservative Party has been thinking about marriages involving non-EU spouses. According to the Telegraph, here are some of their proposals, in respect of entry into the UK:
- increase in qualifying age of entry from 18 to 21;
- English tests; and
- citizenship tests.
In making these proposals, the Tories are thinking about immigration, sham marriages, and integration, but they need to tread very carefully.
Damien Green, the party’s immigration spokesman, is quoted as saying:
“Too many young women are brought to England to marry when they cannot possibly integrate with our society. They need better protection.”
If so, why increase the age from 18 to 21? Is it not better for the spouses to come in when they are younger, and have more chance of getting an education, perhaps going to a college, joining an apprenticeship, or learning a trade? Many employers looking for trainees will happily take on an 18 year old, perhaps more so than they would a 21 year old; so if it really is integration that the Tories are concerned about, they should not be raising the age of eligibility. The younger one is, the greater the chances of integrating, I would have thought.
I also suspect the Tories are on dodgy human rights grounds with these proposals. So if a bride fails the English test, she is to be sent back whence she came until such time as she can pass? Also consider these two scenarios: an English man who marries a Canadian woman who speaks only French, and an English man (from say, Bradford) who marries a non English-speaking girl from Islamabad? Both are non-EU foreign brides, but somehow I think that only one couple is the target of these proposals. What then happens? Will the immigration officers apply the law literally, and turn away the Canadian, in the name of ‘consistency’? Or will they disingenuously find some narrow grounds for admitting her, while turning away her Pakistani sister?
As for citizenship tests, I have no problem with them. Everybody applying for citizenship should sit a test, regardless of whether or not the applicant is a ‘non-EU spouse’. Perhaps a foreign spouse could be granted indefinite leave to remain, and then upgraded to citizenship on taking, and passing, the test.
These proposals come very close to interfering with the right to marry. Earlier this week, the Court of Appeal ruled that regulations requiring non-European citizens to obtain a certificate of approval before marriage were illegal, and breached the right to marry. Of course, the Tories would argue that they are not restricting the right to marry. Their argument would probably be that one may marry as one wishes, as the restriction is not on marriage per se, but on the right of entry to the United Kingdom. Maybe so, but these proposals, at the very least, interfere with family life.
Take another example: an English man marries an 18 year old girl from Islamabad, who speaks perfect English, and is in every respect ‘fit for UK society’. However, because she is only 18, they are told that she can’t come in until she’s 21. There is nothing he can do to fix that. All he can do is wait three years. Interference with family life? Most certainly, especially given the fact that in the United Kingdom, one may legally marry at 18. At least in the case of a 21 year old, non-English speaking Pakistani bride, a few months in a language school should ensure she passes the English test, and can therefore enter the country. In the case of her 18 year old sister, no such advantage. She stays out of the country until she ‘comes of age’.
My message to the Tories: it is good that you are thinking, although quite why one should credit you for doing that most basic of functions, I don’t know. Still, thinking is good, and there has not been much evidence of that in recent days. However, these ideas are still half-baked, and need a lot more work. Please think about them a bit more before putting them out for consultation.