Courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, I can exclusively report (I’ve never written that before!) that the Home Office has finally released the full research report it commissioned into the issue of forced marriages and the spouse visa age. I have previously posted on the research summary that had already been published.
The research was carried out between March 2006 and February 2007 in three locations – Birmingham, Manchester and Tower Hamlets. It set out to examine four main issues:
- The impact/outcome of the recent increase the age of sponsorship/entry from 16 to 18 years;
- The benefits and risks of increasing the age of sponsorship or entry to 18, 21 and 24;
- The range of communities in which forced marriage happens; and
- The factors which were perceived to increase or decrease the risk of forced marriages.
As can be seen from the issues, the research was commissioned to look into the effect on the existing increase in the spouse visa age and to look at the possible effects of future increases. The research strongly suggested that a further increase would be harmful to victims or potential victims of forced marriage (sections 10, 13.1). It also concluded that the no recourse to public funds policy is very harmful to victims of forced marriage (section 7.3.2).
So, what has the Home Office done? It has gone ahead and increased the visa age and maintained the no recourse to public funds policy, all in the name of helping to prevent forced marriages. The report was not published by the Home Office because, I quote “the report (rather than how the research was conducted) is not of sufficient quality to be published in the Home Office research series. The report contains unsubstantiated findings and what appear to be potentially misleading statements. It is also difficult to establish how individuals or groups/organisations have responded to certain questions.” So says Kate Hitchcock, Head of Managed Migration Research.
Having read the report, I find it is very difficult to understand this criticism. Section 10, on the visa age, looks scrupulously fair. None of the three survey groups (stakeholder groups, including Bradford police and the Forced Marriage Unit, forced marriage survivors and community focus groups) thought that increasing the visa age would be helpful to victims or potential victims and all thought it would be harmful. The most serious identified risk was that young people would be taken outside the UK until they had reached the new visa age, thereby completely removing them from any realistic possibility of access to help or support. Both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s own Forced Marriage Unit and the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate in Sheffield considered that there were ‘some benefits’ to increasing the visa age to 21 but there were ‘substantial risks’ (page 62). IND Croydon thought there were no benefits at all to such an increase. These are the government’s own front-line workers and experts and they have been ignored.
Their opinions might be said to be ‘unsubstantiated’ but I can’t think of better qualified people than these three survey groups to offer an informed opinion. And I trust their judgment somewhat more than that of still Immigration Minister Phil Woolas.
Many of those surveyed also expressed the opinion that an increase in the spouse visa age would target certain communities to reduce immigration selectively. Given that in raising the spouse visa age the Home Office has gone against the only research that was available on the subject and has quietly dropped the other measures it was announced in July 2008 it would implement to prevent forced marriages, these fears were well founded. The measure is clearly a discriminatory one, in reality aimed at reducing immigration from certain communities but disguised as a way to reduce forced marriages.