Until 2002 or thereabouts, the minimum age for the fiance in the UK who was to marry the person from abroad was 16 but the minimum age for the person from abroad was 18. These ages were then equalised at 18. It would appear that the age for both is soon to rise to 21. The Home Office report and press release include some patronising waffle about allowing adults to establish an independent life and take advantage of higher education opportunities. There is also reference to combatting forced marriages.
I’d suggest these are very weak smokescreens for the the real justification, which can only be (i) to reduce the numbers entering the UK on marriage visas and (ii) to encourage UK immigrant communities to marry within the UK rather than abroad. As it happens, these are both semi-official Government policies. The forced marriages reference deserves to be taken a little more seriously than the rest, but the Government has recently made time for a much needed Private Members Bill to address this problem and there are plenty of other ways to deal with what is, fortunately, a relatively infrequent problem.
The Government’s immigration policy encourages immigration to the UK. There can be absolutely no doubt about this, and the figures speak for themselves. However, the type of immigrant the Government encourages is important. As Don Flynn has observed, the modernisers in the Labour Party see immigration as an economic tool to modernise the economy with highly skilled workers and maintain a low inflation economy. Economic migrants entering the UK on different forms of high skilled work permits contribute towards this policy and their number has increased dramatically since 1997. Similarly, relatively low skilled workers from the expanded EU also contribute to this policy, and the UK was almost the only country to grant access to the employed workforce on the accession of the new EU countries in 2004.
In contrast to these ‘useful’ immigrants, those entering on a marriage visa are perhaps considered by the Government to add only to social unrest and ghettoisation. Anne Cryer MP has certainly been banging on about this issue in these sorts of terms for some time (see section 5 of a submission she made to the Home Affairs Select Committee last year) and David Blunkett used to give these views a lot of credence in his day. John Denham MP and others have picked up his fallen mantle.
The same Home Office report also proposes that those from abroad visiting family in the UK will bring down upon the heads of their UK families a £1000 fine if they, to put it in colloquial terms, do a runner. This measure would also fit with the above analysis: encourage economically beneficial migration, discourage or prevent family-based immigration.
Why do I use the words migration and immigration slightly differently? Immigration has a permanent ring to it, at least to my ears. An immigrant may stay for the long term and acquire rights and responsibilities in the host community. A migrant is temporary in nature and can be disposed of once used.