The family migration consultation can be found online at -ukba.homeoffice. consultations

New proposals to crack down on sham and forced marriages were announced today by British Immigration Minister Damian Green as part of a new consultation on better family migration.

It also opens up 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, which 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; and
• 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.

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