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Law Society criticises family immigration proposals

Responding to the UK Border Agency consultation on family migration, the Law Society has raised concerns about government proposals aimed at preventing ‘sham’ or forced marriages and abuse of the family immigration route.

The proposals would require couples who include a non-EEA national to attend an interview with the UKBA before being allowed to marry within the UK.

The Law Society stated that the existing family immigration application system is thorough, and that the legal framework is already in place to tackle abuse of the family route to settlement in the UK. The UK Border Agency's primary focus should be on enforcing existing rules more effectively and efficiently, rather than introducing blanket requirements on couples because it lacks the resources to do so.

A sham marriage or civil partnership is entered into to enable one party to enter or remain in the UK, where there is no subsisting relationship and no intention to live together permanently or at all. Under UK law no immigration status can be obtained from a 'sham' or 'marriage of convenience'. If someone enters into a sham marriage, the UKBA has a clear legal right to refuse an immigration application.

The Law Society's President, John Wotton, said:

“The Secretary of State has called for a ‘crack down' on abuse of the family route and to tighten up the system, yet the consultation lacks credible evidence of significant abuse.

“The proposed ‘tick box’ approach to applications is not appropriate for family migration. Over-reliance on whether boxes are ticked is likely to discourage officials from considering all the facts of the case – and might actually make it easier for the dishonest to abuse the system.

“As the Secretary of State observes, ‘families are the bedrock of society’. An individual’s right to marry and to a private life are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and government proposals must be compatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.

“The government is entitled to adopt a policy of keeping net migration levels down, but the UK's international obligations – and  to its own citizens – must be respected.'



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