Proposed tougher visa rules would weed out sham marriages, require those joining relatives to be able to speak English and require immigrants to be financially independent.
UK plans tougher rules to cut immigrants from Indian sub-continent
LONDON // Major proposals to change UK immigration policies yesterday, designed to substantially reduce the number of legal immigrants, were unveiled by the British prime minister, David Cameron.
The changes, which need to be approved by parliament, will have the greatest effect on new arrivals from the Indian subcontinent.
Last year, 237,890 people were granted settlement in the UK, a rise of 22 per cent on the previous year. Britain wants to cut net immigration to below 100,000 by 2015.
With a third of all migrant settlers in Britain coming from the subcontinent, Mr Cameron outlined plans for tougher visa rules that would:
- weed out sham marriages
- require those joining relatives in the UK to be able to speak English
- require immigrants to be financially independent, perhaps by mandating a cash bond.
He also established a commission to look into criminalising forced marriages, in a move aimed primarily at Asian Muslim communities in Britain.
Before his speech, Mr Cameron visited Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and spoke to immigration staff about the possibility of concentrating more on certain "high risk" groups of travellers, such as Pakistani students.
Anand Sharma, the Indian commerce and industry minister, raised concerns last month with the UK's Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, about the comparatively high refusal rate for Indians applying for UK visas and the existing cap of 20,000 on the number of skilled, non-EU migrants allowed in annually.
The prime minister, in his speech in London yesterday, made it clear that things would get tougher, not easier. He said the government would be taking steps to stop sham marriages and ensure "that family migrants who come here are in a genuine relationship with their partner".
He said "time and again, visa officers receive applications from spouses or partners sponsoring another spouse or partner soon after being granted settlement in the UK, suggesting that the original marriage or partnership was a sham simply designed to get them permanent residence here.
"We simply cannot sit back and allow the system to be abused in this way."
Mr Cameron said he planned to extend the time it takes for migrants to qualify for a spousal visa and to look at the minimum earnings a person in Britain should have before being allowed to bring in relatives.
He said a sample of more than 500 family-migration cases determined that more than 70 per cent of UK-based sponsors had annual earnings of less than £20,000 (Dh100,000) after taxes.
People earning so little risk becoming "a significant burden on the welfare system and the taxpayer".
To combat that, Mr Cameron said he has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to assess whether the UK should increase the minimum amount of money a visa applicant should have.
"And we're going to look at further measures to ensure financial independence: discounting promises of support from family and friends, and whether a financial bond would be appropriate in some cases."
Mr Cameron went on to describe forced marriages as "the most grotesque example of a relationship that isn't genuine".
He announced that the Home Office would be carrying out a consultation process to see how such marriages could be criminalised. At present, they are subject only to civil law.
When a similar proposal was made by a committee of MPs earlier this year, it was rejected by the Home Office because it was considered to be difficult to prove and might stop victims from coming forward.
But Mr Cameron said:
"I know that there is a worry that criminalisation could make it less likely that those at risk will come forward. So, as a first step, I am announcing today that we will criminalise" attempts by people to ignore legal orders against an attempt to force someone into a marriage.
Reacting to the prime minister's speech, Keith Vaz, a Labour MP and chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, warned that it could "antagonise settled communities in Britain and enrage our allies such as India".
Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants, criticised the proposals.
"Again, a sliver of anecdotal evidence of what is seen as bad practice is justifying a rule change, this time extending the probationary period before settlement for migrant spouses," said Mr Rahman. "There is no evidence to suggest that migrant marriages are more prone to break-up than any other marriages."