Home Office publishes new research on “Marriage-related migration to the UK”

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On 24 Sept 2011, the Home Office have published a new piece of research on “Marriage-related migration to the UK”.

The paper provides an overview of the history of this ‘category’ of immigration and immigration policy changes to the UK: What is noteworthy is that spouses now make up 40% of the total immigration figures, compared to 59% in 1995; however, spouses form the largest single category of migrant settlement in the UK. Policy-making on marriage-related migration to the UK has largely focused on South Asian populations, which constitute one of the largest groups of such migrants.

Here are some noteworthy points from the conclusions:

The fact that spousal settlement, although still increasing, has not kept pace with increases in other forms of migrant settlement suggests that successive new restrictions on marriage-related migration may have had some impact – although such effects are hard to disentangle from the effects of EU expansion.

It is also clear, however, that changes in immigration regulations (whether or not directed at family migration) can have unforeseen consequences for marriage-related migration, and sometimes negative impacts on migrants and their families.

Qualitative research on the effects of 1962 Commonwealth immigration restrictions documents their part in transforming previously predominantly male, temporary/circular migration from Pakistan into family reunification and settlement, by reducing alternative entry routes, and opportunities for circular migration (e.g. Shaw 2000: 30-7).

The recent raising of the minimum age for both migrant and sponsoring spouses to 21 was portrayed as combating coerced marriages of the young, but other research raises the fear that young people may still be forced into marriage, but kept abroad until they reach the age at which they can sponsor their spouse (Hester et al., 2008), whilst young couples whose marriages were demonstrably not contracted under duress complained at enforced separation.

If the UK follows its European neighbours in tightening controls on marriage-related migration, the lack of a more complete and balanced evidence base on this diverse form of immigration may increase the risk of further unforeseen consequences resulting from new legislation. Substantial new empirical research in this numerically important and dynamic field is thus urgently needed.

This commissioned research paper shows that the government ought to take a good second look before rushing to introduce new rules on family migration (as set out in the currently ongoing Family Migration Consultation).

Download the full research paper here.