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Making bona fide international marriages more difficult

Tough rules expose scale of bogus marriages screams the headline in today's Daily Telegraph. It's a story that tells us that the number of marriage applications at some venues has dropped by some 60% since the Asylum and Immigration act came into force in February. The act makes it compulsory for Foreign Nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Fiancee Visa before they enter the country and may get married, or if here to apply to the Home Office for a certificate proving they have a right to be here.

The Daily Telegraph has it wrong. The new rules may have stopped a lot of bogus marriages, but they've also added extra hurdles to getting married in the UK for couples who are totally legitimate, but where one member of the two is a foreign national. They've thrown out the baby with the bathwater ... or rather, they've introduced such a difficult regime for the legitimate that they'll look for other ways.

My wife Lisa was born an American citizen, was raised mostly in the USA and lived there in Florida for many years before we met. We've both been previously married, both have children by those previous marriages, and it was a huge and carefully thought through decision for us to get married, and for Lisa to come and live here in England. Indeed - it was such a monumental decision that Lisa came over to the UK for several extended visits and we only made the final decision ... and got married here ... towards the end of that period. We then took a short holiday in the USA, during which we applied for (and obtained) a Spouse Visa for her at the New York Embassy. All totally "above board" - indeed the way we moved from the six month "trial" through to the permanent marriage and Visa was laid out for me during a most helpful conversation with a British Official.

That was 1998. Would we be able to do the same thing today? No - probably not. Let me try and work it out. After being here for a few months, Lisa would have had to return to the USA and apply for a fiancee Visa to re-enter the UK for us to get married - a whole extra stage of paperwork. And the New York Embassy is now running an "appointments only" system that would have required Lisa to go back for a much longer period. Then after getting married, there would still have been the need and expense of converting her Visa from Fiancee into Spousal. Much more complex system to reach the same (legal) end. Much more expense involved (yes, of course she's worth it!) but it does seem that the system has been made so much more complex and costly for those who are going about getting properly married that they'll be looking for other easier ways.

If Lisa and I were to be getting married this July? No UK wedding, but a holiday to the USA and a much more meaningless ceremony without friends and family in Vegas. Perhaps a delayed return - an enforced stay - in the States while the Visa was sorted out. And perhaps some form of blessing (had we been religious) or party (since we're not) on our return to the UK. That's what the new rules have done. They may have cut down on bogus marriages, but they're also stopping people who have every right to get married here from wanting to do so. The 60% drop that the Daily Telegraph quotes shouldn't be read as a total success - it should be read in part as a measure of the misery that it's inflicting on people like Lisa and me.
(written 2005-05-16, updated 2006-06-05)

 
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