UK Politics

Young foreign spouses ban revoked after court case

Amber Aguilar and her husband, Diego
Image caption Amber Aguilar and her husband said their human rights had been violated

The government is to change immigration rules after the Supreme Court declared its ban on non-EU foreign spouses aged under 21 coming to the UK was unlawful.

The ban, introduced by Labour in 2008, was designed to stop forced marriages, but judges said it interfered with the human rights of couples.

In future, any foreign national over the age of 18 will be able to join their partner in the UK.

The rule change will take effect from 28 November.

The Supreme Court case was brought by two couples, including Briton Amber Aguilar and her husband, Diego, from Chile, who were under 21 when the rule was introduced.

Diego was banned from staying with his wife in the UK once his student visa had expired.

'Interfered'

When they took the legal action, judges at the High Court initially backed the home secretary's power to deny entry or settlement visas to spouses under the age of 21.

But last month, declaring the rule incompatible with the couples' rights, Lord Wilson said in the Supreme Court's judgement the government had not shown a good case for interfering with the right to private and family life.

In a written ministerial statement on Monday, Immigration Minister Damian Green said that while the Supreme Court had "recognised that the secretary of state was pursuing a legitimate and rational aim of seeking to address forced marriage", it judged that the rule "disproportionately interfered" with the rights in genuine marriages.

"Accordingly, the secretary of state has decided to revert to a minimum age of 18," he said.

But the minister said there was "no place in British society for the practice of forced marriage" and the government was looking at what more could be done to identify and assist those at risk.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: "We welcome this move from the government to treat all spouses and civil partners equally.

"We are happy to see that the common sense prevails, and the end of discrimination against non-EU spouses and civil partners."

When the age 21 restriction was introduced, the Home Office said it would "allow the young people involved to have completed their education as well as allowing them to gain in maturity and possess adequate life skills".

The move was supported by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition - the latter describing it as "a welcome defence against abuses".

The JCWI, which represented Mr and Mrs Aguilar at the Supreme Court, estimated that the change in age limit could allow up to 5,000 foreign spouses to settle in the UK every year.

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