Select Committee on Home Affairs Additional Written Evidence

10.  Memorandum submitted by Mrs Ann Cryer MP


  A submission from the office of a Member of Parliament may not be the norm but, in many ways, it is the offices of those MPs with large migrant communities that are uniquely placed to see the strengths and problems associated with the current entry clearance system. Whilst the IAS, CAB, immigration advisers and solicitors may assist individuals in preparing, submitting and supporting visa applications—and may well (often just in passing) come across the social, economic and practical problems that are associated—it is to the office of the MP that most people attend when there is a real problem both in the short and the long term.

The aim of this submission is not to question the need or positive aspects of migration—both are accepted—but, rather, to highlight the fact that if we are to continue to operate a visa and entry clearance as we currently do then there is a price to pay both in terms of financial cost and repercussions to society.

The experience of any MPs office is limited to that of its constituency. Keighley, according to the (inaccurate) census has a Pakistani and Bangladeshi population of about 8%. Some suggest that a more accurate figure is double that. In terms of constituency work, approximately 45% involves the Asian community and 90% of that work involves immigration.

The case studies and examples included in this submission refer to cases arising from constituency work and inevitably, therefore, refer to either the Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities in Keighley. The problems and issues highlighted in this report do not necessarily refer solely to those communities.

That said, it is important to stress that the experience of many northern towns and cities relates to a significant proportion of migration from one particular area—Mir Pur in Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, Sylhet in Bangladesh. Both are extremely poor areas.


1.  Letters of support—although, technically speaking, they contribute little to the majority of visa applications (as any applicant/sponsor needs to demonstrate that there would be no recourse to public funds through presentation of wage slips, bank statements etc), the support of the local MP is often seen as adding weight/gravitas to an application. In those cases that fall outside of the normal parameters of an application (especially in compassionate cases), the role of the MP might carry more weight—setting out the facts of a particular case and drawing together expert evidence (especially from doctors etc) in support of the application.

2.  British citizens who do not want to travel abroad—normally young British women who have been told to travel to Pakistan or Bangladesh to marry. The girls are usually aged between 16 and 21, although we have been involved in cases with girls as young as 14 and 15. The initial approach is based on a "fact finding" mission to assess their rights (do they really have to go? What should they do if their parents have taken their passports? Can we prevent them from travelling without their parents knowing that they have sought advice from anyone? What will happen when they are married?)

3.  British citizens who fear they will be forced to travel aboard— normally young British women (although there has been an increase in the number of men/boys) who believe that their parents are planning to arrange a marriage for them on the Sub-Continent (usually to a first cousin). Families may arrange such marriages overtly (against the will of their child) or covertly (ie on the back of a family event—eg a funeral, party, another wedding etc). There are many stories of young British girls travelling to Pakistan or Bangladesh believing that they are visiting a relative or going on holiday only to find their wedding has been arranged on arrival (see section 5 paragraph i below).

4.  British citizens who have been married outside the UK and want to prevent their spouse from arriving— again, the majority of cases refer to young British women (although we have seen a small number of cases affecting British men). Following marriage in Pakistan or Bangladesh, after meeting the demands of the family, and their return to the UK (in some cases only when she is pregnant), some women seek to impede their husband's application to enter the UK as a spouse. The MP is asked to liaise with the British High Commission to stop the husband's visa application by letting the Consular staff that she is a "reluctant sponsor" but without letting her husband, or their family, know of her reluctance (see section 2 below).

5.  British citizens who wish to deport their spouse from the UK prior to the application for Indefinite Leave to Remain—sometimes, realising that a marriage is incompatible or, in some cases abusive, a woman seeks the help of her MP to deport her husband during the two year "probationary" period (see section 2 below).

6.  British citizens seeking to deport their spouse after the granting of Indefinite Leave to Remain— we have seen a number of cases where spouses have left the matrimonial home immediately after receiving ILR. Realising that the marriage was used as a vehicle to overcome immigration rules, MPs are asked to notify the Home Office in the hope of expediting deportation (see section 2 below).

7.  British citizens who are seeking to prevent second wives from entering the country— as polygamy is an accepted custom in other nations, visit visa applications for second wives are not uncommon. The wife in the UK seeks to block the entry of the second wife into the country.

8.  British citizens who are seeking to use entry clearance to "control" their spouse—quite often a husband or wife seeks to extend the probationary two year entry clearance period as a way of forcing their spouse to acquiesce in their relationship—ie: if the migrant spouse does not behave in a way that meets the demands of the sponsoring spouse then they refuse to sign the application for ILR.

9.  Non British citizens who have been abandoned by their British spouse in the UK—we have seen a number of cases where Pakistani women have arrived in the UK and are pregnant or have children but, after their British husband has left them, are not entitled to any benefits (either because they are within the two year probationary period or have never applied for indefinite leave to remain and are, therefore, illegal immigrants) and are unable to return to Pakistan because of the loss of honour and the family's perception that a failed marriage would bring shame on them.

10.  Non British women seeking exceptional leave to remain under the domestic violence concession— I have dealt with an increasing number of such cases. The worst involved two sisters—aged 15 and 16—who married two brothers (first cousins) who locked their wives in a cellar, only releasing them to carry out domestic chores.


1.  Fraud

(a)  Consular staff in Islamabad have been reported as saying that a significant proportion of applications for leave to enter the UK are made fraudulently—usually with manufactured supporting documentation provided by both the applicant and the sponsor in the UK. Fake wage slips, letters of support, employment details etc. The sheer volume of applications inevitably means that the limited resources of an Embassy or High Commission is unable to test the validity or otherwise of supporting documentation. In Keighley we have frequently seen wage slips—evidencing the income of a sponsor—from a company that does not exist.

(b)  It is not unusual to see sponsors evidencing employment over a three or four month period—prior to which they were recipients of benefits—only to leave work (and return to benefits) upon completion of a successful visa application.

(c)  Ownership of houses can transfer from one family member to another in the UK to support an individual application for leave to enter. For example, ownership of the family home may transfer from parent to a child (as sponsor to a husband or wife) for the course of the visa application. Whilst the sponsor may receive benefits, they base the application on the ownership of a fixed asset and sufficient equity in the home to satisfy immigration needs.

(d)  Forging the signature of a reluctant sponsor on applications for leave to enter or ILR by family members or the applicant is not uncommon.

(e)  As part of any application to enter, the ECO needs to be sure that there is adequate accommodation available for the visitor or spouse. A survey of the accommodation is therefore required. However, no guidance is given as to who is qualified to issue such a report. In Keighley, one man issues such reports—as a second job—whilst his first job is as a shelf stacker in Sainsburys. I have asked the Home Office for clarification on this but have not received any satisfactory reply.

(f)  Although visas are granted on the basis of "without recourse to public funds", no checks or balances are in place to ensure that visitors, or those on probationary two year visas, do not have access to the NHS. There is no pre-requisite for medical insurance prior to travelling to the UK.

(g)  As far as I am aware, the Home Office is not given any data as far as the number or identity of people who are given visitor's visas. Nor is any check made as to whether or not visitors leave the UK timely within the constraints of their visas. Unlike many other countries the UK does not operate a system of surrendering exit cards at the point of leaving the country after a visit. Over-stayers are only identified when they seek to alter their immigration status in the UK (from visitor to spouse, for example. Whilst, in theory, the applicant should seek to return to their country of origin and make a fresh application in reality, if the applicant—for example—is pregnant or has a child or if they have been in the country illegally for a number of years, their visa application will be considered whilst they are in the UK. The simple act of submitting an application to the Home Office (for ELR, ILR or FLR) for consideration—however late—legitimises the applicant's stay in the UK.

2.  Lack of enforcement

(a)  In those cases where a reluctant sponsor has informed the Home Office of their unwillingness to act as sponsor, they become a third party to the application and are not told of developments. In many cases—particularly for women—it takes a great deal of courage to defy the will of their family and opens the possibility of being criticised for damaging "izzat" (or "honour"). Given the level of commitment and bravery that is required to get over this considerable hurdle, it is often soul destroying to be told that you can receive no further information regarding your husband's application. To be left in the dark can, quite often, be as painful as being in a relationship that is not working—especially if the sponsor's declaration of reluctance leads to isolation or physical danger.

(b)  I have reported cases to the Home Office where the sponsor (normally a wife) will categorically state that her signature has been forged by her husband on the application forms. As soon as the woman makes the statement she is considered as a third party and is not, therefore, told as to what action is taken. However, I have never heard of a case whereby someone has been prosecuted or deported for having fraudulently submitted an application. Rather, I know of cases where husbands have been granted ILR despite the protestations of their sponsor.

(c)  Similarly, when a marriage breaks down irreparably during the two year probationary period, I receive a number of requests to assist in arranging for the deportation of the migrant spouse. However, given that a two year visa has been granted (I have never seen a case where it has been revoked on the grounds that the primary motive for coming to the UK no longer exists), no action is taken (on the basis that the applicant would be unable to claim ILR after the two year period). Yet more frustrating is the fact that the third party rule would apply again and the reluctant sponsor will not be informed as to the immigration status of her estranged husband. Indeed, I have one particular case where the estranged husband—despite not having ILR, forcing his wife out of her home because of threats to her life and criminal prosecutions—remains in the  UK with an appeal under the Human Rights Act pending with no information being given to his wife (a British citizen).

(d)  This lack of enforcement takes away any incentive to report cases to the Home Office. Why should a woman run the risk of physical harm, being ostracised or isolated as a result of providing information that is never acted upon?

4.  ECONOMIC MIGRATION(a)  Often reluctant sponsors simply go through the motions of marriage and visa application solely to satisfy the demands of the family. The prime motive for marriage, in such cases, is not marriage per se but, rather, to satisfy an agreement within a family (or biraderi)—the children of one family member being betrothed to the children of a brother or sister often from an early age. Some of those British women who reluctantly agreed to sponsor their husbands and then seek deportation confess that they only agreed to sponsor the application after being told by their parents that they could divorce their husband as soon as ILR is granted.

(b)  Once ILR is granted there is nothing to prevent the recipient from divorcing and then re-starting the immigration process by seeking to re-marry another (usually a relative) from the sub-continent.

(c)  For many migrants to the northern towns and cities, wealth and status in society is defined more by assets in Mir Pur rather than those in the UK. One of the primary purposes for migration is to increase wealth in the UK for it to return to the sub-continent. Entry clearance for spouses allows current immigration law to be used as a vehicle to meet this need.

(d)  I am sure that I am not the only MP who has been asked to take up the case of a constituent who suffers from either a severe mental or physical impairment (and in receipt of state benefits) to support a settlement visa application on compassionate grounds. Of course, impairment is not and must never be an impediment to marriage but—in those cases where the sponsor is clearly unable to decide for themselves any attempt to arrange a marriage raises a number of ethical issues. Families often allude to the fact that, in such cases, a migrant spouse could care for the sponsor. With a welfare state, this should be unnecessary. One has to question the motives of the family to arrange such a marriage.

5.  SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF MIGRATION(a)  There can be no doubt that British society and culture is enriched by migration.

(b)  There is a huge economic gain from the contribution and enterprise of the migrant population and it is clear that our economy would not be able to function without the contribution of migrant workers. However, there has to be a question mark regarding immigration on the back of a marriage of convenience.

(c)  But there is also a cost. One of the most striking—particularly in northern towns and cities—is "ghettoisation" or segregation of communities. Many spouses who arrive in a town like Keighley from rural Pakistan or Bangladesh have little idea of where they are. Their arrival in the UK is assisted by the fact that they move quickly into a community with a shared language and culture and, in many ways, does not differ from their life at home. There are strong ties between Mir Pur and many northern towns. Whilst this is comforting to the migrant, it has repercussions in society. The "comfort zone" provided by the migrant community gives little incentive for integration and the creation of all-Asian wards in many areas is becoming common place.

(d)  Integration is, of course, a two way thing and the host community has an equal part to play. Man is naturally gregarious and will usually gravitate to its own "comfort zone" and responsibility, therefore, for segregation rests with the host community as much as the migrant community. Attempts to breakdown barriers also needs to be equitable. If the basis of migration is for economic benefit outside the UK it acts as a major impediment for integration.

(e)  Satellite TV means that there is less need to learn English. Just as the British ex-pat community in Spain has little need to learn or speak Spanish, migrants arriving in the UK do not need to learn English to get by on a daily basis. This is having an impact in the home. Bi- or multi-lingual children are a real asset that could have an incredibly positive impact in the development of a child and their future employment prospects in later life. However, a reliance on a language at the expense of English when in the UK can be very damaging. In Keighley, one primary school has a yearly intake where as much as 95% of the new children cannot speak English (two other primary schools are approaching this level). It is hardly surprising that the school is in special measures—the dedicated staff constantly attempting to "catch up" following a poor linguistic start. This slow start, for some children, contributes to lower than average GCSE results and, in turn, opportunities in the labour market. These are British children who are under-achieving and are not being given the same start in life as others.

(f)  Twenty or 30 years ago it was a commonly held view that difficulties arising from migration would be ironed out once we reached the second or third generation. Whilst in theory this makes logical sense, in reality we have a very different situation. Certainly in northern towns and cities there is a reliance on marriages arranged intercontinentally. Normally between first cousins, marriage takes place between a British born and bred sponsor and a bride or groom from the sub-continent. In the Bradford District the statistics that are available (from the Department of Health—following TB screening) suggest that 1,043 people migrated from the sub-continent a figure that fell to 706 in 2004 and 578 in 2005. However, these figures are not accurate. It would be interesting to check these figures with data held by High Commissions in terms of the postcodes of sponsors in the UK. A recent report suggests that just 3% of women in Mir Pur are literate. Given the numbers and the lack of education in the sub-continent it is not surprising that those problems that were believed would be resolved with the passing of time are still with us today. The emphasis on marriage between a British sponsor and a bride or groom from the sub-continent effectively means that the creation of the second generation is impeded—possibly indefinitely.

(g)  In 2002, 42% of all births in the Bradford District were from Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. The trend towards intercontinental marriage is growing and the demographic patterns suggest that we could see a further sharp and continuous increase.

(h)  Reliance on first cousin marriage (consanguinity) brings with it other issues. Some of these were raised in a recent Newsnight programme. In the Bradford District alone there have been 138 identified autosomnal disorders. Indeed, Bradford Royal Infirmary has become a centre of excellence in paediatric genetic illness not through choice but simply as a result of the number and broad range of cases that are seen. First cousin marriage has a cost to society in exactly the same way as does smoking, drinking or unprotected sex. There are risks associated with all four. Whilst we may have public health campaigns on safe sex, smoke cessation or alcohol—based on the principle that prevention is better than cure—little work has been done on the risk of genetic illness as a result of consanguinity. The cost to society manifests itself in terms of medical care, benefits, social services, educational support etc. These tragic problems are facilitated by intercontinental marriages which, in turn, are facilitated by weak immigration control and spouse entry.

(i)  I am delighted that, since I first raised the issue in the House of Commons in February 1999, there has been considerable progress on the issue of forced marriage. The Forced Marriage Unit—within the Home and Foreign Offices—does sterling work and I have seen for myself the dedication of Consular staff in Islamabad to help young British women who are being forced by their parents to do something they do not want to do. However, despite the greater awareness of the subject (when I first raised the issue many in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities categorically denied that it even existed), they continue. A copy of a typical letter I receive can be found in the appendix below. There are a number of reasons why they still occur:

1.  Demography. Whilst the population as a whole is ageing, with a low birth rate, that of the Asian community is younger and increasing. There is, therefore, an increase in the number of people who are eligible for marriage and the number of forced marriages has increased proportionally.

2.  Increased awareness. The knowledge that an individual woman being forced into marriage is not alone has encouraged many to come forward and seek help where they might have passively accepted the situation in the past.

3.  The greater number of inter-continental marriages—coupled with the influence of economic migration—has in many ways entrenched the traditional views of the rural communities of the sub-continent.

(j)  The Pakistani community, in particular, has proven itself to be very effective in advocating and protecting its rights. Much of this emanates from the communities very strong familial ties, spirit of togetherness often in the face of racism on the part of the indigenous community and honour. An effective community voice has contributed in part to the growth of the Far Right in many northern towns and cities. In Keighley, for example, the boundaries of deprivation of the SRB coincided with those of racially divided neighbourhoods. Deprived white areas of predominantly local authority or Housing Trust accommodation—outside of the SRB—bordered predominantly Asian neighbourhoods of private housing. The investment in those areas included in the SRB caused considerable anger on the opposite side of the road. Some of those people proved susceptible to the exploitative and vile politics of division spread by the likes of the BNP.

6.  POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS(a)  If the entry clearance system that we currently have is to remain then we need to be able to discuss the consequences. There is a price to pay in many ways. It may well be that it is decided that the price to pay is worth it but I would hope that this decision would only be made when we have had the opportunity to discuss the matter openly and frankly. There can be no taboos in the debate and it must be understood that, by raising a critical eye on immigration, is not racist. At the end of the day, if our entry clearance system is affecting detrimentally the lives of vulnerable people or are manipulated by individuals for their own needs with no consideration for human rights then it would be racist not to raise those issues. Open debate is a priority.

(b)  I was particularly concerned to see a recent paper from the Minister of State at the Home Office with responsibility for immigration on the issue of ministers of religion. On the 19 December notice was given to water down rules: ". . . the Government will introduce a new immigration category that allows religious workers in non-pastoral roles to come to the UK . . . they will not have to speak English". Imams are in a very influential position. If they are not conversant with 21st century western society, aware of child protection procedures or able to speak English then we must question their value in society today. There are Muslim scholars—educated in the UK—who would play a far more constructive role in society. I appreciate that a UK educated Muslim scholar is more expensive than one who comes from the sub-continent. However, we cannot allow cost to direct how our communities are being taught. The Church of England has had to adapt to meet the cost of the clergy—for example through the appointment of non-stipendiary ministers who are often retired professional people.

(c)  The Home and Foreign Office has already increased the age limit for both sponsor and applicant for leave to enter as a spouse to 18. Added maturity and education assists in empowering individuals to make decisions for themselves rather than simply satisfying the demands of family or community members. The Danish Government has gone further and has introduced a lower age limit of 24. Whilst I think that this is too much, I would advocate lifting the lower age limit to 21.

(d)  We cannot allow entry clearance to be used as a vehicle for economic migration. The granting of ILR should not permit sponsorship. Only British Citizens—applications for citizenship can be made just one year after the granting of ILR—should be entitled to act as a sponsor. This would have a number of positive effects. First, it would discourage those migrants who plan to divorce their sponsor immediately upon receipt of ILR and then act as a sponsor themselves. Second, any application for citizenship increases the sense of "belonging" to this society.

(e)  Migration to The Netherlands carries with it a responsibility to speak Dutch. All applicants must satisfy a language test to be eligible for leave to remain. This is to the benefit of the country as a whole (in terms of integration and increasing the skills of the migrant workforce) and to the applicant (increases their chances in the labour market, assists in knowing rights etc). Whilst the UK has introduced a language test, there is no practical state encouragement to learn English to combat frequent family discouragement as far as young migrant wives are concerned. No English, no knowledge of their rights.


  We must continue to welcome, cherish and have respect for other traditions and cultures in our communities. However, when cultures and traditions impinge on the human rights of the most vulnerable in our community then it is our responsibility to stop those abuses. This could be achieved through tighter immigration controls.

15 February 2006

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