Community cohesion and migration


The impact of marriages arranged overseas


MigrationwatchUK evidence for the Community and Local Government Committee



1. The Committee have requested evidence on "the effect of recent inward migration on community cohesion and public concerns about this effect." This evidence focuses on the effect of arranged marriages, but only where one partner is from overseas. This is a matter of great sensitivity among Britain's immigrant communities and must be handled with considerable care. However, the host community also has an important interest since these marriages are a significant cause of difficulty in achieving integration in Britain.


2. Even in the second generation, 40 - 60% of immigrants from certain countries enter arranged marriages with spouses from their county of origin. This can be unhelpful for the effective integration of the next generation. It is also likely to perpetuate the relative economic disadvantage of some ethnic communities. Only 20% of Bangladeshis and 30% of Pakistanis of working age are in full time work. This in turn hinders community cohesion. Grants of entry clearance to spouses and fiancé(e)s from the Indian Sub Continent (ISC) increased by 77% between 1996 and 2006. They are currently running at 17,000 a year. Nearly half of ethnic Indian and three quarters of ethnic Pakistani and Bangladeshi children aged 0-4 have a mother born in her country of origin. In total 37,000 children were born in England and Wales in 2006 to mothers who were born in one of these three countries.[1]


3. The high concentration of these communities in some British cities and their rapid growth adds to the difficulties of integration. 32% of all children born in Bradford are born to foreign mothers; in Tower Hamlets the figure is 69%. And the Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations of England increased by 56% and 76% respectively between 1991 and 2001[2]. In Oldham the population of Pakistani origin is expected to increase by 50% and the Bangladeshi by 70% in the next fifteen years while the indigenous community will decline slightly.


4. It is therefore essential that immigration policy should discourage international arranged marriage which has become a vehicle for continuing flows of immigration into these highly concentrated areas, posing considerable difficulties for successful integration. This would have the important additional benefit of reducing the scope for pressure on young British Asians to marry someone from their country of origin with whom they might have little in common. Such marriages can be forced as cases in recent years have demonstrated.



5. The whole question of arranged marriages - especially those arranged overseas - is one of great sensitivity among Britain's immigrant communities. Customs vary widely between countries of origin and between religions. There is also a strong divide between generations, with many younger people feeling that it is time to move on from the traditions of another continent and another era. Yet, for those caught up in the system, family pressure can be so intense as to make it hard to be sure whether strong persuasion amounts to a forced marriage.


6. Delicate though the issues are, this is not a matter exclusively for the immigrant communities. The host community also has an important interest since marriages which are arranged overseas put a sharp break on integration as well as reducing the chances of economic success for second generation immigrants. They also amount to a form of immigration which places pressure on some of our city centres by sharply increasing the number of households and therefore the competition for housing. The present scale of arranged marriages also affects the ethnic balance in a way that can be perceived as threatening by the host community in certain areas.


7. The government have undertaken to consult on possible changes to the immigration rules concerning marriage. Any such changes must, of course, apply to all foreign marriages but not to citizens of the EU who have freedom of movement to and from the UK; British citizens have similar rights in other EU member states. This is not, as sometime alleged, a matter of "racism". It is an automatic consequence of our EU membership.


8. This paper focuses on arranged marriages when used as a means of immigration. This primarily, but not exclusively, applies to the Indian sub continent. When immigration from these countries[3] was restricted in the early 1970s it was assumed that family re-union would tail off as the communities integrated.


9. That has not happened. In practice, the custom of arranged marriage has led to a continuous flow of spouses and fiancé(e)s from the Indian sub continent. The number of spouses and fiancé(e)s granted entry clearance increased by 78% (from 10,000 to 17,000 a year) between 1996 and 2006.[4] It should be noted that the normal custom in these societies is for the woman to join the husband's family but, where the wife has residence in Britain, that custom is nearly always reversed.


10. Pakistanis are encouraged by their religion and society to marry their first cousins while Hindus and Sikhs are not allowed to marry a blood relative up to seven generations back. It could be argued that the Asian community in Britain is now large enough to provide a sufficient pool of potential spouses. Certainly, there can be considerable difficulties within marriages between British Asians and poorly educated partners from the sub continent.


The impact of transnational marriages

11. The wider social effects of such marriages are, however, of great importance. As late as 2001, it was estimated that 60% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi marriages in Bradford were with a spouse from the country of origin.[5] This broad estimate is borne out by comparing the average number of people of sub continental origin aged 15,16 or 17 at the 2001 census with the numbers admitted to the UK, or granted an extension to stay in the UK, as a spouse or fiancé(e) in 2003 :





Average number of people in each year of 15-17 age group in 2001 census

Grants of leave to enter/extensions of leave as a spouse or fiancé(e) 2003[6]

Approx. percentage marrying spouse from ISC

Pakistani - men


3773 (women)


Pakistani -women


2982 (men)


Bangladeshi - men


1960 (women)


Bangladeshi - women


1235 (men)


Indian - men


3378 (women)


Indian - women


1317 (men)



12. This has a very large impact on the numbers of children being born to mothers who have immigrated from the Indian Sub-Continent (ISC) for two reasons: first, they will form a high proportion of all women from these ethnic communities (nearly 40% for Bangladeshis for instance) and, second, because mothers from the ISC have a high total fertility rate (2.3 Indian, 4.7 Pakistani and 3.9 Bangladeshi in 2001)[7].


13. We have compared the numbers of children born to mothers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 5 years 1996 to 2000 inclusive with the numbers of children aged 0 to 4 described as being of ethnic Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origins in the 2001 census. This indicates that nearly half ethnic Indian children aged 0 to 4 have an Indian born mother and over three-quarters of ethnic Pakistani and Bangladeshi children aged 0 to 4 have a mother born in those countries.[8]


14. The impact of the high rate of marriages to spouses from the ISC and high birth rates was explained in the following extract from an Annex to Lord Ousely's report on the disturbances in Bradford[9]:


"It has a major impact on population growth. About 1,000 Bradfordian Muslims marry each year. If most of those marriages were internal to this country, it would lead to 500 new households which would be likely to average 4 children per household. (This is based on experience from other immigrant groups where family size usually halves that of the first generation by the second generation.) With 60% of marriages involving a spouse from overseas, the number of households goes up to 800 and, with many of the spouses being first generation, family size is likely to be significantly larger. So whereas 500 internal marriages might be expected to produce 2,000 offspring, the 800 marriages are likely to produce 4,000 offspring. This leads to very rapid population growth. In the eighties the Council estimated that the Muslim population would reach 130,000 by 2030 and then level. Now the projection is for 130,000 by 2020 and rising. The number of separate households is predicted to rise from 16,000 now to 40,000 in 2020. This rate of growth concentrated in particular areas puts severe demands on the public services. It has other ramifications. Many of the children arrive at school with little or no English. Many of those who come from overseas have little education and do not possess skills which are transferable to a Western economy. The high family size means overcrowding will be a persistent problem."


15. This Annex was not published at the time because it was regarded as too "sensitive". The decision not to publish reflects the instinct to avoid discussing the reality of the situation which was prevalent at that time and which still continues. By contrast, Mrs Ann Cryer MP recently told Parliament that, in her constituency of Keighley, some 80% of all marriages in the Muslim community there take place transcontinentally. She added that "the Pakistani community in Bradford hails mainly from Mirpur where there is a strong tradition of first cousin marriages. That makes it even more difficult for young men and women to duck out of arranged marriages which therefore become forced marriages".[10]


16. The impact can also be seen when we look at births to foreign-born mothers in areas which have a high percentage of their population of Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent. In Bradford, for instance, which has an ethnic minority population of 22% (of whom two-thirds are of Pakistani descent), the percentage of children born to foreign-born mothers was 32%in 2006. In Tower Hamlets which has an ethnic minority population of 49% (of whom just over two-thirds are of Bangladeshi origins), the percentage of children born to foreign born mothers is 69%[11].


17. The high prevalence of arranged marriages with partners from the Indian Sub Continent therefore has a major impact on the ability of these communities, particularly the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, to integrate into British society. The communities are being constantly increased by new immigrants, many of whom do not speak English, who will have little contact with other ethnic groups and whose children may well arrive at school without much English. . For instance in Tower Hamlets the percentage of primary and secondary school pupils whose first language is other than English are 76% and 69% respectively.[12] The rapid growth in households puts severe pressure on the housing supply in such areas. There is also, of course, a substantial effect on the size of the ethnic population. Between 1991 and 2001 the Pakistani population of Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford increased by between 46 and 53%.


18. Employment prospects for immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan are very poor. As many as 39.8% and 35.6% of new immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively hold no qualifications at all (compared with about 15% of the overall UK-born population). These immigrants are joining communities which have generally higher unemployment and lower wages than the British born population. Only 20% of those of Bangladeshi origin and 30% of Pakistani origin who are of working age are in full time employment.[13] New immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan have employment rates of 42.8% and 44% respectively (compared with 73% for the British born population). The percentage of new Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants earning less than 50% of median earnings stands at 63.3% and 35.4% respectively compared to 21% for the British-born population..[14] The communities which they are joining suffer high unemployment, especially among women. In winter 2004/5 the overall employment rate of women of working age of Pakistani origin was just 26%.[15] There are, of course, advantages in mothers who devote all their time to their families but these generally low employment rates impose a cost on society as a whole. A family with four or five children on job seeker's allowance costs the tax payer between £400 and £585 a week (or £20 - £30,000 a year) in various benefits, depending on their accommodation.

19. Previous Migrationwatch papers have demonstrated that the high growth of the ethnic minority population in some parts of the conurbations of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire is associated with a reduction in the white population in these areas.[16] Furthermore concern has been expressed in some academic circles about the growth  of ethnic enclaves in our major cities


20. The Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality has spoken in stark terms about the risk of "sleepwalking" into racial segregation with Muslim and black ghettos dividing cities. He pointed out that the number of people of Pakistani heritage living in ghettos, which he defined as areas with more than two thirds of any one ethnicity, trebled between 1991 and 2001. However, he made no substantive reference to immigration, still less to internationally arranged marriages which are a very important aspect of the problem.


21. The final report of the CRE continued this theme.[17] It reported that "Segregation - residentially, socially and in the work place - is growing.......On top of this, our society is fracturing. Bonds of solidarity across different groups have reduced and tensions between people have increased." In January 2008, Trevor Phillips spoke of "white flight" accelerating.


22. Marriages arranged overseas exacerbate these difficulties. Spouses, sometimes poorly educated, join a community which is already tightly clustered in particular areas, with high unemployment, low labour market participation and low wages. This leads to little contact with the wider British community and to children who spend their early years speaking little English and becoming ill-equipped for British life. It is therefore likely to prolong and deepen the relative disadvantage of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in particular. This, in turn, could result in the development of a fertile breeding ground for extremism.


Public opinion

23. Public opinion is clearly very concerned about immigration and race relations. A Home Office commissioned survey undertaken in July 2007 found that, when asked "What would you say was the single most important issue facing Britain today?, immigration/ immigrants came top with 42%. By comparison, crime was at 39%, NHS 29%, education 20%, defence/terrorism 17%. Other polls indicate that two thirds of the population are concerned that Britain is losing its own culture. The Sunday Times / Yougov poll published on 30 December 2007 asked "On a personal level which things worry you most on a day to day basis ?" The response was: Antisocial behaviour 59%, Immigration 57%, Terrorism 37%, Personal debt 35%. See also Annex A. 17 January 2008


[1] ONS Birth Statistics Series FM1 no.35 - table 9.1

[2] Rees and Butt - ethnic change and diversity in England 1981-2001

[3] In the context of this paper, the Indian sub-continent has been taken to be India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

[4] Control of Immigration statistics UK 2006 table 2.4 .

[5] Estimate in Lord Ouseley's report on the disturbances in Bradford, "Race Relations in Bradford" by GV Mahony (The Council's Principal Race Relations Officer 1984-1990)

[6] Home Office Control of Immigration Statistics 2003 CM 6363. Extensions assumed to be in the same proportion of men and women as admissions.

[7] ONS Birth Statistics: Series FM no. 32 -table 9.5

[8] Source as 3. Table 9.1 and 2001 census for England and Wales table S101. This comparison gives percentages of 48%, 77% and 99% respectively for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively. Reasons for these high percentages could include under - enumeration at the census and the likelihood that some mothers were born in the subcontinent and came to Britain as children. This needs further investigation.

[9] Extract from Appendix 7 to Lord Ouseley's report on the disturbances in Bradford, "Race Relations in Bradford" by GV Mahony (The Council's Principal Race Relations Officer 1984 - 90).


[10] Hansard 2 November 2006 Column 165 WH

[11] ONS Birth Statistics: Series FM no. 35 -table 9.2

[12] Department for Children, Schools and Families: Pupils In England 2007 Tables 34 and 35 Maintained Primary and Secondary Schools Number of Pupils by First Language

[13] Ethnic minorities in the labour market. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. April 2007

[14] IPPR: Beyond Black and White.

[15]ONS - Labour Force Survey Quarterly Supplement Winter 2004/5

[16] Briefing paper no 9.13

[17] CRE final report "A lot done, a lot to do; our vision for an integrated Britain."