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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Marriage visa age to rise to 21
Immigration official
The government wants to strengthen the UK's borders
The minimum age for a marriage visa is to be raised from 18 to 21, in a bid to combat forced marriages.

Spouses or fiances who want to come to the UK from outside the EU may also have to pass an English test first.

People who act as guarantors for people on family visit visas could also face fines of 1,000 if they overstay.

The proposals are part of efforts to strengthen UK border controls, which will see more people being screened before they enter the UK.

Home Office Minister Liam Byrne also announced the creation of a new government committee which will look at the social impact of immigration.

Social impact

The decision to set up the Migration Impact Forum (MIF) goes even further than plans announced earlier this year.

The days when border control started at the White Cliffs of Dover are over
Liam Byrne, immigration minister

This reflects concern about the strain placed on public services such as the NHS and schools by immigrants, as well as on housing and transport.

But Mr Byrne said the forum would also look at the impact of migration on community cohesion and would report to the proposed Migration Advisory Committee which will set quotas for migrant workers through the new Australian-style points-based system.

Measuring community cohesion was not "an exact science," added Mr Byrne, but he said "we will be establishing the means to take into account the wider impact of immigration".

The government has already announced plans to strengthen border controls, including ID cards for all immigrants and greater use of technology such as iris scans to check identity.

But it is also planning a shake-up of the visa system, which could have a major impact on UK citizens who want to bring family members into the country.

'Family pressure'

British people being guarantors in a Sponsored Family Visitor visa may have to give undertakings to house the applicant and pay for any non-emergency medical care they require during their stay.

Mr Byrne said: "I think a fine of 1,000 or more will encourage sponsors to take their responsibilities seriously.

"We need to consult with a number of organisations about how best this can be put into effect."

The plan also proposed raising the minimum age for a marriage visa from 18 to 21.

In a report published earlier, the Home Office says "there are sometimes situations in which a young person is forced by family pressure into an unwanted union," with one party needing a visa to enter the UK.


Raising the minimum age to 21, 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," it adds.

The government is also expected to introduce confidential interviews for people entering the country to make sure they have not been forced into marriage.

About 15,000 British people marry foreign nationals from outside the European Union each year. The age at which people in the UK can get married is 16.

As always with this Government it's way too little way too late
Paul, Aberdeen

The government said it expected the number of people entering and leaving the UK to increase by 50% in the next seven years.

It wants to "export" Britain's borders to screen more people wanting to enter the UK before they get there.

"The days when border control started at the White Cliffs of Dover are over," said Mr Byrne.

He also pledged to count in and count out 95% of travellers by 2009.

The home office also proposes charging immigrants more in fees for leave to remain and naturalisation - sparking criticism from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants which accused ministers of being "completely unfair that these vulnerable groups".

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have accused the home secretary of putting rhetoric above action.

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