Page last updated at 22:24 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 23:24 UK

Marriage law row wife leaves UK

Justin Rowlatt reports on Rochelle and Adam Wallis case and talks to them as they bid each other goodbye at Heathrow Airport

By Meirion Jones
BBC Newsnight

A married Canadian woman has flown out of Heathrow under imminent threat of deportation from the UK.

Rochelle Wallis was one of the first people to fall foul of the unintended consequences of rules brought in last year to stop forced marriages.

The 19-year-old married her husband Adam, from Ceredigion, in November 2008, two years after they first met.

But her visa had expired and she was told she must return to Canada and could not come back until she turns 21.

Rochelle Wallis: 'It is ripping apart my marriage'

Mrs Wallis has become the first unintended victim of changes to UK immigration laws which were designed to protect young British Asian women from being subjected to forced marriages.

No-one disputes the couple's marriage is anything other than genuine. But four days after they were married, new immigration rules were brought in.

Mrs Wallis can not stay in Britain because her visitor's visa has expired. The new rules mean that she can not get a visa to live in the UK as the wife of a British person for almost two years - until she is 21.

These rules apply to everyone under 21 from outside Europe who marries a British person.

'Heartbroken'

MPs including home affairs committee chair Keith Vaz had appealed to the home secretary to let her stay.

But Alan Johnson personally wrote to the couple to order her to leave Britain or be forcibly deported.

He had the discretion to let Mrs Wallis remain with her husband at their home near Aberystwyth but refused to do so because many other innocent victims may also be caught out by the same rule.

I think it is a horrific case - government policy that starts out with good intentions, but a blanket approach that nets in the most innocent of people
Mark Williams MP

Mrs Wallis said she was heartbroken: "It's not right, there should not be an age limit on when I should or shouldn't get married and fall in love because… it just doesn't feel right."

The Home Office said the benefits of the new rules in helping prevent forced marriages outweighed the drawbacks.

But Adam and Rochelle's MP, Mark Williams, says the couple's plight is an example of what happens when a blanket government policy is applied to a specific issue.

Permission to marry

Adam and Rochelle first met in Canada two years ago and then kept in touch on the internet until she came to visit Adam in his home near Aberystwyth in March last year.

Rochelle had a six-month visa and only intended to stay a month, but the couple fell in love and decided to get married and stay in Wales.

They applied for permission to marry from the Home Office more than a month before her visa ran out.

However, the authorities lost their passport photographs causing delays and when permission did come through it was days to go before her visa expired and their wedding was not arranged in time.

Letters from the home secretary and the UK Border Agency state that because of the new age rules, Mrs Wallis will not be able to apply for a spousal visa immediately.

But in a statement, Lin Homer, the chief executive of the UK Border Agency said: "Mrs Wallis was not asked to leave the UK because of her age - she was refused permission to stay because she was here illegally, having overstayed her visa.

"Our rules are absolutely clear - if you do not have a valid visa you must leave the UK. Mrs Wallis has voluntarily agreed to go home, avoiding the need for us to enforce her return.

"The minimum age someone can apply for a marriage visa has been raised from 18 to 21, but this has nothing to do with Mrs Wallis' case.

"We raised the spousal visa age to protect young people being pressured into marriage."



SEE ALSO
Couple parting due to visa rules
09 Sep 09 |  Mid Wales


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