Jews back Muslim marriage visa challenge

A Muslim couple's legal challenge to the rules on marriage visas is being supported by the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

The Court of Appeal will hear a claim next week that it is unfair to stop foreign spouses from outside the European Union coming to Britain if they are under 21.

In November 2008, the last government raised the minimum age for marriage visas from 18 to 21, as a way to deter forced marriages.

But strictly Orthodox representatives are among those who have been lobbying for more flexibility in the regulations, arguing that their community has been unfairly hit. Charedi children in the UK tend to marry young and will often find partners from Israel and the United States.

Next week's case is being brought on behalf of a couple known as Mohammed and Bibi. Mohammed is a 20-year-old student from Aylesbury: in October 2008 he married Bibi in Pakistan but was unable to bring his new bride back to the UK. He returned home in January 2009 to continue his studies, but "he has been unable to go back to Pakistan because he can't afford it," said his counsel Al Mustakim.

Mr Mustakim says the new rules "are a blanket ban which we say is unjust because it can't look at the merits of each case".

Among the evidence he will present to the judges is a submission from Chanoch Kesselman, executive co-ordinator of the UOHC.

Mr Kesselman writes that the current legislation is "discriminatory, and a blunt instrument which penalises those people who wish to marry the partner of their choice".

While Jews oppose forced marriage and support proposals to tackle it,
Mr Kesselman contends that the visa rules are ineffective because they "will not prevent forced marriages of British citizens".

Mr Kesselman says that forced marriages "never occur in the Jewish community in any event", citing the influential medieval authority Rashi.

"Jews are encouraged to marry from the age of 18 years," Mr Kesselman says, "and the test of time has shown that
marriages within the Jewish community are successful. This is borne out by
its relatively low divorce rate."

But some spouses are now forced to live abroad until they are 21, creating "unfair and unnecessary hardship," according to the UOHC submission.

Next week's case will be heard alongside that of a British woman forced to live abroad because her Chilean husband - whom she met while he was studying in the UK - was unable to get a visa.

    Last updated: 4:17pm, October 14 2010