Visa law ‘will hit charedim’

A proposed visa law could place obstacles in the way of arranged marriages in the strictly Orthodox community.

MPs will vote on whether or not to raise the age for visas sought by people abroad wanting to marry here who are aged 18 to 21. The proposal is one of five put forward by the Home Office in an effort to halt forced marriages prevalent in other communities.

However, if the measure is passed, it will have a dramatic effect on those coming to be married in Britain, particularly from Israel and America, critics say. The proposed laws would not affect people coming from the European Union.

Michoel Posner of Agudas Israel Community Services in Stamford Hill said: “It is extremely disappointing for the community that this is happening. The community fully supports the government’s initiative in combating forced marriages. Nevertheless, we feel very strongly that raising the marriage-visa age is not necessarily going to achieve that purpose. Government figures for last year showed there were 69 forced marriages of people aged between 18 and 20. I wonder how many would have been affected if this rule had been in force then.

“There were far more than 69 marriages involving people of that age in Stamford Hill alone last year. If this is passed, young couples will be forced to live abroad and that will have a serious effect on the community,” he said.

Alex Goldberg, chief executive of the London Jewish Forum and former community-issues director at the Board of Deputies, said the picture would be clearer when a Bill is published.

“The devil will be in the detail,” he said. “It has been accepted by Home Office Minister Liam Byrne and Home Office officials whom we met that there is no forced marriage in the Jewish community and that this measure will impact disproportionately on the Charedi community. People will have to get married elsewhere and then move here some time later.”

Foreign spouses may be asked to agree to learn English. Specialist teams may also be used to identify vulnerable people at risk of forced marriage.

    Last updated: 12:23pm, July 24 2008