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Young newlyweds challenge immigration law

Date:11 NOV 2009

A newlywed couple went to the High Court last week claiming that their human rights have been violated because the Home Office will not grant the Chile-born husband a visa to live in the UK until the couple are both 21 years old.

British-born Amber Aguilar married Diego on 22 November 2008 when she was aged 17 after a two and a half year relationship. Just five days after their wedding the government implemented the Forced Marriage Act with the result that both partners in a marriage have to be 21 before a visa will be issued to a foreign national.

Mr Aguilar's visa application was refused under Rule 227 of the Immigration Rules which was amended by the Secretary of State with effect from 27 November 2008.

The couple are now seeking a Judicial Review of the Home Secretary's decision to refuse Mr Aguilar's visa, claiming the rules undermine the couples human rights to a family life and discriminates against them on grounds of age.

If the couple wins their case the Home Office may be forced to carry out more in-depth assessments as to the genuineness of marriages involving foreign partners.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has brought the test case in the High Court. Richenda Buxton, the JCWI solicitor in the case, said: "The government is preventing its younger citizens from living with their spouse in this country if they marry someone from outside the European Union. This is a clear violation of the right to a family life."

Mrs Aguilar wants to return to the UK to take up a university place and pursue her dream of becoming a languages teacher. The couple are now sharing a single bed in a cramped home in Santiago where they are unable to find work and there is no welfare system.

The age limit for visas for newly married couples was raised from 18 to 21 by the Home Office to protect women from forced marriages.

However, Mrs Aguilar says that she is being denied the right to live in her country of birth with their husband just because she married young.

"I have essentially been forced into exile because I want to live with my husband - the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. All I ask is that the government let me return to the country where I was born so that I can start my higher education towards a teaching career - without putting an intolerable emotional and practical strain on my marriage", Mrs Aguilar said.

Her father, Rupert Jeffery, from Friern Barnet in North London, who is a Deputy Headteacher at Wembley High Technology College, said: "The government appears to be using the emotive issue of forced marriages as an excuse to introduce draconian immigration laws.

"Our daughter is a British citizen and she has a right to live with us in Britain with the man she has chosen to marry."

The Home Office's own report by the by Professor Marianne Hester of Bristol University on the risk factors and the effect of raising the minimum age for a sponsor, concluded the age of sponsorship/entry should not be raised to 21.

Judgment was reserved.