Married couple 'too young' to live in the UK

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The Independent Online

A married couple lost a High Court battle yesterday against a Government immigration policy aimed at combating forced marriages.

Amber Aguilar, 18, from Friern Barnet, north London, had to move abroad to continue living with her Chilean husband, Diego Andres Aguilar Quila, 19, when his student visa expired.

Under the immigration policy, Mr Aguilar is being refused a fresh visa to live in the UK with his wife until both reach the age of 21.

Christopher Jacobs, representing the couple, argued the teenagers were being penalised because of an "irrational and unreasonable" refusal by the Home Office to allow exceptions in cases where marriages plainly had not been forced.

He argued there had been a violation of the couple's right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But yesterday Mr Justice Burnett ruled that the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, had not acted irrationally and the legal challenge must be dismissed. The judge said "no lack of respect under Article 8" had been demonstrated.

The judge upheld submissions by the Government that it was not "disproportionate" to require couples to live abroad for a period to meet a policy with "the legitimate and important aim of combating forced marriages".

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) brought the test case, warning the Government's inflexibility was "tearing families apart".

The JCWI said the couple were currently sharing a single bed in a cramped home in Santiago where they were unable to find work and there was no welfare system. They were described in court as "the unlucky victims" of the new "no under-21s" policy, which took effect five days after their marriage in November last year.

In the past, once a woman reached 18, she would have been entitled to apply to have her husband live with her in the UK. Now both partners in a marriage have to be 21 before a visa can be issued to a foreign national.