Thursday, July 19, 2012

UK immigration laws spark Pakistan wedding boom

New British immigration laws have unleashed a stampede to wed and a frenzy of English lessons for Pakistanis desperate to migrate as new restrictions come into effect.

The boom was particularly marked in Mirpur, where Islamabad estimates 200,000 of Britain's 1.2 million Pakistanis have their family origins.

Almost all the town's 403,000 residents have relatives in the former colonial power, after a huge surge of migration from the area in the 1960s when a major dam was built, costing thousands of farmers their livelihoods.

At the time Britain needed more workers for its factories in the industrial cities of central and northern England, and granted immigration permits to many of them and their families.

Now with immigration an increasingly controversial issue in Britain, Mirpuris rushed to secure residency rights before the door was pushed tighter.

Wedding planners were rushed off their feet, English teachers overwhelmed and immigration consultants buried under mounds of paperwork as brides and grooms queued to file immigration papers by July 6, the last working day before the deadline.

Faisal Mehmood, a self-styled immigration consultant, said business was several times higher than the six to eight cases he normally processes a week.

"I consulted on and helped fill in immigration papers for 53 couples in the first week of July," he told AFP in his office in Mirpur, the wealthiest town in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, 83 kilometres (50 miles) east of Islamabad.

From July 9, new restrictions made it impossible for anyone who earns less than £18,600 ($29,000) a year to move a foreign spouse to Britain, or less than £22,400 if that spouse has a child.

To acquire British nationality, foreign spouses now have to wait five rather than two years to test whether a relationship is genuine, must be proficient in English and once in Britain, pass a Life in the UK test.

For Britons of Pakistani descent, April is by tradition the peak month for holidays and weddings in their parents' homeland, before the summer heat becomes unbearable for those accustomed to northern climes.

But wedding planners say they saw record business from Britons in June and the first week of July, with nuptials up 20 percent in Mirpur so far this year.

Arshad Hussein Shah, the manager of eight marriage halls, said his company organised weddings for 15 Britons from June 1 to July 6.

"There was a sudden surge because the UK government changed the immigration laws for spouses and everybody rushed to marry and file papers before the deadline," he said.

In Islamabad, the British High Commission said there had been a "significant increase" in the number of applications to join a spouse and live permanently in Britain ahead of the new rules coming into force.

The surge has caused delays in processing applications, the commission said, with some taking up to six months to be resolved.



Israel to deport illegal foreigners from West Bank

Israel's immigration police have been granted the power to remove foreigners without permits from the occupied West Bank, Haaretz newspaper reported on Friday.

According to the report, the head of the Israeli army's Central Command has granted the interior ministry's enforcement arm the power to arrest foreigners who have outstayed their visa in a bid rein in foreign pro-Palestinian activists.  The order was signed on July 6, the paper said.

Until now, Israel has struggled to find a way to apprehend activists in the West Bank.  "Many illegal residents within Israel choose to come to the Judaea and Samaria area to work," an army statement said in response, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

"In the past, the (interior ministry's Population and Migration Authority) had no enforcement power over these workers.

"According to the new order, inspectors will be authorised to transfer the illegal residents into the boundaries of the State of Israel, where the regular enforcement procedures will proceed, as per Israeli law," it said.

"The status of these illegal residents will be identical to the status of illegal residents found during routine enforcement in Israel."

The army noted that the inspectors "will not be allowed to enter a (Palestinian) place of residence without the appropriate warrant signed by a military judge admitted to a committee on the matter of exclusion from the Judaea and Samaria region."

Last month, the immigration police began a nationwide crackdown on the estimated 60,000 illegal African migrants living in Israel.

Foreign activists and Palestinians dressed as clowns gesture in front of Israeli policemen during a protest in the southern West Bank village of Susia, June 2012. Israel's immigration police have been granted the power to remove foreigners without permits from the occupied West Bank.


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