Friday, August 01, 2008

British courts stymie crackdown on sham marriages

On "human rights" grounds

Law Lords have ruled the home secretary cannot use controversial powers to stop sham marriages as they discriminate against foreigners in the UK. They said the Home Office had interfered in an "arbitrary and unjust" way in the rights of 15,000 people.

Ministers said the rules were vital to tackle illegal immigration scams - but conceded they will need to be reformed. The measures were brought in after registrars complained they they had no way of stopping bogus marriage rackets. But many foreign nationals said they were being treated unfairly, and that the scheme was unnecessary, slow and bureaucratic. They also said it was expensive - the regulations meant they had to pay up to $1200 in fees to get permission to marry.

The controversial Home Office powers on marriages were introduced in February 2005. The rules meant people who were not legally permanently settled in the UK were obliged to seek special permission to marry, irrespective of the status of their partner. But the powers were challenged in April 2006 when three couples alleged their human rights had been breached.

In the first case the home secretary refused permission to marry to Mahmoud Baiai, 37, an Algerian illegal immigrant, and Izabella Trzcinska, 28, from Poland, who was in the UK legally. The two other cases related to asylum seekers - including one individual who had been told to leave the country, but wanted to marry someone already given protection as a refugee. All three were later given permission to marry.

In his ruling against the Home Office, Lord Bingham said immigration rules, as well as the right to respect for family life under the European Convention, gave protection to some migrants who marry in the UK - even if they had limited or no leave to enter or stay.

He added that the Immigration Directorate had issued instructions, without clear parliamentary approval, to deny permission to marry under certain circumstances. "The vice of the scheme is that none of these conditions, although of course relevant to immigration status, has any relevance to the genuineness of a proposed marriage," he said.

The ruling was welcomed by some campaigners - the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Habib Rahman, said the government's policy was now in "tatters". He added: "It's a great day for human rights, for justice and for migrant communities... The government will have to go back to the drawing board." Solicitor Amit Sachdev, who represented three of the claimants in the case, described the marriage legislation as "draconian... misconceived and ill thought-out".

The scale of sham marriages is unknown, although senior registrars suggested that before the new legislation there could have been at least 10,000 a year. Registrars at Brent Council in north London suggested in 2005 that a fifth of all marriages there were bogus, with officials able to spot couples who barely knew each other.

According to Home Office figures, since the new checks were introduced the number of suspicious marriage reports received from registrars fell from 3,740 in 2004 to fewer than 300 by the end of May 2005. Between January and August 2006, there were only 149 such reports, it said.


Britain shuffling the student visa deckchairs

Foreign students who miss more than 10 lectures in a row will be reported to the Government under new plans to crack down on illegal immigration. However, foreigners will be able to avoid the new requirements if they opt to enter the UK as a "student visitor", rather than under a student visa.

The Conservatives said that this was a potential loophole which could be exploited by unscrupulous immigrants who had no intention of studying here. The moves were announced by the immigration minister Liam Byrne as part of a shake-up of the student visa system to crack down on bogus colleges. Universities and colleges will also have to apply for a $800 licence to recruit international students and could be blacklisted if they fail to comply with new regulations.

The proposals form Tier 4 of the Government's new points-based immigration system. It will force colleges offering courses longer than six months to accept responsibility for a student while he or she is in the UK. They will have to keep up-to-date contact details for all students and report to the Home Office if a student misses 10 lectures in a row, fails to enrol on time or quits college. If this happened to a number of students, the Home Office would consider the college's "overall suitability" as a licensed college to teach international students.

Once accepted on a course by a licensed college, each student will have to prove to the UK Border Agency that he or she has enough money to pay their fees and support themselves and any dependants. They will also have to prove they have a track record in achieving qualifications before coming to the UK. If successful they will be allowed to stay in the UK for up to four years, longer than under present rules. They will also be allowed to work in the country for up to two years after completing their studies - 12 months more than at present, as discloseed by The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said: "All those who come to Britain must play by the rules. It is right that foreign students wanting to take advantage of our world-class universities and colleges must meet strict criteria. "By locking people to one identity with ID cards, alongside a tough new sponsorship system, we will know exactly who is coming here to study and crack down on bogus colleges."

In 2006, 309,000 people from outside Europe came to Britain on student visas - but this figure does not include those coming as short-term student visitors. The Home Office said that student visitors had to pass an "intentions test" showing they support themselves and will leave after completing their course.

But shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: "This new system is so full of loopholes it will be useless at best and might even encourage the growth of bogus colleges or applications."


UN to Britain: Stop Being Islamophobic

These are the guys who constantly condemn Israel but who have yet to utter a single condemnation of the vast human rights abuses in Muslim countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia

Extending its campaign to squelch discussion of Islam and lobby member countries to roll back their citizens' speech rights, the United Nations has asked that Great Britain do more to challenge negative views about Muslims:
The nine-member human rights committee composed of legal experts said it was concerned "negative public attitudes towards Muslim members of society" continued to be allowed in Britain. It recommended the government "should take energetic measures to eliminate this phenomenon and ensure that authors of such acts of discrimination on the basis of religion are adequately deterred and sanctioned."

Concrete "acts of discrimination" are one thing; "negative public attitudes" are an entirely different matter. Is it the role of governments to allow or disallow certain beliefs to inhabit the minds of people? And who gets to decide what constitutes "negative public attitudes"?

Moreover, Britain already has bent over backwards for its Muslim population. The term "war on terror" - often criticized by anti-Islamist researchers as imprecise - was scrapped by the Foreign Office in 2006 due to concerns that it might anger Muslims. Earlier this year, ministers waded further into the swamp of political correctness by stipulating that Islamic terrorism should be referred to as "anti-Islamic activity." The nation has also done much to accommodate Islamic law in both welfare and finance. Furthermore, two leading public figures - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips - have endorsed the adoption of Shari'a for adjudicating marital and financial disputes.

The committee's demand that Britain police the thoughts and words of its people is consistent with recent speech-suppression efforts undertaken by the Islamist-dominated UN Human Rights Council. In March, the body passed a resolution that condemns "attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence, and human rights violations," while declaring that "freedom of expression . may therefore be subject to certain restrictions . necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others." In June, the HRC severely constrained discussion of Islam during debates at the council, after Muslim members objected to a presentation on female genital mutilation, stoning, and child marriage.

"It is regrettable that there are false translations and interpretations of the freedom of expression," delegates from Saudi Arabia stated in March. What's truly regrettable is that the UN gives Islamists a platform from which to promote the curtailment of Western liberties.


Smaller private schools at risk of closure because of credit crisis

Independent schools are at the risk of closure because parents can no longer afford the fees, education experts have warned

It came after two schools were forced to close, becoming the first high-profile victims of the credit crisis. One school shut altogether while a second has been forced to call in receivers, who are attempting to sell it to a new buyer. Both were members of the prestigious Girls' Schools Association, the group representing Britain's top single-sex schools. Wispers School in Haslemere, Surrey, will not reopen after the summer holidays, blaming financial pressures and a drop in demand for all-girls' education. And Wentworth College, Bournemouth, will shut next week, citing the "current economic climate, linked with a short term fall in pupil numbers".

Last night, experts said the schools' closures were likely to be the "first of many" as the independent sector is squeezed by the financial downturn. All bar one of England's top 20 private schools raised fees above inflation this year, according to one report, prompting claims that some schools were "underestimating parents' sensitivities to fee increases".

Sue Fieldman, regional editor of the Good Schools Guide, said: "These are the first ones to close for a while but I think we may see a string of them. Girls' schools are particularly vulnerable. "Of course, the top schools remain very strong, but the middle-ranking and very small schools may suffer. "Some of these only need to lose two or three pupils a year and it is going to start being very difficult to stay afloat, particularly in the present climate."

Wispers, an all-girl boarding school, announced it was closing at the end of the summer term after 60 years. The school, for 11 to 18-year-olds, charged up to $42$42,000 for boarders and $26,500 for day pupils - with 72 students registered last year. It was known as a strong academic school, sending all pupils to top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. In a statement, John Parker, president of trustees, said: "We are saddened that the difficulties facing small schools in budgeting for ever increasing costs has resulted in this decision to close. "Wispers' small size has been one of its strengths but its size also makes it vulnerable when single-sex girls' schools are under increasing pressure from the trend towards co-education and when the demand for boarding is in decline." The school will use the sale of its assets - thought to be worth $8m - to create an educational trust, providing bursaries for girls from deprived backgrounds to attend other fee-paying schools.

Wentworth College, for 144 pupils, founded in 1871, was placed in the hands of receivers Grant Thornton this week and will be officially closed on August 4. The girls' school, which charged $32,350 for boarders and $20,850 for day pupils, had been due to admit boys for the first time from September to boast numbers. In a statement, Grant Thornton said it was hoped it would reopen if a new owner was found. "The cost base of the school has risen and management sought to address this by expanding pupil numbers," the firm said. "However, given the current economic climate, linked with a short term fall in pupil numbers and limited availability of funding, the board of governors took the decision to place [the school] into administration." Parents have been advised to find alternative schools for September.

Between 2001 and 2006, average school fees across the country rose by 39 per cent - compared with an 18 per cent rise in average earnings. The Independent Schools Council said the rises were due to staffing costs. Vicky Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College and president of the Girls' Schools Association, insisted these were "isolated" cases. "My conversations with fellow heads in GSA indicate that recruitment is going very well," she said. "We have all got parents who are taking all sorts of contingency measures to pay for education. "They want independent education and many recognise they have to go without certain things as a result. "


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