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 approximately 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 and granted immigration permits to many of them and their families. Now with immigration an increasingly controversial issue in Britain, Mirpuris hastened 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.
From July 9, new restrictions made it impossible for anyone who earns less than £18,600 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. But wedding planners say they saw record business from Britons in June and the first week of July, with nuptials up 20% 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.
It was a similar tale for Ali Raza, managing director of the UK College of English Language, who says 35 students enrolled in June, 50% more than usual.
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.
For those who missed the deadline, the new rules mean new uncertainty. Naeem Lodhi, 32, who has dreamt of moving to Britain since childhood, married on June 22 but was unable to file the necessary paperwork in time.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2012.