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Supreme Court rules immigrants’ spouses must speak English before entering UK

R (on the application of Ali and Bibi) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2015) UKSC 68

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed a challenge against immigration rules requiring people to be able to speak English before joining spouses in the UK. 

Since late 2010 the spouses of a British citizen or a person settled in Britain must pass an English language test before entering the country.  Prior to this, they were only required to demonstrate such knowledge two years after entry. 

The appeal was brought by two women, Saiqa Bibi and Saffana Ali, who are British citizens.  Their husbands, from Pakistan and Yemen, cannot speak English.  They argued that it was impracticable for their husbands to pass the English language test before moving to the UK.  Ms Bibi’s husband would have to relocate to another area of Pakistan for several months to be near to an approved test centre to prepare and take the test.  In the case of Ms Ali’s husband, there are no approved test centres in Yemen that provide tuition in English to the required level. 

The five judge panel was asked to rule that the pre-entry measure was an unjustifiable interference with the right to respect for private and family life protected by Article 8 ECHR and/or was unjustifiable discrimination contrary to Article 14 ECHR.

The Court unanimously held that the measure did not infringe human rights and was not disproportionate.  However, the judges asked for further submissions from the parties on the way the scheme operated, indicating that its operation may be unlawful.  They suggested that exemptions should be made in cases where compliance with the requirement is impracticable. 

Commentary from the Free Movement Blog can be accessed here.  Click here for an article from The Guardian.  

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Immigration & Asylum