News / Europe

British Government Caps Number of Non-EU Immigrants

David Dyar

Britain attracts students and workers from all over the world, so much so that immigration is the fastest contributor to Britain's population growth. The new coalition government plans to introduce a cap on the number of immigrants from outside the EU. Some immigrants will go great lengths in order to remain in the country.


In Northern England, an Afghan man and his would-be Slovak bride are led off to be questioned.

"The couple were due to get married at 10:30 and we just disrupted that wedding," said Alisdair Duncan, of the South Yorkshire police.

That's because the police believe the marriage was a sham used to keep the groom in Britain. Authorities here have been cracking down on these marriages, seen as an easy way by immigrants to become legal.

In Southern England, this priest was convicted of carrying out more than 360 fake marriages.

"We're seeing cases where typically perhaps a West African national, who's not in the EU, marry and EU national, whether they be Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and they then get all the rights, so they have a vested interest in marrying an EU national," said Sam Bullimore of the UK Border Agency.

Bullimore says it's become an industry, where a "facilitator" can earn more than $10,000 for each bogus marriage. This clergyman  started working with the police after he was inundated with marriage requests he thought were dubious. During one ceremony he started reciting the names of train stations instead of vows, and the bride, who clearly did not understand English repeated after him.

Reverend Tim Codling says a parallel law system makes churches an easy target. "The Church of England is more attractive because you don't have to go through the same sort of checks as you would have to go through if you made an application in the secular system," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government is trying to cut down on immigration from outside the European Union. It has put a cap on the number of immigrants who can enter the country, 24,100 per year. The rule is an interim one, but expected to become permanent next April.

The policy has been criticized by a group of Nobel Laureates who say it will discourage promising students and scientists from coming to Britain and threatens Britain's reputation as a leader in research. Business leaders say it will prevent  businesses from recruiting the best international talent. Car manufacturers here have warned the same thing.

Alp Mehmet with the think tank Migration Watch approves of the government's cap. He believes immigration numbers are getting out of control. "It's not immigrants, what we want is a sustainable number, a number, the numbers coming in here at a rate that they can integrate, they can become a part of this society rather  than groups within society," he said.

Britain has a long history of taking in immigrants, and the capital is full of diverse ethnic neighborhoods like Brixton, in South London, home to many of Caribbean descent who came here in the 1940s. About 176,000 immigrants a year come to Britain, the new prime minister wants to reduce that number to the tens of thousands, but has hinted to businesses here, he might relax the cap on skilled workers to keep Britain open for business.

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