Around a quarter of British Indian Sikhs, and half of British Pakistani Muslims have a spouse who migrated to the UK as an adult, making these two of the largest British ethnic groups involved in this kind of transnational marriage.
In recent years, such marriages have increasingly been seen as an obstacle to integration – with suggested implications ranging from poverty to lack of attachment to the UK, and persistent gender inequality. In Britain, as in some other European countries, the demands of integration now also feature in justification for restrictions on spousal immigration, such as the income requirement for sponsors introduced in 2012.
It is surprising to many to learn that the empirical research on relationships between marriage migration and integration has actually been rather limited, and has produced varying results.
The Telegraph this week carries an article titled ‘Mass Polygamy in the Muslim Community – Claim’, drawing on a report, ‘Equal and Free? 50 Muslim women’s experiences of marriage in Britain today’, by the West Midlands-based charity AURAT (woman). The article highlights the issue of polygamy – 31 of the 46 married women interviewed reported that their husband had more than one wife. Baroness Cox is quoted as saying: “You can’t extrapolate straight from this but you can make a reasonable assumption that if this is not unrepresentative, this is clearly very widespread, and we are therefore dealing with enormous numbers… The implications for the women are very serious and it violates the fundamental principles of our country that bigamy is illegal and yet polygamy is condoned and allowed to flourish.”
Several points need to be made about the coverage of this report.