Having worked for many years on issues of Harmful Traditional Practices, such as honour crimes and forced marriage, I have consistently argued for the need for a robust integration policy, as well as for the return of the Primary Purpose Rule (PPR). In this article I will demonstrate why PPR is essential by drawing on some of my own personal experiences and those of my clients.
The PPR was an immigration law that existed between 1983 and 1997 which required immigrants entering the United Kingdom to show that a marriage was not entered into primarily to obtain admission to the UK. Following the 1997 general election, under the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Primary Purpose Rule was abolished. This made marriage with someone settled in the UK solely for the purposes of obtaining citizenship possible. The scrapping of PPR resulted in an increase in spousal immigration, including forced marriages.
In 2009, Migration Watch reported that following the abolition of PPR in 1997 spousal immigration increased by 50%. At the time, when the abolition of the rule was being debated, those in favour of scrapping the rule were outraged by the mere mention of the increased risk of forced marriages from those who supported the victims of such practice. However, in 2019, the Forced Marriage Unit’s annual report revealed that only 5% of the cases they worked on had absolutely no overseas element at all; a trend held every year since the Forced Marriage Unit started collecting figures.
Discussions about immigration are often viewed through the prism of race and or ethnicity, disregarding the impact of large-scale migration on 2nd, 3rd , and 4th generation migrants. The combination of mass migration and the lack of a robust integration policy has not only disadvantaged British working-class communities, but also children of migrants born in Britain. The fact that certain communities have attempted to utilise their children to assist the migration of family and community members has created further issues in British society. The scrapping of PPR saw a simultaneous rise in both forced and arranged marriages, whereby young people were coerced into assisting the residency claims of their relatives.
Children born to some migrant families are seldom given permission to integrate into the wider community and often held back by their own families. Early migrants indeed faced racism and bigotry that following generations did not. I heard about this from my own grandparents who came to Britain from Pakistan in the early 1960s. Sadly, they used their negative experiences to prevent my father from fully engaging with the wider British community – a pattern I have noted within Pakistani diaspora communities through my work over the years.
I have often thought that my father, who was born and raised in the UK, would have been a completely different man had he been permitted to marry a partner of his choosing and allowed to live how he wished. Unfortunately, at the age of 18 my father was coerced into marrying one of his young relatives from Pakistan.
Due to this union two very different worlds collided. Two young people unprepared for adult life were forced into a lifelong union that they were ill prepared for. Neither party understood the world of their new spouse.
Prior to their marriage my father liked to listen to heavy metal, wear leather, and ride motorbikes; just like many other young English lads of his age. Conversely, my mother had only known the fields of rural Pakistan whence she came. In a similar manner to my grandparents, in the new unfamiliar world she clung to what remained familiar: her culture and her faith. Two worlds unable to understand each other and never able to fully settle with one another.
Marrying children young and burdening them with the responsibilities that accompany marriage was (and in some cases still is) a method of control. Furthermore, marrying the following generations of children and young people to someone from the country of their families’ origin is a method of socio-cultural segregation, preventing them from socialising outside of their ethnic milieu.
This issue doesn’t just impact the children of migrants, but also the children born of mixed unions such as my parents, where one is Britain-born and the other is of a different nationality. With many of the clients I have supported I have witnessed a pattern of deeply unhappy families. One issue of contention, which I hear frequently cited, is the inability to understand each other’s perspective, often leading to painful and protracted conflicts.
Within these unions it is not just the couples that find communicating with one another difficult; the children also struggle to communicate with their parents. In the case of my family, my mother never really understood her sons and daughters who were all more westernised and secular than she could ever tolerate. Though my father understood, he was under continual pressure from both his parents and my mother to uphold the family and community traditions that were alien to him. He was pressured to do to his children what had been done to him.
As British society has adapted to become more open and accepting of difference, members of diaspora communities born in the UK are more easily able to interact and engage with the wider community. This can distance them from the values of their parents and foreign-born spouses and is frequently a source of conflict between generations. My father was very different from his wife and parents, as were my siblings and I. My mother felt lost and alienated from the values of her own family. We children could never comprehend her unwillingness to understand our worldviews.
First generation migrants sometimes import archaic parenting styles, often stricter, and sometimes more violent. Having come from a nation where physical chastisement is more widely practiced, our mother never shied away from physical abuse. Though our father was not as violent, he often stood at the side-lines whilst the beatings occurred.
As we grew older, my siblings and I understood that both of our parents were incredibly young when they were themselves coerced into their challenging union. We often reached out to them, appealing to our bonds of mutual kinship, but unfortunately their filial affections were contingent upon compliance with their narrow worldviews.
Whilst some diaspora communities, such as ethnic Indians, have more successfully integrated into British society, other migrant communities, such as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, have tended to grow more insular. The burden of bringing ever more family members to Britain is passed down the generations, creating more unstable homes and detached communities. Young people all too often face a catch-22 situation; comply with parental instructions to marry overseas relatives or lose all domestic family and community connections.
Many children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants are all too often treated with contempt by their families if they are not seen to be sufficiently traditional in an ethno-religious sense. This is usually expressed as a sense of betrayal towards their ancestral lineage, nation, faith and ethnicity. They are expected to pledge allegiance to the home nations of their parents rather than form an affiliation with their nation of residence. Families tell their children they will never be English and that they must retain the identity of their antecedents. This dilemma is often worsened when they return to the lands of their families’ provenance, where they are also told that they don’t belong.
The growing trend of the politicisation of identity is yet another factor behind the splintering of selfhood and community. Where political capital is made out of cultural difference, contempt is all too frequently meted out towards ethnic minorities that don’t behave in a manner perceived to be culturally authentic. The cost of attempting to integrate can be racism from cultural relativists or ostracism from families and communities that children of migrants have grown up with.
Earlier migrants tended to be more successful in amalgamating into wider society. This is in part because they married outside of their extended kinship, and religious and ethnic circles; but also because they lived alongside and interacted more frequently with British natives. Today in some diaspora communities you can pass your whole life without interacting with anybody from the wider British population.
We need a return of the PPR as part of a robust integration system which facilitates both inter-community and intergenerational cohesion, whilst allowing the descendants of migrant families to settle into the nation and find their feet.