Tough new visa rules have sparked a wedding rush in Pakistan with couples racing to beat a deadline for bringing husbands and wives to Britain.
In the first week of July, wedding halls, English classes and immigration consultants said they had all seen a surge in people preparing for new lives in the UK.
They were trying to beat rules which came into force on July 9 setting a minimum income of £18,600 a year for anyone hoping to bring a foreign spouse into the country from outside Europe – an increase of about £5000 for most applicants.
The spike in applications has seen visa processing times double in some cases – from 12 to 24 weeks – as the UK Border Agency struggles to cope with the numbers, according to its website.
Nowhere has seen more intense activity than Mirpur, a Kashmiri town which supplied hundreds of thousands of migrants to work in the UK during the 1960s.
Zahra, who asked that her name be changed for fear it might prejudice her visa application, said her family had no choice but to bring wedding plans forward from the autumn.
"My parents wanted me to marry a good man in Manchester with a good job but even he doesn't earn enough," she said.
"We knew these rules were coming so we had to get organised. It meant getting married in the heat of summer but it will be worth it if it means I can move to England."
Arshad Hussein Shah said his eight wedding halls had seen a 75 per cent increase in activity in the month leading up to July 9.
"These were mostly couples who said they wanted to get married in time to be able to go to UK," he told The Daily Telegraph.
The Office of National Statistics says net migration to the UK is at a record high of 250,000 people each year, a figure ministers have promised to cut to below 100,00 by the next election.
From October next year, applicants from outside the European Economic Area will also have to pass a "life in the UK" test and present an English language qualification.
Prominent British Pakistanis have spoken out about the new rules, complaining they will disrupt life for families split between the two countries.
More than a million people of Pakistani origin already live in the UK.
Sohail Sajid, a lawyer and immigration consultant in Islamabad, said many Britons with roots in Pakistan were finding their intended husbands and wives would struggle with the new language and salary requirements.
"They felt it has become next to impossible," he said. "People are very concerned about this."
The squeeze will be felt in many towns in the region and in Kashmir, where entire generations upped and left for a better life in the UK. Many family homes in towns such as Mirpur are built with wage packets sent from the UK and shops even display prices in Sterling.
Ali Raza, managing director of the UK College of English Language, said 35 students had enrolled for courses in June – 50 per cent more than usual.
“Everybody wanted to complete a quick English course and obtain certificates to file immigration papers,” he said.
(Source: The Telegraph)