Hundreds of foreigners from non-English speaking countries, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, find themselves effectively barred from joining their spouses or partners in Britain following a court ruling that upheld a government rule that foreign nationals must learn English before they are allowed to come and live with their British spouses.

A High Court judge rejected a challenge to the rule brought by three couples, including an Indian national married to a Briton, on the grounds that it was discriminatory and interfered with their rights to a family life guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, but the court rejected their plea.

Judge Jack Beatson also rejected their claim that the rule was discriminatory as it applied only to people from non-English speaking countries.

He acknowledged that the rule, introduced in November last year to reduce immigration, affected the claimants' family life, but said it was aimed at promoting integration and protecting public services, both of which were “legitimate aims.”

“The new rule impacts on the Article-8 rights of the claimants, [the right to a family life] but its aims, to promote integration and to protect public services, are legitimate aims,” the judgment said. Taking into account all the material before the court, including the exceptions to the new rule, it is not a disproportionate interference with family life and is justified,” Judge Beatson ruled.

Those who had challenged the rule included Rashida Chapti (54), a British national, and her Indian husband Vali Chapti (57), who does not speak English. They have been married for more than 30 years and have six children but live apart with Ms. Chapti dividing her time between Britain and India.

Immigrant groups criticised the ruling saying it would divide families. “No one in their right mind would pretend that learning English is not a good thing for immigrants in the United Kingdom to do. This ruling, however, will mean that many British citizens will continue to experience enforced and indefinite separation from loved ones, partners, and in some cases, their children,” said Hina Majid of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

Immigration Minister Damian Green, however, welcomed the ruling saying that it was “entirely reasonable that someone intending to live in the U.K. should understand English, so that they can integrate and participate fully in our society.”