Reuniting families affected by UK spouse visa rules

10th anniversary of the minimum income requirement and other bad things

Today is the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the minimum income requirement for spouse and partner visas in the UK, as well as the introduction of a number of other family-unfriendly policies at the same time. Much has changed over the last ten years, but in a sense some things have stayed the same. For example incomes have gone up, but so have fees (in fact they’re spiralled), creating a sort of shadow minimum income requirement which in its own way is just as restrictive. In a sort of stream-of-consciousness way, here are some recollections and notes over the last ten years.

First of all, let’s remember what changed on 9th July 2012 – lifted from another blog I wrote here . All these facts were true in 2012, and many still are :


  • Nobody earning less than £18,600 per annum can bring a partner into the UK.
  • The £18,600 can be made up with savings, with the formula that £16,000 plus (2.5 * the difference between earnings and 18600) is required. In other words, somebody who may have been earning £40,000 but just lost their job, would require £62,500 in savings to bring their partner into the UK.
  • The amount required increases rapidly with children who are not British citizens. An income of £22,400 is required for the first non-British child, with an additional £2400 for each subsequent non-British child.
  • The amount required takes no account of different regions (i.e. an £18,600 salary in central London is very different from an £18,600 salary in Tyneside, in terms of cost of living and average incomes).
  • The income is for the UK partner ONLY, so if for example the overseas partner is the main earner, in many cases it makes it impossible for expat Brits to return to the UK. An example may be a British woman in Japan who is a housewife, with a middle-class husband. That family would now face exile under the new rules. We are seeing many cases of British citizens effectively consigned to exile overseas. (Note – I was new and green when I wrote this, but there are certain sources of income e.g. pensions where the non-UK partner’s income can be counted. Just making that clear!).

Elderly Dependants
It is basically impossible for anyone, no matter how much they earn, to bring a parent into the UK. According to one of our sources, as of 5th January 2013 only one dependant relative visa has been granted worldwide since the rule changes in July.

Additionally, the language requirement for settlement will be made much more difficult from autumn of 2013 (jumping from CEFR A1 – entry level – to B1 – intermediate level). This is a more specialised area so will be discussed in a later post, but it is also likely to exclude a lot of people.

It is worth noting that this language level must be reached in addition to passing the much-criticised ‘Life in the UK test’. If you want to know why the ‘Life in the UK test’ is much-criticised – see if you can pass it.

Time to ILR
Furthermore, the period before non-EU migrants on family visas can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK increases from 2 years to 5 years. This greatly increases insecurity for those on the family migration path, and will make it more difficult for partners and other family migrants to find employment as many employers will find it difficult to maintain the overhead to check migration status.

The Migrants Rights Network have summarised the rules here : (Note – archived link. There are a few of these as web links have decayed, I’ve endeavoured to update them as I can).

A very useful and concise research briefing on changes to the rules is here: (via ).

… as I wrote at the time, there are numerous examples of the kinds of people who’d fall foul of this. We just used our imaginations for these scenarios, all of which came to pass. From the same link (note – figures are from 2012 ) :

  • British women who cannot move overseas to be with their foreign partner because UK family law prevents them from taking their family overseas; yet these new immigration laws prevent their partner from joining them in the UK. These women face a choice of being with their children, or being with their partner.
  • British citizens working overseas earning far higher than the equivalent of £18,600 are now faced with a choice of never returning to the UK or a minimum of 6-12 month family breakup.
    Bear in mind that UKBA processing times are now through the roof – the poor performance of UKBA in implementing its own rules has been covered at length in the media and in Parliament. The performance of UKBA is a slightly separate issue from the rules themselve, but it adds to their onerous implmentation.
    Additionally, some countries do not allow the British spouse to work legally (an example is Indonesia). Families in this situation are kept in a draconian trap by both nations – one partner cannot work overseas, and the new rules mean the family cannot return to the UK.
  • British citizens who fall in love with people from countries with similarly regressive laws, and who are therefore prevented because of an arbitrary income requirement, from living in either of their home countries!
  • British citizens whose partner or parents live in a country where homosexuality is punishable by death!
  • British citizens who are higher rate tax payers and would qualify under these rules to bring in a non EU spouse and 20 of their non EU children, are prevented from bringing in an elderly parent living alone on the other side of the world! If the rules show that a certain amount of money is enough for over 20 people, why isn’t this amount enough for ONE parent?
  • British parents, whose children are forced out of the UK, are left with no one to look after them. We know of an elderly British couple whose adult children (both British, both affected by these rules) who are now facing a life without having their children to help them in their old age. Is the state committed to caring for this couple to the same level as their children would?
  • British citizens in love with people from countries which the Foreign Office advises against travel to e.g.Iraq. If it’s not safe for a British citizen to travel to, is it really safe for them to move their entire families to?
  • British citizens, living outside London – who while not meeting this random income criterion, earn a sufficient amount to have an above average quality of life, do not qualify for benefits, yet are not allowed by this government to live with their loved ones. This highlights that a single income criterion overlooks different income and expenditure levels across the country.
  • Some British soldiers earn as little as £14k. These young Brits are given the responsibility to defend our shores and our people, yet are not given basic rights. Their right to a family life is being threatened when every day they are defending our way of life.
  • British students and ex-students who have fallen in love and wish to marry their non EU former classmates. In a world where we are increasingly seeing the benefits of multiculturalism, how can we let this government dictate who we can and cannot fall in love with?
  • International students who do their British education proud by being employed in top UK firms and government departments as higher rate taxpayers – who have contributed heavily to make this country better and now after nearly 20 years of being British and having made their life here, are being pushed out of the country by virtue of being told that they cannot maintain their life in the UK and yet fulfil their duty to their parents.

The impact of the MIR and all the other policies which came with it, in a single family-unfriendly package, was predicted by those of us around at the time, and has been well-documented since. For me, there have been no surprises here. Check out –

The BritCits collection of stories, running from 2012-2015, of families who have fallen foul of the impact and wrote into us. We started collecting these from people who came forward in the months after the MIR was introduced – thankfully most have now found a way to be reunited :

(All about BritCits – my friend Sonel and I, with some other friends – who got it going in 2012 – ).

The Family Immigration Alliance – run by my friend Chris – in fact pre-dates the MIR but shows what the impact of unfair application of rules could be even before this : . Chris’s story is here :

‘Love Letters to the Home Office’, a physical book collecting some of these stories which was published in 2014 : (see if you can get hold of a copy – there’s a bit in it written by me (with the help of a ghost-writer!)! ). This was the brainchild of another friend of mine, Katharine – her story is here :

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration’s report, chaired by Baroness Hamwee, on the inquiry into new family migration rules in 2013 did an excellent job of collating these stories. Many BritCits members and members of the various Facebook groups contributed here :

The JCWI/BritCits report on the adult dependant relatives highlighted many stories and played an important role in highlighting this rather neglected policy area :

The Children’s Commissioner for England’s report on ‘Skype families’, focusing on the impact on children :

‘Kept Apart’ – Couple and families separated by the UK immigration system, an e-booklet produced by the Brigstow Institute with stories from some of the Reunite Families UK members :

One thing that has changed, of course, over the last ten years has been Brexit. Prior to Brexit, a large number of families (I believe running in the thousands) were able to exercise EEA free movement rights to reunite with their families, in another country; and if they chose, to then return to the UK. This right, sadly, is no more, but you can read a little about how it worked with the e-booklet ‘Surinder Singh for Newbies’, written and designed by my extremely talented friend David. It’s safe to say this played a major role in helping many when there quite simply was no alternative :

I should also mention the I Love My Foreign Spouse Facebook group, which has been instrumental in supporting many through their journey :
ILMFS was created by another friend of mine, Emily, long before the MIR became a thing – as with Chris, she and her husband suffered even before the MIR. Happily reunited now. You can read some of her story here :

ILMFS and the Reunite Families UK Facebook groups acted as spurs for a number of FAQs and info sheets
2 pager RFUK guide to the rules :
A much longer FAQ, kind of a labour of love for me :
Flowcharts showing common pitfalls, based on various sources of intelligence and wisdom :

Free Movement posts on the July 2012 rules were being added as late as 2019, such was the scale of their impact :

‘Stitched with Love’ quilting project – RFUK members tell stories through quilts :

Tree planting :

I feel I should add a personal note. I don’t write very much about my own situation, because it has long since been resolved. And quite honestly, the focus should be on people going through the process now. However, it may give a bit of context.

In May 2012, having spent many years in positions I would consider well-paid, I unexpectedly and suddenly found myself ‘between jobs’. This was easily the most stressful time of my life – I was due to get married only a month later, in June. My spouse-to-be and I had already been through the wringer – in March 2011, I had planned to visit her in northern Japan and start to plan our futures together, plans which were disrupted by the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear disaster (I was unable to go – there was simply no way to get to her hometown which was central to the disaster area, though fortunately telephone reception worked). In time, she visited me in the UK – and then of course this happened.

At -exactly- the same time, of course, the MIR was proposed – suddenly, and without much warning. Of course, as I was ‘between jobs’, even though I had a degree of financial security (and the prospect of stabilising the situation before too long), all my well-laid plans were thrown into turmoil. It felt to me like my job situation, my own country and indeed the planet itself were all conspiring against us! Indeed the feeling of being betrayed by your own country is a particularly horrible one.

A few pieces on the upcoming change were featured in the press – there was an Economist article ‘Sons and lovers’, for example, which was quite scathing ( – this was how I first came into contact with the Family Immigration Alliance, and through that to the social media groups). But it’s hard to convey the sense of shock and urgency felt by those few of us who found each other through social media, for what we knew was to come – and beyond that, what we knew would be the impact on families in years to come, just by using a little bit of imagination.

Especially when it became clear that, in the words of the Economist article, that compared to other developed countries the MIR was ‘off the scale’. Especially when it was clear that, even in its own terms, the MIR would cost the public purse economically ( ) . Especially when it was clear that -nearly 47%- of people at that time would not meet the requirement ( ). And furthermore that for some demographics – people in their 20s, women, people in Wales and parts of the north of England – more than half the population would fall foul of this. What kind of rule prevents more than half the population from something as basic as forming a family life! What is this nonsense! A rule which is bonkers on its own terms, with no upsides and only downsides – a rule in fact, one might suspect, crafted deliberately to further the careers of politicians through being seen to ‘do something’ about a problem which didn’t exist in the first case. (The then Home Secretary, primary architect of the MIR, went on to become Prime Minister post-Brexit).

To add to this, as someone who has always been a staunch democrat, it was also clear that the rules had not been voted on in Parliament but instead had (at least initially) been introduced by means of ‘secondary legislation’ – without thought, apparently, for the human impact here. There is a long and complicated story around this which I won’t bore you with here, but needless to say there was a court decision in a few days, at that point the Commons went into recess – but a very in my view insubstantial debate in the Lords got this through.

A few weeks later – just as my fiancee was due to arrive – the government announced the nuts and bolts of the policy, and reading this carefully I was able to discover there would be a ‘bridging arrangement’ meaning that those who had -already- made applications would be considered under the old, much more benign, rules, and my own situation meant that this was not an issue -for me- – in fact, fortunately, we would even be kept on the 2 year route to ILR. Good for us. We were sorted (at least as soon as I found a new job). But … but the stress was still with us, with me in particular, so to speak the blinkers had fallen from my eyes – if the government could do this to someone like me, without any real warning (and me without the support of my MP, who I had written to and who replied unsupportively, and who was then a backbencher but would become rather prominent in both the Brexit and anti-immigration noise of coming years), then they could do it to anyone or their families. Butbutbutbutbut the injustice to many of my new friends was clear, and what was also clear, in the words of my friend Andy (some of his story is here – ; his ‘Skype Mummy’ video went viral ) ‘we fight for the future generations’ – the impact on people who didn’t even know that this was going to happen to them, or their children, was also clear.

(Skype Mummy – unfortunately the sound seems to have broken. I believe though that this was the first use of the term ‘Skype mummy/daddy/family’ etc in this context and it inspired a few others eg 🙂
(.. Skype Daddy, and … )
(… Skype Papa – her story is here : )

(Max Dunbar – ‘deport my heart’ : ).

So we cast our net wide, with the prospect of the 2012 London Olympics – as a festival of so-called global Britain – taunting us! The first demonstration was on 9th July 2012, outside the Home Office, organised by JCWI and Migrants Rights Network.

And there’s a video of part of the demo here (thanks to the group Kanlungan, who were also there) :

2012 protest.

And that was the beginning really, everything after stems from those few weeks. There was a lot of frenzied lobbying by us few, with a ‘motion to regret’ on the MIR debated that autumn. There was another demonstration on the first anniversary, and on the year after that, and we even had a line in poster design at one point (largely because of David, again). Some nice successes and boosts are here :

We tried lots of things. Of course, we lobbied MPs, but think back to the political climate of 2012; the Tories were terrified of UKIP, the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Tories and would not rock the boat, and the then Labour leadership itself was terrified of upsetting its socially conservative ‘red wall’ basis. To their credit, we did get some support from a number of Labour and Lib Dem (Sarah Teather springs to mind) backbenchers and peers – one of whom, Jeremy Corbyn, unexpectedly became Labour leader a few years later, and since then Labour has been pretty much on board with scrapping the policy (as have the Lib Dems since their near-annihilation in 2015). But by and large the political support wasn’t there. Of course we had demos, both with groups like JCWI and MRN and some more spontaneous. And of course there was a petition – actually there were LOTS of petitions! It’s good to get it out there, but a lesson learned is that petitions by themselves don’t do a lot except giving people a feeling of doing -something-.

Lots of people got their own campaigns into local press and radio, and this proved pretty effective. Again for ‘future generations’, we made sure to document some of these here :

A few in particular worth calling out – and I believe they were all ultimately successful ! :

Dinnae deport oor Arbroath Angie :

(This pic was shared with me at the time but I can’t remember the author to attribute. If it’s you, please make yourself known!)

The Save Mae Campaign :

David and Bang’s campaign : +

(by Bang)

Bang’s account of her interview in the British Embassy, Beijing, is quite a read :

Christian and Ziad :

David and Dee : – an undivided family in Malta. The HO really put them through the wringer as well.

One family’s experience of the Surinder Singh route, 2013, which they generously shared – :

And some other actions –

Demonstration for family life in Leicester Square, 2014. Just a few of us turned out but it was a good day : +

Photos from the 2nd anniversary demo and day of action in Parliament :

Awesome banner from the Movement Against Xenophobia.

Video : +

Wedding dresses on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, 2014 –

Promoting ‘Love Letters to the Home Office’, outside the Home Office, 2014 :

(It’s possible a sympathetic passer-by took this! – Me, Steve, Katharine, Sonel, Fawzia, Kelli )

Fran’s campaign – which ultimately led to the Home Office having egg on its face :

Video for the first anniversary of the MIR, by Maryam Takafory :

David, Emma, me and Guy holding a banner in 2013 :

The Price of Love – Paige’s story :

Protest art :

(Example protest art – thanks again David – more after the click).


So, was it all worth it? I’d have to say, undoubtedly, yes, and (unlike the rest of this piece), it can be summarised quite succinctly. Many back in 2012 felt that the legal route was going to be the way forward, that the rules would be overturned, and all would be well again. I became fairly sceptical of this very quickly. There was of course the MM case (which some of our campaign members contributed to – ) but this essentially upheld the legality of the MIR, with some window-dressing around exceptional circumstances which are still somewhat unclear.

However, there was always the other aim, just as important really, of helping those in the process. Remember Emily and Chris – even before the MIR, innocent people were falling foul of the rules, though in lesser numbers. All the Facebook groups, all the campaign groups, were created really with the aim of spreading knowledge and support in different forms, and of those who had been through the process supporting those currently in it. Probably in their own way helping to reunite several tens of thousands of families. So that’s a success. Hopefully one that won’t be quite as necessary in ten years’ time though.

All bad things come to an end.