Young and in love – but unable to settle due to draconian immigration clampdown

Coupled with the recent changes to visa rules for international students, the government is creating an increasingly hostile environment for all young migrants.

Young and in love - but threatened with being split up by an inhuman immigration clampdown

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By Calynn Dowler, Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (MRCF); this article is part of the blog series ‘Love Knows No Borders’, which takes a closer look at the effects of the recent family migration rule changes

If you’re under thirty and feeling a bit pessimistic lately, you’re not alone.

Young-couple-in-loveAs if rising tuition fees, soaring levels of unemployment, and low wages were not enough, changes to immigration and settlement rules threaten many young families’ right to be together.

Coupled with the recent changes to visa rules for international students, the government is creating an increasingly hostile environment for all young migrants and making it next to impossible for young couples to settle in the UK:

• The global recession has hit young people in the UK harder than other age group. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work for more than a year has risen by 874 per cent since 2000.

• Under new immigration rules, 58 per cent of people aged 20 to 30 will be unable to sponsor a spouse.

• The rule changes only take the British sponsor into account. Third-party sponsors (e.g. parents) will no longer be allowed. The income, savings, or UK job offers of the foreign spouse or partner are not considered.

• The sponsor will have to satisfy the income requirements on three separate occasions: on arrival, after 30 months, and at the end of the spouse’s probationary period of 60 months. This begs the question: if British sponsors lose their jobs, do they also lose their spouses?

John and Emily’s story*

John fell in love with his American fiancée Emily while the two were postgraduate students in the UK. As the relationship between them deepened, they began to make plans to build a life together and decided to marry in a small ceremony in the UK after completing their degrees in autumn 2012.

This would allow John enough time to search for a job and sponsor Emily’s application for further leave to remain (FLR) after her Tier 4 student visa expired. In case he couldn’t secure employment in time, John’s parents agreed to act as third-party sponsors for Emily. The couple didn’t necessarily expect to earn high salaries immediately, but they calculated that they would be able to get by without state support even if they took on minimum wage jobs.


See also:

Miliband shouldn’t repeat the myth about immigrants’ impacts on wages 22 Jun 2012

The home secretary is oversimplifying article 8 of the Human Rights Act 18 Jun 2012

Universities tell Cameron: Please don’t crack down on international students 30 May 2012


Staying together, whatever the cost

The rule changes came as devastating news to the young couple. In addition to the higher income threshold, under the new rule changes John’s parents cannot act as sponsors as planned. The UK government welcomed Emily with open arms when she came as a student paying annual fees of over £10,000, but the relationship she has since developed with her fiancé is apparently not enough to stay – only more money is.

John and Emily have researched their options extensively. They’ve considered moving to the US, but applying for a spousal or fiancé visa there would mean a possible nine months spent apart, if not more. They could also relocate to a European country. If John works in a European country he will activate his EEA treaty rights, and Emily can stay with him regardless of his income level.

John said:

“It’s crazy that I have more rights in Europe as an EU citizen than here as a British citizen.

“These changes will not stop us. It’s crazy that they think they can discipline people’s emotions in such a way. I feel let down by my country. My family is here, my friends are here, my work is here, my studies are here, my interests are here…and I want, very much, for the person I love to be here also.

“I very much want to carry on “investing” in this country after my studies, but I might not be able to do that now, as I have been let down, and in fact, might be forced out simply because I fell in love with someone with the wrong passport.”

The pain of uncertainty

John explains that the two still plan to marry as soon as possible. He hopes to satisfy the income threshold so that Emily can stay, but he has concerns.

He admits:

“I literally have been dreaming most nights recently of getting an £18,600 paid job! What it would feel like to get there, and for us to be together. But even if I get the job we have no guarantee that UKBA will approve us. It puts a huge amount of stress on a young couple.”

If John doesn’t find a job paying £18,600 soon, he and Emily will be forced to leave the country. Ultimately, he sees it as the UK’s loss, because:

“They are simply taking a highly productive and highly motivated couple out of society. They are making policies that are breaking young, potentially strong, families. What do such policies tell English people born here? That they and their loved ones are not valued or wanted by the state.’”

John and Emily are not alone

Many young people come to the UK each year to study or work. They fall in love with this country, and sometimes with its citizens. Likewise, British people abroad fall in love with foreigners. This is not a problem; it is the reality of an increasingly globalised and interconnected world. The problem arises from the government’s resolve to legislate relationships based on financial criteria. This approach is not only shortsighted and ill-conceived, it is also manifestly cruel.

Speaking Out: What can we do about it?

• Attend the demonstration held jointly by JCWI and MRN on July 9th near Parliament at 4:30pm.

JCWI has other ways to get involved, accessible here.

• Tell your story.

Chris Mead, founder of the Family Immigration Alliance, began his blog out of frustration with the process of sponsoring his wife from New Zealand on an EEA family permit. Chris, aged 25, sums up the process as ‘an aging experience.’

With the most recent changes, he senses that ‘it is all crumbling down around young people in particular’. Recalling his own ‘imminent sense of desperate loss’ while sponsoring his wife, Chris is pained by the thought that other young couples will have to fight even harder to be together.

In his blog, Chris emphasises the importance of speaking out, sharing your story, and connecting with others to make the voices of ordinary citizens heard.

You can learn more about Chris’ story on his blog, or in his series of posts on MRN’s Migration Pulse. To contribute your story, contact Chris at

* Names have been changed


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  • Natalie

    I have been personally affected by these changes as well, finding it difficult to proceed with my intended career as a legal aid lawyer as my partner (Irish and settled in the UK) finishes up his PhD. I find that when this policy comes into effect, coupled with the end to the post-study work visa (as many young couples at university fall in love there), that unless the sponsor or sponsored partner is studying part-time or the sponsor graduates a year before the other, they aren’t going to have enough time to get a job paying the £18,600. This is because international students now are expected to leave once their course ends without the year or so of experience following study in the UK. I also believe that this is clearly discriminating against women when they are sponsoring their partner not already in the UK. If they have care responsibilities, it will be near impossible to get this earned amount. I have found the past few years of immigration policies to be cruel and retrospective. Except for the people rushing to get married before the deadline in a few weeks, with all the planning and getting together of family ASAP that goes with it, those with leave running out say in the autumn or winter now have a totally different scheme and have to come up with this level of income in an even shorter amount of time which, as this article discusses, is incredibly difficult for young people, even without the intense time constraints.

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  • R Sunset

    If the foreign spouse has a pension and the British sponsor was a stay at home wife then their screwed? Makes no sense.

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  • Lionel Barnes

    I am also personally affected by these rules and the english language requirement that has no common sense. Depending on which test a spouse takes the required level varies from A1 to B1. The specified requirement is A1 but if you take IELTS the level is set at B1, failing this by 1 point logically equates to level A2 but UKBA, T May, D.Green will not look at it that way. They say meet level B1 in IELTS or we won’t accept it. These new rules and the way this govt is victimising and being overtly racist towards non-eu spouses, are draconian and appear to be dictated by scare mongering from the “POPULAR PRESS”.

  • Calynn

    Hi Natalie, thanks for your comment, and thanks for pointing out the significance of gender with these changes. Even without getting into debates on the reasons for it – women in the UK do on average earn less than men, which will compromise their ability to sponsor a spouse or partner. I’ll be tackling that topic and other gender-specific issues with the changes in an upcoming post in the series, accessible at:

  • Calynn

    Hi Lionel, thanks for pointing this out. It does seem that the hurdles are getting much higher in all areas, including the English test, and the (as of October 2013) mandatory ‘Life in the UK’ test. As you know personally, these changes will keep many families apart, and it’s hard to see the logic – although as you point out, scare mongering surely plays a role.

  • Anonymous

    Cue /another/ brain-drain from the UK.

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  • Lionel Barnes

    So True.

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  • JC

    I think you’ll find that it is women with children earning less than men.

  • Anne

    Hi it is so nice to find a blog about this my heart goes out to this young couple. We are all in a similar situation my son is married to an American citizen and they have a two year old daughter. My son has recently lost his job due to the stress of this whole seperation, visa situation and so is totally unable to meet the 18,500 requirement that is required. My son has only been able to see his daughter once and we have not been able to see her at all yet. I wish the government would realise that this affects real people not just numbers.

    Love anne x

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  • Dani

    Reading what others are writing on here makes me feel that im not alone. I have an 8month old daughter with my fiance who is egyptian. We applied for a visitor visa so he could attend the birth which was refused and as a result of this has only spent 3 weeks with his daughter when i took her to meet him in Egypt. With the new immigration rules it makes it impossible for us to be a family. At the end of the day I dont want to be telling my daughter the only reason she doesnt have a dad is because the government says mummy doesnt earn enough.Ridiculous!

  • Yuri Sincero

    It seems like the average income requirement ther is way higher than the demand here in the US coz I was also under fiance visa. Here 3rd party sponsor such as parents are allowed. I feel bad for young couples that thei relationships are being blocked. I hope they can atleast lower the 18,600 requirement. As a young individual, it is not that easy to get a high paying job immediately because you are still starting from scratch.