UK spouse visa process exacerbated by Brexit

uk spouse visa brexit effect
© iStock/Gutzemberg

Maddie Grounds, of leading UK immigration lawyers the Immigration Advice Service, explains the “Brexit effect” on UK spouse visas.

Obtaining a UK spouse visa continues to be a notoriously difficult process to undertake. While we know that money can’t buy love, it seems the Home Office is doing everything they can to subvert this doctrine. With huge costs and strict visa requirements, it is not surprising that applications for spouse visas have some of the highest refusal rates across all visa categories, leaving too many reliant on strong wifi and mutual availability in different time zones to communicate overseas to loved ones.

Meeting the UK spouse visa criteria

For those looking to relocate or start their family in the UK, fulfilling the demanding costs of a UK spouse visa is an obstacle many literally cannot afford to overcome. The current minimum income requirement stands at £18,600, (€21,559) rising by £3,800 (€4,404) for one child and a further £2,400 (€2,782) per additional child after the first. However, as many as 41 per cent of the British population do not earn enough money to bring their husband or wife to the UK under the income criteria, according to fact checking body Full Fact.

Families who are fortunate enough to overcome these steep expenses are required to take the Home Office’s meticulous “genuine relationship” test to determine the legitimacy of the marriage. Caseworkers assess an array of documents to extract any signs of fraudulence.

Yet excessive scrutiny of every application has led to innocent couples being refused a visa and denied their human right to a family life, both in cases where they have failed to produce the demanded documents or even where they have submitted too much evidence. To cripple their chances of obtaining a UK spouse visa even further, a statement of immigration changes this March revealed that the Secretary of State reserves the right to refuse an application entirely if an applicant misses just one interview, regardless of whether they meet the visa requirements.

If an application is rejected, there are few alternatives for couples looking to begin their lives together in the UK. While obtaining a work visa may seem like a viable option, its income requirement of £30,000 (€34,777) means that only those in high paying, highly skilled jobs will have a chance of success. The inability to acquire a visa has devastating repercussions for parents and loved ones, many of whom will miss out on cherishing first moments, birthdays, Christmases and wedding anniversaries.

According to the Children’s Commissioner for England, there are at least 15,000 children separated from a parent because of the UK’s stringent immigration income rules. Unnecessary and cruel immigration enforcements immorally put a price tag on a child’s right to see their parents, shattering a family’s chance of unification and punishing them for not earning enough money. So the question remains: why do these tragedies keep occurring?

Cracking down on sham marriages

Last year, a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian uncovered 2,863 marriage registrations indicated as a “potential” sham – a rise of 40 per cent compared to the number of cases flagged in 2014. No doubt the Government’s “hostile environment” policy has been a catalyst for this continuing upsurge, with intensified scepticism towards migrants underpinning immigration policies since its implementation in 2013. The Home Office’s tightening of the “good character” criterion was just one way of signalling this era of hostility, a test which was once responsible for imposing innocent migrants with a 322(5)-terrorism clause against their name.

While the Home Office withholds the exact number of identified sham marriages found unlawful, many genuine couples have fallen into the system’s traps. Reports found that couples had their wedding ceremonies interrupted by investigators; and others had been interrogated with intense and humiliating questions about their intimate lives.

Although the Government’s intentions of catching perpetrators of sham marriages do require rigorous investigations, difficulties arise in determining the motives behind a couple’s choice to marry. In cases where a couple are genuinely together and in a long term relationship, UK spouse visa applications can still be denied if there is any evidence of marrying for immigration purposes, otherwise known as a “marriage of convenience” – but why should it even matter if the couple marries both for love and for a UK spouse visa?

If any cases of invasion of privacy are to be deemed acceptable, they should be utilised to uncover the common, yet predominantly hidden, occurrences of forced marriage in the UK. With over 1,000 forced marriage cases reported last year, many British women and underage girls continue to be sold and married off abroad against their will – forcibly returned to the UK with their abuser, who can reside in the UK on a spouse visa.

Time and time again, these cases slip through the cracks in the system, with many abusers managing to bypass the stringent checks designed to flag the dangers that victims are set to face in the UK. With many girls and women having never met their fiancés before their wedding day, the Home Office fails to spot the clear warning signs of human rights abuses – instead granting perpetrators with a UK spouse visa anyway.

The Brexit effect

With UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s new skills-based plan setting out the future for UK immigration, it is likely that “skype families” across Europe will increase. From 2021, all European entrants will need to apply for a visa after losing their previous right to freedom of movement across UK-EU borders. For multinational EU-UK couples, this equates to the same strict UK spouse visa requirements and Home Office interrogations as their current non-EU counterparts. Some EU partners will have until 29 March 2022 to acquire the necessary visa, however they will need to prove that their relationship existed beforehand. Successful couples will then have to put their devotion to the test once again – two and a half years later – to seek a spouse visa extension.

While the hot topic of Brexit continues to focus on political havoc over UK-EU trading relationships, it is the segregation of loved ones that puts the happiness of innocent families and couples at the greatest risk. What should be a process of facilitation is becoming increasingly obstructive, hindering the reunion of loving couples and families due to a careless and subjective application process. Humanitarianism should be at the heart of our immigration system, protecting those who have every right to benefit from the opportunities of a UK spouse visa.

Maddie Grounds

Political Commentator

Immigration Advice Service


  1. Been there seen it worn the divorce papers. Anyone with half a brain, will leave their wife in the country where she is from and enjoy life there. People voted Brexit for a reason, I decided years before that I was leaving the EU and have never looked back. Life is so much rosier now, shame that more people cannot enjoy the benefits of NOT being in the EU. One day, everyone will wake up to Left wing extremism brainwashing, thankfully I saved myself and 1 child, but lost the older two to school propaganda.

    • You’re a wanker Robbo and clearly undeserving of the “wife” which is probably fictional anyway. You’re the one trying to brainwash with your own political agenda commenting on a subject which is extremely near the bone for many who don’t deserve their families to be broken up.

      Save your hate for the people who are here illegally and immorally, the rules were put in place because of people whom were abusing the system for their own financial gain – not to keep true families apart. That’s something you’ll never understand.

      What a paranoid pathetic excuse for a human being, embarrassing.

  2. Once permission to enter is granted to a spouse it does not stop here every 33 months married couples are required to pay £3000 + NHS fee’s + A2 language test to get Leave to Remain and this happens reoccurring every 33 months if the spouse wants to keep her birth passport. Scandalous !!!!!!

  3. I’ve just fallen victim to one of the ever changing “hostile environment” policies. Been married for ten years and have two young children with a British born husband and yet when applied for a spouse visa extension on the five year route I was moved to the ten year route instead. According to the Home Office I failed to meet the English Language requirement. True, I did not take the A2 English Language test at their Approved Test Centre, the reason being that I hold a Cambridge Proficiency in English Certificate which is actually at a higher level than the language test required. Also this certificate was accepted as evidence for my previous visa, only 30 months ago. It seems that now after living in the UK for two and a half years my level of English is no longer good enough! Before submitting said certificate as evidence I rang the Home Office helpline and asked for advice. I was told that it should be fine. Well, it wasn’t. And so far every avenue I have tried has failed. Apparently I have no right to complain and no right of appeal!

  4. Well written, we have been refused three times. Our final application being submitted from the Philippines. The system is unfair. We satisfied the criteria, but I think its a lottery. People i know have got visa with a lot less than what me and my wife have.

  5. This has made me cry. I’m in this situation. I haven’t seen my fiance for over 2 years because of the ridiculous laws. We rely on WhatsApp calls every day. We were together here in UK for 4 years as he was a student here but has since been unable to get back here because I can’t find a job that earns enough money.

    • I am married for nearly 1 yr now and together for 2yeara…my husband is british and he can earn more than yearly but he is freelance so …which disqualifies us from a spouse visa
      He is hating the UK now and since September we are like stranded … He is in Australia atm ( working holiday visa ) which i cldnt get as I am non – eu!!
      My country doesnt provide him with enough work in his field thats why he left after we have lived there for a year.

      Now we are long distance not knowing how he can get me there.
      We love each other so much and i cant imagine being apart for long.

      Faith in God is my only help

  6. Same here. Currently awaiting an answer on an expiedited application and all the while having to explain to my 7 and 2 year old children why their dad can’t be with us. They are both British, as am I, a full-time working mum juggling two kids and a demanding job to meet criteria and afford exuberant full-time childcare costs, while my partner of 12 years sits waiting in limbo in his home country, missing out on important developmental milestones of his children. The system casts an enormous net to ensure fraudulent applications are caught but leaving honest British citizens in dispair in the process.

  7. I am in the initial stages of applying with my British husband of 19 years who is commencing his job on 20 May. He has to be in that job for 6 months and then has to prove his wage meets the required criteria, before I can apply. Only then can I start my application which then has a minimum waiting period of 6 months. So that’s a year apart which could draw out longer. I was born into an English speaking family and I took an English test for a UK visa application in 2013. It’s the only language I’ve ever spoken and as a writer my English is very good, but, I have to pay again and take the test again, ludicrous? However, the Immigration lawyer has confirmed that I don’t need to renew my police clearance? I truly don’t get it. So it seems I can be a criminal but I must be able to commit the crime with good spoken English??? This application is going to break our bank account and it’s clear that the UK have zero family values as separation from loved ones is of no concern, and causing near on poverty status as they demand such high funds. Also, after paying out all I have to, will I have the funds to travel if accepted? Here my long dismal lonely journey begins. All the best to all you other applicants!

  8. So my husband is looking for affordable accommodation to be able to save as much as possible before I’m able to join him, and he’s found accommodation, room share, in a house with a single woman landlady. The studio options are way above affordable and other room shares are inconveniently located for work travel and unaffordable. We’re desperate to get him settled and our choices are limited. You know the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”. I trust my husband but in saying that he is human and will be without me? What is the immigration office thinking, or rather, not thinking. I’ve been married for 19 years to my husband and now I have to go back home and wonder about his living environment, who’s he sharing dinner time with and and and. I’m feeling so down as this is morally incorrect and we both know it but feel our choices are so limited. The UK clearly and obviously does not value family morals at all which is disgusting!!! Don’t know why we’re settling here except that my husband is British!

  9. Maybe a petition to bring down the spousal Visa and related costs can help?…I don’t know.
    Being in the same boat as all of you, I’m lost.

    • Here here faiza well said..oh but where to start with that..ive been left heartbroke being separated from my a uk a citizen born here and not 1 bit proud of my country and this utterly disgraceful sham of a country with its money making scheme visa process..i hate it..after being conned of thousands of pounds inc all the extra costs of telephone calls to ukvi crappy helpline and travel to be bluntly refused im livid..what a joke..our voices need to be heard..

  10. Both my children are in the UK, I was born in a protectorate. My mother received a British passport in Zambia which says British by birth. My sister and I were both born in Zambia. I applied through the UKM route and was refused. Now am not able to live near my children, missing my grandchildren growing up, have no other immediate family and suffer a lot of depression due to this. Human rights are spoken of freely but it would seem contradictive, as making money becomes the criteria not safe guarding families, I think it is a crime against humanity, those making policy should perhaps do some jail time for their utter merciless policy’s, maybe they should be separated from their families and pay abzorbatent fees to see them, then maybe some sense and morality will prevail.

  11. i opened this post for some information and at end so much husband applied for my visa since septmeber last year and told to wait till brexit final decision.after that spouse visas ll be considered for decision

  12. The Government carries out wide consultations before legislation is drawn up, even during the initial consultation stages the Government listens to all sides, businesses, families, health providers, educational establishments, political parties, and then during hearing stages amendments to Bills may be made, before being passed to the Lords, and back to the Commons, and final approval. The Government has had to ensure that a fair level of income £18,600 yearly, is a criteria, as at that level a couple can afford to pay for accommodation and life essentials, the income criteria goes up when children arrive, so its advisable;e to apply before having children! The Government has to also look into the costs of increased educational provision, health care, and other services. If no income criteria was set, then even if one was not in employment one could have applied for a spouse visa as used to happen in the past, something had to be done. The Government could look at alternatives such as requesting a non-refundable upfront payment which would buy a health care policy, I do not know how much, but around £2,000.00 for a five year policy seems adequate.
    The Government also looked at other countries around the World to see how they operate.
    Both of the main British political parties support the present legislation, although the Labour Party has hinted that it “may” amend the present legislation if elected to Government.
    Wish you all the best, hope your spouses get their visas, and that you live happily where ever you are on this beautiful planet..

    • No one needs your extreme right wing nonsense. Everyone pays £400 a year nhs surcharge ANYWAY. The £18,600 is way above what u need to live. Hint the government thinks u can survive on £75 a week benefits. Thank god i am disabled and exempt from this nonsense. My husband was refused a VISIT to his sons funeral because he didnt own property. Since when were americans or australians for example be required to own property for a tourist visa. We were also accused of a sham marriage because i didnt know they wanted to see our conversations. You try explaining sham marriage to your virgin muslim husband and ur new lovely family. I couldnt stop crying. We have had to save for 2 years to get the £4300 we need for our application and a solicitor because i need it right this time. Our marriage has been on hold for 2 years. My house is falling apart because i cannit even clean. My husband cries as he cant even visit to help me. This is not right. We live in a closed hitler society keeping families apart. THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO YOU.

    • And if they looked at other countries and took note of how the caring world operates there requirements would not be so high. £18,600. A junior doctor earns £23,000. So this only allows rich spouses. You do not need anywhere near this amount to live comfortably in the uk. I already have a house. So why would i need that. I can live much more cheaply with my chef husband and only spend £3k a year now.

  13. I can see many here are facing similar difficulties.

    You should seek advice from the Immigration Advice Service who wrote this piece.

    Search immigration advice service or go to and make an enquiry for assistance.

    they’ll call you back for free.

  14. It’s clear from every angle,that many policies doesn’t favour family value.but d most wicked of them all is this (spouse visa application process)Many families have been destroyed.many children have ended up in depression,sad in misery.And a result of the other parent trying tooth&ache to get d financial requirements for their spouse.people who wrote this obnoxious are probably never gone out of UK or separated from their families b4.
    I think humanitarian organizations should up a petition where people can sign.

  15. Maybe i dont understand the system but wouldnt it be possible to take the spouse to the UK for the initial 6 months while meeting the financial requirements on a regular visit visa. Before overstaying they can return to their country and start the spouse visa application. I realize that it would be a lie taking a visit visa and staying 180 days but you are not breaking any rules like overstaying and its preferable to staying alone for those 6 months.


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