UK-EU couples after Brexit: migrantisation and the UK family immigration regime

This 3 year ESRC-funded project (ES/X000214/1) charts the post-Brexit experiences of UK-EU couples, who had previously enjoyed an almost unconditional right to live in the UK. After Brexit, those whose partnership started after December 2020, couples living elsewhere in the EU wishing to relocate to the UK after 29th March 2022, and those in the UK where the EU partner does not have settled or pre-settled status or another visa must all apply for spouse/partner visas if they want to settle together legally in the UK

These regulations have long been in place for couples where the non-UK partner is from outside the EU, but their application to UK-EU couples represents a major change. Although immigration has been centre stage in political and academic discussion around Brexit, debates have focussed on labour and irregular migration. The neglect of spouse/partner migration (alongside family migration in general) is particularly surprising given that spouses and partners are among the largest sources of long-term migration to the UK, and the frequency of UK-EU partnerships: around 4% of all couples in England and Wales have one UK-born, and one EU-born partner. Given the many and continuing connections between the UK and Europe (through travel, family, business, education etc) opportunities for relationships between UK and EU citizens will continue, but little attention has been paid to how such couples will be impacted by Brexit.

This project responds to this urgent gap in the research agenda on the implications of Brexit. Through a mixture of qualitative interviews, statistical analysis and media, legal and policy review, the project documents how UK-EU couples respond to the intrusion of immigration regulations into their intimate family lives, how impacts vary in this diverse population, and how political and legal discourses respond to this expansion of the population affected by immigration regulations.

Findings from the project will inform service provision, advocacy and interventions in policy debates on the future of UK immigration rules – aiming to improve the lives of both UK-EU couples, and other mixed nationality couples subject to immigration control.

Who is conducting the project?

The Brexit Couples project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the University of Exeter.

The Project Team is supported by an Advisory Group of key experts, support and campaigning organisations.

The Brexit Couples project is part of several vibrant research networks:

Find out more about our interviews HERE.

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