Price of love: Married couples battle to live in UK as income trumps family ties

Minimum income a spouse must earn to sponsor their partner is increasing and is set to get higher

Leah Boleyn and her husband Mohamed Ragab. Photo: Mohamed Ragab
Powered by automated translation

When Leah Boleyn gives birth to her and her husband Mohamed Ragab’s first child later this year, he won’t be there to share the special moment with his wife.

Instead he will be back home in Egypt, where he remains marooned and unable to join Ms Boleyn as a result of the UK’s spouse visa rules, which have just been made even stricter and now require her to be earning at least £29,000, up from £18,600, or have £88,500 in savings.

The couple are now back in a game of snakes and ladders with Britain’s immigration bureaucracy to be allowed live together in the UK.

In a cruel twist, Ms Boleyn actually had reached the previous requirement of having £62,500 in savings before the rules changed, so it’s back to square one and daily chats over the phone as they try to find a route for him to join her in the UK.

“I'm giving birth here on my own without him. So by the time he meets his first baby he is going to probably be about a month old. It's horrible,” she told The National.

Mr Ragab said he isn't even allowed to come the UK on a tourist visa to be present for one of the most important days of his life.

“It’s tough. There’s no allowance for a husband to be there at the birth and then to go back to his country,” he said.

Another UK citizen The National spoke to, Lance Buck, said he felt “betrayed” by the increase in the threshold as he fights to be reunited with his Moroccan wife, Ikram.

He found a new job with a salary that “smashed the old requirement out of the window” but “the next day they changed it” and the situation he's in now is “just horrible”.

He has applied under the old threshold and paid £7500 in fees on top of solicitors’ bills. If he is rejected and has to reapply he “won't be able to meet it”, which leaves him only one option.

“So that will be me saying goodbye to all my family. I will never come back because this is a betrayal,” he said.

Both are being supported by the campaigners Reunite Families UK, whose executive director Caroline Coombs said couples in their situation are “collateral damage” in the political battle over migration, and that the income requirements and huge fees they have to pay are “a tax on love”.


The rules on minimum income requirements for spouse visas are set to become even stricter next year, when anyone looking to sponsor their overseas partner to come to live in the UK will need to be earning at least £38,700.

The increases are widely seen as being part of the UK government’s efforts to reduce net migration by about 300,000.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced criticism last year when it was announced net migration had reached a record 745,000, despite reducing this number having been a prominent driver of Brexit. Mr Sunak has also been under pressure to fulfil his pledge to stop migrants crossing the English Channel.

Ms Boleyn met her husband while on holiday in Sharm el-Sheikh in January 2023. He works as a diving instructor but has a bachelor's degree in accounting.

The couple married in Egypt at the beginning of this year and the marriage was registered with the British Embassy.

After becoming pregnant, she gave up her job as the branch manager of a recruitment company, but her savings meant she would have still got over the line. Her reaction on hearing the latest changes to the rules was “utter devastation”.

“The ones this really horrifically affects are mothers who are juggling being mothers and employment. They need their husbands to come and support them financially.”

Mr Ragab described how the couple went from having the prospect of being reunited in the UK within their grasp to it being taken away. They were prepared to meet the rising one-off costs of the residency visa but what really came as a blow was the jump in the annual qualifying earnings that the state requires the UK-based partner to meet.

“We had some savings and we were relying on those to apply for the visa. We were handling it and it was within our reach,” he said. “And then we went to sleep and woke up to this news and the big [earnings threshold] jump from £18,000 to £38,000. Oh my goodness, this destroyed all our plans. After the increase it’s now out of our league.”

Family torn apart

He explained that his wife will travel to Egypt with their new baby and then return to the UK with the aim of getting a job with a £38,000 salary.

“Can you imagine leaving your newborn baby in another country. Just to go back to work in order for me to go to the UK?” he said.

The couple are currently looking at whether he can apply to come to the UK on a skilled worker visa if he obtains further accounting qualifications he can use in Britain.

Like many others in her situation Ms Boleyn is exasperated at the suggestion migrants such as her husband would be a burden on the UK taxpayers.

Like all new migrants, he would have to pay a hefty surcharge to use the National Health Service, and that would be on top of National Insurance payments deducted from his salary. He also wouldn’t be entitled to state benefits for a number of years.

Ms Boleyn is adamant her husband can make a contribution to British society.

“You know, let's say Mohamed could come over, spend the next 30 years working for a small business, a champion of that small business, turning up for work every day. Why is he not valuable?”

According to data from The Migration Observatory, part of Oxford University, the new £29,000 threshold effectively rules out half of the UK population.

While the number of people it actually affects is small and is unlikely to put much of a dent in the migration figures, it nevertheless wreaks a “significant impact on individuals”.

Reunite Families UK, a group which supports partners seeking a spouse visa and campaigns for changes in the rules, calculates the rule affects those working for the Home Office or NHS, as well as solicitors, teachers and other professionals.

“The thing is that it does affect a small percentage of the population, admittedly, but the effect is enormous and you've got children separated from fathers for years,” said Ms Boleyn.

Meanwhile, Mr Buck said he is spending a large amount of money travelling to spend time with his wife.

“The stress not just me and my wife or me but my entire family. I'm also having to spend more money travelling over to Morocco.”

Not just for the rich

He explained that the couple got married in Morocco last November and said “she's been my rock ever since – without her I would be nothing”.

Mr Buck said his wife “works in finance and she loves her job”, and believes, as Ms Boleyn does with her husband, that she’s the type of person who can make a positive difference to Britain.

He says with the new spouse visa rules the government “won’t stop people coming her illegally but they will stop people coming over here who want to make a difference”.

“The government has lost the war on people coming here illegally so they’ve decided to attack people who come here legally,” he said.

Ms Coombs, of Reunite Families UK, fought for a year-and-a-half before her husband Carlos was allowed to live and work in the UK. She told The National: “Leah and Lance’s experiences of the rules are sadly too common among the members of our community”.

She said it was “outrageous that despite evidence of the negative impact of the rules, the government has increased the minimum income requirement without consulting with affected people”.

The increase also went ahead without the government publishing an Impact Assessment of the rules, “something that has also recently been strongly criticised by a House of Lords Committee”.

Members of her organisation are also outraged that many of the MPs who voted for the increases have partners who were born abroad.

“We can’t accept this ongoing discrimination,” she said. “Love is for everybody, not just for rich people.”

Updated: May 07, 2024, 1:53 PM