Kept Apart: Making prose-poetry with people separated from families by the immigration system

How do families separated by UK Immigration Laws cope with uncertainty? How can they be supported? This research project seeks to experiment with new ways to provide support for those affected.

Image credit: Carcazan

The UK immigration rules require the sponsoring spouse to have a minimum income that is in fact above fulltime earnings at minimum wage. In addition, the migrant spouse is required to prove a level of language proficiency. Waiting times for immigration decisions have lengthened and both visa refusals and fees have increased, resulting in lengthy periods of separation even for those families who are eventually successful.

Those kept apart by the UK immigration system often do not know anyone with similar experiences and many times are not offered support from others due to increasing xenophobia and racism. These families turn to internet communities for advice on the practical, bureaucratic, emotional and financial stresses involved.

What did the project involve? 

This research sought to explore how British partners separated from their spouses and children live with the profound uncertainty of their situation and to experiment with new forms of support for those kept apart by family immigration regulations.

The research team facilitated a series of workshops with British participants who are separated from partners and families. These provided safe spaces to explore and discuss participants’ experiences and the mechanisms they use to cope with their situations. These workshops were used to pilot face-to-face support groups for the online community and produced illustrated prose poetry with the individuals participating. The resulting work was published online as a reflective resource for individuals experiencing the family immigration system and as a campaigning tool for Reunite Families UK.

The research also produced grassroots advice and support sheets developed from participants’ accounts.

The Brigstow “Creativity and Policy. Work in Progress” video below gives a glimpse into Kept Apart’s research process and findings. Hear the team discuss different approaches to explore immigration policies from the perspectives of those directly affected along side experimental partnership Scrutinising the Immigration System Through Collaborative Filmmaking with Refugees and Asylum Seekers. You can also read about how the research navigated covid-19 in their blog post “Roll with it: teamwork and research in a pandemic”.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Katharine Charsley (Sociology, Politics and International Studies) specialises in marriage-related migration, questioning the assumption of negative impacts on integration from spousal immigration.
  • Helena Wray (University of Exeter) specialises in migration law, particularly family migration and citizenship. Helena was lead author on a government-commissioned 2015 report on children separated from parents by the UK immigration rules.
  • Emma Agusita’s (UWE Bristol) research interests include civic and participatory media, migration media and communications, and creative pedagogies and methodologies. Emma’s arts and creative approach to the field will enhance the process and outputs of the “creative making”.
  • Caroline Combs and Paige Ballmi (Reunite Families UK) both have experience supporting, empowering and giving a voice to those affected by the family migration rules.
  • Rissa Mohabir (Trauma Awareness) has developed a training programme for trauma-related service providers and international trauma awareness resources. Rissa will contribute expertise in dealing safely with trauma surrounding this sensitive topic.

What were the results?

The project resulted in many outcomes and resources to aid those suffering from separation:


The project team held a Kept Apart: Webinar and Book Launch 14th September 2020, to disseminate their findings and encourage interest in the project. After this, the Kept Apart e-book was cited in the House of Lords in support of a motion to amend the post-Brexit immigration bill. The project has informed ReUnite Families UK’s plans for future service provision and campaigning, and was used extensively in ReUnite’s 2020 ‘takeover’ of Neville Southall’s Twitter account.

Later Katharine and Helena gave evidence for House of Lords Select Committee on Migration. Then in September 2022, Katharine was awarded significant ESRC funding to explore the impact of Brexit on partnerships in a project called ‘UK-EU Couples After Brexit‘.