Kept Apart: Routine family separation in the UK family immigration system as times of crises

Katharine A H Charsley*, Helena Wray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The United Kingdom’s family immigration regime involves the routine separation of partners from their families. Most obviously, it keeps apart those who are unable to meet the income and other requirements for family (re)unification, and those refused visas. But separation for at least several months, and sometimes much longer, is the norm even for those whose applications are eventually successful. This paper draws on creative, co-produced accounts of immigration-related separation to reveal multi-faceted temporalities of crisis in the ‘experiential migrantization’ of British citizens seeking to reunite bi-national families in the UK. The bureaucratic temporalities of immigration control impede aspirations for lifecourse progression and shared futures, whilst increasing the tempo of working and caring lives. In exploring the accounts of British citizens kept apart from partners by the immigration regime through a temporal lens, we chart this experiential migrantization through the varied and intersecting temporalities of bureaucracy and immigration control, and of biography and (transnational) family life. These can become intertwined with and compound other temporalities of crisis at different levels, from the global Covid-19 pandemic and other international geo-political events, to the more intimate and familial, leading to ‘times of crises’. Such crises are, moreover, often expressed through temporal tropes of key dates missed – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays – and phases of family life postponed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermnad008
Pages (from-to)380-407
Number of pages28
JournalMigration Studies
Issue number3
Early online date3 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article draws on a collaborative arts-based research project: Kept Apart: making prose–poetry with people separated from families by the immigration system (funded by the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute). The project was a collaboration between Reunite Families UK (RFUK), Trauma Awareness (a Bristol-based organisation providing trauma-aware training and ‘listening projects’), and three academics researching family migration (Katharine Charsley: Sociology; Helena Wray: Law; and Emma Agusita: Cultural, Media, and Communication Studies). A trauma specialist (Rissa Mohabir, Trauma Awareness) was involved at the insistence of RFUK due to the high levels of distress among their members. The arts-based approach evolved from the coincidence of the funder’s encouragement of co-production and creative methods, RFUK’s interest in visual arts as communicative strategies in campaigning, and Trauma Awareness’ creative workshop methodologies and ‘found poem’ publications (cf. ,).

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Brigstow Institute, University of Bristol.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s).

Structured keywords

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol
  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


  • family
  • marriage
  • immigration
  • temporality
  • crisis
  • separation


Dive into the research topics of 'Kept Apart: Routine family separation in the UK family immigration system as times of crises'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this