Controlling marriage migration in Europe and US: A comparative approach

nuffielfNuffield Foundation

Principle Investigator: Dr Helena Wray (

This project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compares the regulation of spousal migration in European states and in the US. Marriage migration is controversial in many states. To live in one’s own home with one’s spouse is arguably central to national membership but marriage migration undermines state capacity to control long-term immigration, permitting the entry of migrants who would not otherwise qualify on the basis of their skills and education. Controversy has been particularly marked in some European states and has been associated with the reaction against multiculturalism and the marriage practices of minorities of non-European origin which strengthen transnational ties and perpetuate immigration. There has been much commentary on growing restrictiveness in Europe, in the form of integration measures, both before and after entry, more onerous financial conditions, age restrictions and other criteria.

The project involved a survey of national regimes across Europe, including those states that are less often studied, particularly in Eastern and Southern Europe. There was also an-depth study of four states: UK, France, Denmark and the US. It investigated several questions:

  1. Are the types of conditions that have been so controversial imposed throughout Europe or are they associated only with a few states in Western and Northern Europe?
  2. To what extent do national regimes within Europe bear a ‘family resemblance’ that is distinct to that found elsewhere, for example, the United States?
  3. What has been the impact of EU law on the entry of third country national spouses on national regimes?
  4. Despite differences in national histories, patterns of immigration and political contexts, on the one hand, and in forms of regulation, on the other,  is there an overlap in the concerns which give effect to national regimes and in the groups of citizens and residents who are most affected by these regimes?


Conference held on 26th September 2013 to disseminate the project’s findings

Profile of speakers at the conference

Conference slides

Divided families – challenging the new UK family migration laws – Ruth Grove-White

What do states regulate when they regulate spousal migration – Helena Wray

Regulating spousal migration – Agnes Agoston and Jocelyn Hutton

An Overview from Denmark: Tactical responses to the regulation of transnational marriage migration 2002-2012

Impact of family reunification policies

Helena Wray’s article on Denmark published in Journal of Immigration Asylum and Nationality Law

Helena Wray’s profile