Couple may be forced to separate over UK Home Office cohabitation rules

Couple may be forced to separate over UK Home Office cohabitation rules
Youssef Mikhaiel and Sarah Bradley do not live together but are planning to marry. UK immigration authorities arrested Youssef, detained him at an immigration removal centre and are threatening to send him back to Egypt.
3 min read
03 June, 2023
UK immigration policies have garnered much controversy in recent years, with many seeing them as increasingly cruel and unfair [Getty]

A couple planning to marry could be forcibly separated by the British Home Office because they are not cohabiting, according to a report by the British daily Guardian on Friday.

Sarah Bradley, 29, a British digital marketing teacher, and 28-year-old Youssef Mikhaiel met in February 2022 through a Christian dating app.  Mikhaiel came to the UK from Egypt to study at the University of Glasgow, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering. 

Both are practising Christians and reside in Glasgow. Mikhaiel had been planning on proposing to Bradley this summer, with the couple having made plans for the type of wedding they both want. 

Mikhaiel was diagnosed with Fabry disease in 2020. This rare genetic disorder means that a chemical that is usually broken down in healthy people builds up and attacks vital organs. 

He applied to remain in the UK on humanitarian grounds – his relationship with Bradley and their plans to marry, as well as the lack of access to treatment for his rare illness in Egypt.

However, on 16 May, when Mikhaiel attended a routine appointment at a Home Office reporting centre in Glasgow, he was arrested and taken to Dungavel House immigration removal centre in South Lanarkshire.

He was released on Friday but still faces potential forced removal from the UK.

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As practising Christians, Mikhaiel and Bradley do not believe in cohabitation before marriage.

As Bradley told the Guardian: “I need the love of my life to be with me. We’ve asked about 30 friends and relatives for evidence to provide to the Home Office that our relationship is genuine. It’s humiliating to have to ask and Home Office classes this kind of evidence as ‘weak’”.

The Home Office currently requires that people not already married or in a civil partnership are expected to have been living together for two years in a relationship similar to marriage or a civil partnership.

There is no exception for people who are not cohabiting for religious reasons.

Bradley claims that the rule on cohabitation is “discriminatory” due to it excluding couples like her and Mikhaiel who “have made the decision not to live together before marriage for religious reasons”.

Aside from splitting up the couple, the main fear is that Mikhaiel will not receive adequate treatment for his illness in Egypt, something that Egyptian doctors have testified to on his behalf.

A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: “All applications for leave to remain are carefully considered on their individual merits”.

“In some cases, immigration detention is required while we organise an individual’s removal from the UK and they will not “return anyone to countries where they have been found to be at risk of persecution or serious harm,” the spokesperson added.