Family Visa UK: Explore Ways to Apply

family visa uk


The UK immigration system provides a structured pathway for families looking to reunite or stay together in Britain. This system encompasses several distinct family visa categories, each tailored to specific family relationships and circumstances, such as partners, parents, children, and dependent adults.

While the opportunity to reunite with family is a fundamental aspect of the UK family visa system, making a UK family visa application has become challenging and can place significant strain on applicants and their families.

The financial burden is considerable, with rising minimum income thresholds, high application fees, healthcare surcharges, and potentially the need for legal advice or expedited processing options. The lengthy processing times, often over several months, add a layer of stress, complicating planning and prolonging periods of separation. Immigration laws and application requirements are also subject to frequent changes, which might easily be overlooked by applicants managing the process alone.

These factors can exert considerable pressure on families, testing resources and resilience. As such, thorough preparation is essential, both to meet the strict requirements of the visa process and to maintain the strength and stability of family ties throughout the application process.

In this guide, we set out the various family visa options that allow non-UK residents to join or remain with family members who are permanent residents or citizens of the UK. We’ll look at the eligibility requirements for a UK family visa and share insight into what to expect throughout the application process.

Given the complexities and demands of the UK family visa system, obtaining professional legal advice can be hugely beneficial and alleviate considerable pressure on applicants. As experienced immigration lawyers, DavidsonMorris provides specialist guidance to UK family visa applicants. Contact us for expert advice with your application.


Section A: Types of Family Visas in the UK


The UK offers multiple routes for families to reunite, each tailored to different familial relationships and circumstances:


a) Applying as a Partner or Spouse

b) Applying as a Parent

c) Applying as a Child

d) Applying as an Adult Coming to be Cared for by a Relative

e) Applying based on Your Private Life


Section B: Applying as a Partner or Spouse


The ‘Applying as a Partner’ route within the UK family visa system is designed for those married to, in a civil partnership with, or in a long-term relationship with a British citizen or someone with settled status in the UK.

This visa enables partners to join or remain with their significant other in the UK, underpinning the fundamental right to family life. It allows the partner to live in the UK and grants them the right to work, study, and access public funds under certain conditions once they achieve settled status.


1. Eligibility Criteria


To apply for a UK family visa as a partner or spouse, applicants must meet the following criteria:


a. Relationship Status: The applicant must be legally married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen or person with settled status in the UK. Unmarried partners must prove they have lived together in marriage for at least two years.

b. Financial Requirement: The sponsoring partner must meet the minimum income threshold, currently set at £29,000 per annum, or have enough savings to support the visa without access to public funds.

c. Accommodation: The couple must provide adequate accommodation in the UK.

d. English Language Requirement: The applicant must meet the required English language proficiency level, usually by passing an approved English language test or holding a degree taught in English.


2. Process Overview and Expected Timelines


Applications must be completed online, including submitting forms and necessary supporting documents. Applicants must also provide fingerprints and a photo at a visa application center.

Processing times can vary, but decisions typically take up to 24 weeks for applications outside the UK. Applicants can opt for priority services to expedite the process at an additional cost.

If approved, the visa initially allows the applicant to stay in the UK for 2.5 years. This can lead to applying for further extensions and, eventually, settlement after five years under the 5-year ILR route.


3. Supporting Documentation

To apply as a partner or spouse, you’ll need to provide comprehensive documentation, including:


a. Marriage or Civil Partnership Certificate: For spouses and civil partners as proof of relationship.

b. Proof of Cohabitation: Utility bills, joint leases, or bank statements showing the same address can support claims of living together for unmarried partners.

c. Financial Evidence: Bank statements, pay slips, and employment letters to prove the sponsor meets the financial requirement.

d. English Language Certification: An approved test result or degree certificate to satisfy the language criteria.

e. Accommodation Details: Property inspection reports or a lease agreement to demonstrate suitable living arrangements.


Section C: Applying as a Parent


The ‘Applying as a Parent’ route in the UK family visa system offers a vital means for parents to live with their children who are British citizens or settled in the UK. This pathway is intended for parents who wish to take an active role in their child’s upbringing on a day-to-day basis or need to assume or continue primary care responsibilities.

A successful application under this category allows the parent to reside legally in the UK, allowing them to work, participate fully in their child’s life, and contribute to their development and well-being.


1. Eligibility Criteria


To be eligible to apply for a UK family visa as a parent, an applicant must meet the following criteria:

a. Parental Relationship: The applicant must be the parent of a child under 18 years of age who is living in the UK and is a British citizen or has settled status.

b. Sole Responsibility: The applicant must demonstrate that they have sole responsibility for the child, or at the very least, access rights to the child. This could include instances where the other parent cannot care for the child or is absent.

c. Financial Requirement: Similar to the partner visa, the parent must demonstrate the ability to support themselves without recourse to public funds. The financial threshold varies depending on whether the sponsoring child or another sponsor meets specific income requirements.

d. English Language Requirement: Applicants must also meet the English language requirement, typically evidenced by passing a recognised English test or holding a relevant educational qualification.


2. Process Overview and Expected Timelines


Applicants must complete the relevant forms online, which involve providing detailed information about their background, their child, and their circumstances in the UK.

Applicants are required to submit all supporting documents along with the online application, either electronically or at a visa application centre, depending on local regulations.

Applicants must also provide biometric information—fingerprints and a photograph—at a designated visa application centre.

Processing times can vary, but generally, decisions are made within 24 weeks from the date of the application submission. Expedited processing may be available for an additional fee.

If successful, the visa will allow the parent to live in the UK, usually with a route to apply for further leave to remain and potentially settle permanently.


3. Supporting Documentation


To successfully apply as a parent, the following documentation is generally required:


a. Birth Certificate of the Child: To establish the relationship between the child and the parent.

b. Proof of Sole Responsibility: This could include court orders, school letters, or other relevant documents indicating the parent’s role and responsibility in the child’s life.

c. Financial Evidence: Bank statements, employment details, and other documents to prove that the parents can financially support themselves and contribute to the child’s upbringing.

d. English Language Proficiency Evidence: Test results or certificates proving the applicant meets the necessary language requirements.


Section D: Applying as a Child


The ‘Applying as a Child’ route provides a crucial avenue for children under 18 to join their parents, who are either British citizens or hold settled status in the UK.

This visa category ensures families can live together in the UK, fostering a supportive and unified home environment for the child’s growth and development. The child must be unmarried and not lead an independent life to qualify.

The critical aspects of the application involve demonstrating the child’s dependency on their parents and ensuring that all legal guardians consent to the relocation unless the applying parent has sole responsibility.

Successful applicants under this category are granted permission to reside in the UK, attend school, and enjoy the security of family life.


1. Eligibility Criteria


To apply for a UK family visa as a child, the applicant must meet the following criteria:


a. Age Requirement: Be under 18 at the time of application.

b. Dependency: Be a dependent child of a parent(s) who is either a British citizen, holds settled status, or is currently applying for a visa as a partner or parent and has a separate application for the child.

c. Unmarried Status: The child must not be married or in a civil partnership.

d. Living Situation: The child should not be leading an independent life, for instance, living separately and managing their finances.


2. Process Overview and Expected Timelines


The application is typically submitted online and includes detailed forms about the child’s circumstances and relationship with the sponsoring parent or guardian.

All supporting documentation must be uploaded electronically or provided during an appointment at a visa application centre.

Depending on age, the child may need to provide biometric information at a visa application centre.

Processing times can vary but generally take 24 weeks from the application date. Some visa application centres offer expedited processing for an additional fee, which can shorten the waiting period.

The visa will permit the child to join their family in the UK if approved. This visa is typically valid up to 18 or until they qualify to apply for further or indefinite leave to remain under family or private life routes.


3. Supporting Documentation


The following documents are typically required when applying as a child:


a. Birth Certificate: To prove the relationship with the UK-based parent or guardian.

b. Consent of Parents: Written consent for the application from the non-accompanying parent(s), showing shared responsibility unless the resident parent has sole responsibility.

c. Proof of Financial Support: Evidence that the UK-based parent or guardian meets the minimum income requirement to sponsor the child, including bank statements and other financial documents.

d. Accommodation Details: Proof that adequate accommodation exists so that the child will not be a burden on public funds.


Section E: Applying as an Adult Coming to be Cared for by a Relative


The ‘Applying as an Adult Coming to be Cared for by a Relative’ route in the UK family visa system addresses the needs of adult family members who, due to age, illness, or disability, require long-term personal care that can only be provided by relatives in the UK.

This visa category is intended for those who cannot obtain the necessary level of care in their home country, either because it is not available or it is not affordable.

Applicants must demonstrate that they have a close family connection in the UK—such as a child, grandchild, brother, sister, parent, or grandparent—willing and able to provide the required care without recourse to public funds.

A successful application under this route grants the applicant the right to live in the UK with their family, ensuring they receive the essential support and care they need.


1. Eligibility Criteria


Adults applying to come to the UK to be cared for by a relative must meet stringent requirements:


a. Relationship: The applicant must be the parent, grandparent, sibling, or child over 18 of a person who is in the UK and is a British citizen, has settled status, or has refugee leave or humanitarian protection.

b. Long-term Care Needs: The applicant must need long-term care to do everyday personal and household tasks because of illness, disability, or age and cannot obtain such care in their home country, either due to unavailability or unaffordability.

c. Care Provision: The UK relative must be able to provide adequate care without recourse to public funds.


2. Process Overview and Expected Timelines


Applicants must fill out the relevant online forms detailing personal information, the nature of their relationship, and the reasons for requiring care in the UK. All required documents should be submitted as part of the online application or provided during an appointment at a visa application centre.

The applicant must also provide fingerprints and a photograph at the visa application centre.

Applicants must also pay the healthcare surcharge as part of their application to use the NHS in the UK.

Processing times for adult dependent visas are typically 24 weeks.

If the application is successful, the visa granted will usually be on a route that leads to indefinite leave to remain, allowing the applicant to stay in the UK permanently.


3. Supporting Documentation


Documentation of this application will be as heavily scrutinised to determine the personal circumstances and whether the medical thresholds are met:


a. Medical Documentation: Detailed medical reports and a letter from a doctor or other health professional outlining the nature of the illness or disability and why care cannot be provided in the applicant’s home country.

b. Proof of Relationship: Birth certificates, marriage certificates, or other legal documents confirming the applicant’s relationship with the UK relative.

c. Financial Proof: Evidence that the UK relative can support and accommodate the applicant without access to public funds, including bank statements and housing information.


Section F: Applying Based on Your Private Life


The ‘Applying based on Your Private Life’ route in the UK visa system is designed for individuals with significant personal and long-standing ties to the UK. This pathway recognises the right of individuals, particularly those who may not fit traditional family visa categories, to regularise their status based on their private life connections within the country.

Eligible applicants typically include those who have lived continuously in the UK for many years, often since a young age, and whose removal from the country would be unreasonable or disproportionate due to their social, cultural, familial, or economic integration into UK society.

This visa category provides a legal means for applicants to continue living, working, and studying in the UK, acknowledging that their life and network are firmly rooted in the country.


1. Eligibility Criteria


The concept of ‘private life’ in the context of UK visa applications is based on establishing a significant and long-standing connection to the UK. Applicants can apply under this route if they meet one of the following criteria:


a. Long Residence: They have lived continuously in the UK for at least 20 years.

b. Less than 20 Years’ Residence but Significant Ties: They have lived less than 20 years but have significant ties to the UK, making it difficult or unreasonable to live elsewhere.

c. Young Adults: They are between 18 and 25 years old and have lived continuously in the UK for at least half of their lives.

d. Exceptional Circumstances: Exceptional circumstances prevent applicants from continuing their life outside the UK without severe hardship.


2. Process Overview and Expected Timelines


Applicants must complete the application form on the UK Home Office website. Alongside the online application, all supporting evidence must be submitted to substantiate the claim of a private life.

Applicants must also provide fingerprints and photos at a designated visa application centre. A healthcare surcharge is typically required as part of the application to cover potential NHS usage.

Processing times for applications based on private life can vary, but applicants should be prepared for it to take around 24 weeks.

If successful, the visa generally allows the applicant to stay in the UK for 30 months, which can then be extended and may eventually lead to indefinite leave to remain.


3. Supporting Documentation


Supporting documentation is critical to evidencing the applicant’s claim to a private life:


a. Proof of Residence: Documentation showing continuous residence in the UK, such as utility bills, school records, employment records, or rental agreements.

b. Personal Statements: A detailed personal statement explaining the applicant’s ties to the UK and any difficulties they would face if required to leave.

c. Letters of Support: Letters from friends, employers, or community leaders that confirm the applicant’s connection and contribution to the local community.


Section G: Myths About UK Family Visas


Misunderstandings and misconceptions about the UK family visa process can lead to unnecessary confusion and missteps. Many applicants enter the process with preconceived notions about eligibility, timelines, and procedural requirements, which may not align with actual immigration policies.

The following myths and realities highlight the importance of accurate information and seek professional advice when dealing with family visa applications.


Myth 1: The Process Is Quick and Simple

Reality: Applying for a family visa can be complex and time-consuming. It involves meeting specific eligibility criteria, gathering comprehensive documentation, and sometimes enduring long waiting periods for processing. Each type of family visa, such as a partner, parent, or child visa, has its requirements and challenges.


Myth 2: Once You Get a Visa, You Don’t Need to Worry About It Anymore

Reality: Most UK family visas are issued temporarily initially and require further extensions to be able to stay for longer. For instance, partner visas are typically granted 2.5 years, after which an extension must be applied to remain in the UK. Family visa holders may become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) once they reach the required minimum residency period, which for most individuals is five years, but this is contingent on meeting all other ILR criteria, such as passing the Life in the UK test.


Myth 3: You Can Easily Switch to a Family Visa from Any Other Visa

Reality: Switching to a family visa from another category, such as a work or student visa, is only sometimes straightforward. Specific conditions must be met; in some cases, it might require leaving the UK and applying abroad. DavidsonMorris can advise if you need clarification on your options to remain in the UK based on a relationship.


Myth 4: Financial Requirements Are Flexible

Reality: The financial requirement for sponsoring family members, particularly spouses and children, is strict. The sponsor must demonstrate a minimum income threshold (currently £29,000 annually for a partner, with additional amounts for dependent children). We can advise on the limited and clearly defined exceptions and alternative means of meeting this requirement.


Myth 5: Any UK Resident Can Sponsor Family Members

Reality: Only particular residents in the UK are eligible to sponsor family visas. Sponsors must be British citizens, have settled status (such as indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence), or have refugee or humanitarian protection status. A temporary residence status, like a student or work visa, does not typically qualify an individual to sponsor family visas.


Myth 6: Children Over 18 Cannot Be Sponsored

Reality: While it’s more common and straightforward to sponsor children under the age of 18, there are provisions under UK immigration rules for sponsoring adult dependent children in certain circumstances, such as if they are unable to live independently due to a physical or mental condition.


Myth 7: Marriage Automatically Grants Immigration Rights

Reality: Being married to a British citizen or someone with settled status does not automatically entitle one to live in the UK. The spouse seeking to move to the UK must apply for a family visa and meet all the requirements, including proving the relationship’s genuineness and passing the English language requirement.


Section H: Summary


The UK offers several pathways for family visa applications, each designed to meet the needs of different family relationships and circumstances. These include applying as a partner or spouse, a parent, a child, an adult coming to be cared for by a relative, or on the basis of one’s private life. Each category has specific eligibility criteria, documentation requirements, and application processes.

Given the complexities and demands of the UK family visa system, obtaining professional legal advice can significantly enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome, saving time and reducing the emotional toll on applicants and their families. Immigration laws and application requirements can be intricate and subject to frequent changes, which might easily be overlooked by applicants navigating the process alone. In contrast, the procedural and evidential requirements remain stringent.

For instance, partners or spouses must evidence the legitimacy of their relationship and meet increasing financial thresholds.  On the other hand, parents must establish their essential role in their child’s life, particularly if they claim sole responsibility.

For children under 18, the application must confirm dependency and the consent for relocation by all legal guardians unless exceptional circumstances apply. Adult dependents applying to be cared for by a relative in the UK face stringent requirements, proving that necessary care is unavailable or inadequate in their home country due to specific reasons such as cost or quality.

Applicants citing “private life” reasons must illustrate deep-rooted connections to the UK, which can involve demonstrating cultural integration, social ties, and long-term residence. These applications are scrutinised to assess the impact of relocating on the applicant’s well-being.

Whether you are reuniting with family or ensuring that a loved one receives the care they need, the journey to obtaining a family visa can be smoother and more straightforward with careful preparation and expert guidance.


Section I: Ready to Start Your Family Visa Application?


Navigating the UK family visa application process can be complex and often overwhelming. Laws and requirements can change, and staying informed about these updates is crucial to a successful application.

For expert guidance on making a UK family visa application, contact DavidsonMorris’ UK immigration legal advisers. We can advise on ways to strengthen your case, such as compiling compelling evidence of relationships or navigating financial requirements, which will manage the process on your behalf and help alleviate pressure on your family through the process.


Section J: Frequently Asked Questions About UK Family Visas


How long does it take to process a UK family visa application?

The processing time for a UK family visa can vary depending on the type of visa and where the application is made. Generally, it takes about 12 weeks for applications to be made outside the UK, but times can vary. Applicants can opt for expedited services, which may reduce processing time.


What is the minimum income requirement for sponsoring a family visa?

The minimum annual income requirement is £29,000 for those sponsoring a partner or spouse. This amount increases if dependent children are also sponsored; an additional £3,800 is required for the first child and £2,400 for each additional child.


Can I apply for a family visa if I am on a student visa in the UK?

Generally, holders of student visas cannot sponsor family members for immigration to the UK, except for some cases where dependents are allowed (such as children or a spouse in a postgraduate course). It is best to consult with an immigration expert for advice based on specific circumstances.


What proof is needed to apply for a family visa as a partner or spouse?

You must provide proof of your relationship (such as marriage or civil partnership certificates), evidence of meeting the financial requirement (like bank statements or payslips), proof of adequate accommodation, and your partner’s legal status in the UK. Additionally, proof of passing an English language test is required unless exemptions apply.


Are family visa applicants entitled to access public funds? 

Typically, family visa holders do not have access to public funds (such as benefits and housing assistance) until they have achieved settled status or indefinite leave to remain.


Can I switch from another visa category to a family visa while in the UK?

It is possible to switch to a family visa from some other visa categories in the UK, such as from a work visa to a spouse visa. However, specific criteria must be met, and such changes are not permitted from tourist or visitor visas. DavidsonMorris can provide tailored advice on your options in your circumstances.


What happens if my family visa application is refused? 

If your family visa application is refused, you will receive a decision letter that explains the reasons for refusal. You may be able to appeal the decision or apply for an administrative review, depending on the type of refusal and the visa category. Consulting with an immigration lawyer is recommended in such cases.


Section K: Glossary of Terms Related to UK Family Visas


Biometric Information: Personal data that includes fingerprints and a digital photograph of the face. This information is collected to verify identity during the visa application process.


Civil Partnership: A legally recognised union between two people of the same sex, similar to marriage. Civil partners are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple.


Dependent: A person who relies on another, typically a family member, for financial support. Regarding UK visas, dependents can include children under 18, a spouse, or other family members needing care.


Financial Requirement: The minimum income threshold that a UK sponsor must meet to sponsor a family member’s visa ensures that the family can support itself without needing public funds.


FLR (FP): Stands for ‘Further Leave to Remain’ based on ‘Family Life as a Partner’ or ‘Private Life’. It’s an application to extend one’s stay in the UK under these categories.


ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain): permission to stay in the UK without any time restrictions, also known as permanent residence.


NHS Surcharge: The healthcare surcharge visa applicants must pay to use the National Health Service (NHS) during their stay in the UK.


Public Funds: Benefits provided by the UK government, such as housing support, unemployment benefits, and disability allowances,  are typically not accessible to most visa holders until they have obtained ILR.


Settled Status: The condition of having indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) in the UK. Settled status allows an individual the right to live and work in the UK indefinitely.


Sponsor: A person who is a British citizen or holds settled status in the UK, and who supports a visa application for a family member to join them in the UK.


Visa Application Center (VAC): An official facility used for the collection of biometric information and the submission of documents required for visa applications.



Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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