The UK spouse visa remains a challenging immigration route into the UK. In an effort to deter sham marriages and prevent non-genuine spouses from being able to come to the UK, the visa and evidentiary requirements for applicants are strict, which can be problematic even for genuine couples. The Home Office’s decision to grant a spouse visa is life-changing, particularly if a couple is having to live apart in different countries until and unless the spouse visa is granted. This makes it critical to getting the spouse visa application process right.
Failure to meet the visa requirements will see the application refused, the fee lost and the couple back to square one. It’s a scenario applicants are under pressure to avoid, making it paramount that applicants and their advisers compile the strongest possible application and supporting documents to avoid a refusal.
What are the UK spouse visa requirements?
To be eligible, the spouse visa applicant must be married to either a British citizen, someone with UK settled status such as indefinite leave to remain or have refugee status. Both spouses also have to be aged 18 or over.
In your spouse visa application, you will need to prove you meet the following criteria.
A genuine and subsisting relationship
Applicants have to show they are in a ‘genuine and subsisting’ relationship.
While the Home Office is specifically targeting sham marriages through this requirement, it is applied indiscriminately, placing significant evidential burden on all spouse visa applicants.
This means applicants have to provide more than just their marriage certificate to prove their relationship qualifies under the route.
In absence of any specific guidance from the Home Office on what evidence should be provided, applicants are advised to consider carefully the kind of proof that would support their case and remove any potential for objection or refusal.
It is no surprise then that the genuine and subsisting test is one of the more common grounds for spouse visa refusals.
The documentation to provide will depend on the couple’s circumstances, but in most cases should include, as a minimum:
- Evidence of joint financial and property commitments, such as a joint bank account, joint tenancy agreement, joint utility bills
- Photographs of the couple from as long ago as possible
- Communications between the couple such as emails, Facebook, text and WhatsApp messages, letters
- Birth certificate(s) of any children together
- Travel documents of holidays taken together and visits to each other’s home countries
- Proof of any gifts bought for each other
- Letters from friends and family confirming the relationship and supporting the application
Minimum income requirement
Unless exempt, spouse visa applicants must show they meet the minimum financial threshold. For a partner applying under Appendix FM, without dependent children, the threshold is a gross annual income of at least £18,600 for applications submitted before 11 April 2024. From 11 April 2024, the financial threshold for the UK spouse visa is increasing from £18,600 to £29,000, and will rise again to £38,700 by early 2025.
The minimum salary threshold also increases for every dependent child you have who is not a British or Irish citizen or is not permanently settled in the UK. If you are applying with a dependent child, you must prove an additional £3,800 for the first child, together with an increase of £2,400 for each additional child.
The income requirement can be met through employment, self-employment, non-employment income such as property rentals or dividends, money from a state (either UK or foreign) and some allowances or benefits. It may also be possible to rely on personal savings and pension money as income.
Documents needed to prove financial dependence for a spouse visa application will depend on the type of income being relied on, but would usually include:
- Six months’ of payslips
- Recent bank statements showing the applicant’s and their spouse’s income
- If employed, a letter from the employer detailing employment status, role and pay
Complicating factors can arise where the applicant is self-employed, relying on a combination of income sources or has recently been on maternity leave. In all cases, it is better to over-document, ensuring all relevant periods and income are accounted for through evidence.
English language requirement
Spouse visa applicants have to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in speaking and listening in English. The required standard is level CEFR level A1 or A2.
This requirement has to be evidenced by passing an English language test by a-UKVI approved provider at an approved test centre.
Intention to live in the UK
One of the key requirements of the spouse visa is that applicants intend to remain and live in the UK with their spouse on a permanent basis.
Proving this intention be challenging for couples, particularly if they have or are currently living overseas. In such cases, additional evidence will be needed in support, such as proof of a UK residence, a job offer and confirmation of school places.
Spouse visa applicants should also be aware that if they intend to apply for UK indefinite leave to remain after their second period of leave as a UK spouse visa holder, they will again need to show they have lived in the UK continuously for the qualifying period.
Other critical factors
Spouse visa applications demand full disclosure by the couple. This includes disclosing any previous marriages and any children from previous relationships.
The application should detail any past divorces and also conform who has parental responsibility of any children from a previous relationship. Where a parent does not have sole parental responsibility of a child, the Home Office is unlikely to approve a spouse visa application.
Compounding the stress and uncertainty is that even if successful, spouse visa holders are only granted leave for 2.5 years. They must apply for further leave to extend their visa before their current visa expires. After their second period of leave as a spouse, they may become eligible for settlement under indefinite leave to remain, and then in turn to apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
Spouse visa applications remain demanding on applicants, and it is only through comprehensive supporting evidence that a successful application will be granted.
How long does it take to apply for a UK spouse visa?
Processing times for UK spouse visas vary by factors including Home Office caseload and the quality of the application – errors can result in delays. At the time of writing, current processing times are as follows:
|Partner or spouse (meeting minimum income and English language requirements)
|Partner or spouse – private life (minimum income and English language not required)
The processing time for a UK spouse visa will start once you have submitted your online application and attended a VAC appointment to enrol your biometric information. This is the point at which your completed visa application and supporting documentation will be transferred to UKVI for assessment. The processing time will end when you get an email or letter from UKVI containing the decision on your UK spouse visa application. This will explain what you need to do next including, for example, how to collect your biometric residence permit on arrival in the UK and the timeframe to do so.
If your application for a UK spouse visa is successful, you will be given a visa sticker, called a vignette, that goes inside your passport. The vignette will show the type of visa that you have been granted, the dates your visa is valid for and the conditions of your leave. When applying for a spouse visa from outside the UK, you should initially be granted permission to stay in the UK for 33 months, ie; 2 years and 9 months. However, you may be eligible to apply to extend this stay once you have lived in the UK under this route for the period granted, provided you are still in a relationship with your UK-based spouse or partner.
How long does it take to complete the forms?
To apply for a UK spouse visa to join or accompany your partner in the UK, you will need to complete an online application form at GOV.UK and pay the relevant fee, together with any healthcare surcharge, although these fees can be quickly and easily paid for online.
The time it will take to complete the online application form will depend on how quickly you are able to answer the questions required of you, although it should take no more than one hour. Importantly, the application form will need to be completed in English. If you are inactive for 25 minutes when completing your application, you will be automatically logged out, but you will be able to save your application and come back to it another time.
To complete your application for a UK spouse visa, you will also be required to prove your identity, submit a number of documents in support and enrol your biometric information. Once you have completed and paid for your visa application, you will be directed back to the appropriate third party website to book an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) so that your biometric data, ie; your fingerprints and photograph, can be enrolled.
How long does it take to enrol biometrics for a UK spouse visa?
As part of the application process, you will be required to attend an appointment at an overseas VAC operated by one of UKVI’s commercial partners. This is to provide your passport as proof of your identity and to enrol your biometric information. You must attend the VAC appointment in person, where you cannot send someone in your place.
You will be asked to schedule a VAC appointment when you apply. However, the availability of appointments can vary, depending on which country you are applying from. The length of the actual appointment itself can also vary, subject to how busy the VAC is on the day that you attend, although there may be various services that you can pay for to obtain the highest levels of ease and speed, ideal for busy working professionals. Some of the premium services available to help fast-track the VAC appointment process can include:
- walk-in appointments on specified days without the need to book in advance
- dedicated fast-track lanes to allow you to speed through the biometric enrolment process
- weekend or prime time appointments, allowing you to attend outside of normal working hours, where
- these exclusive opening hours will also allow you to beat the queues.
To ascertain what optional services are available, you should search the links on ‘Find a visa application centre’ at GOV.UK. By clicking on the link for your nearest location in your country of residence, and searching ‘Premium services’ on the relevant VAC website, you will be able to choose from various options to help speed up the appointment process.
You should also be able to pay to retain your passport while your visa application is being processed, only submitting your passport once a visa decision has been reached, where it can be useful to keep hold of your passport for travel or ID purposes. However, you must still bring your original passport to be scanned at your VAC appointment. Other paid passport services can include a courier service, to get your passport delivered directly to your home or office, as well as extended hours passport collection, allowing you to collect your passport outside of designated collection times. Finally, you may be able to pay for visa application tracking, where SMS updates will be sent to your mobile phone at key stages.
How long does it take to collate evidence for a UK spouse visa?
There are various documents that you will need to have ready before applying, although the exact nature of the documentation needed will depend on what you are required to prove. For example, if you are applying as the spouse or civil partner of someone living in the UK, you will need to provide your marriage or civil partnership certificate. You will also need to provide evidence that your relationship is genuine and subsisting, where this should include official documentation of having lived together at the same address and having maintained regular contact spanning any time that you have been living apart.
Equally, if you are applying as someone who has been in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership with someone now settled in the UK, you will need to provide proof that you have lived together as man and wife, or as civil partners, for a period of 2 years before applying. However, this 2-year period does not have to have been completed immediately preceding the date of your application, provided the relationship is genuine and subsisting.
There will also be various other documents that you will need to take the time to prepare before you apply for a UK spouse visa. In addition to providing proof of the relationship requirement, you must also be able to show that you meet both the financial and English language requirements necessary to qualify under this route. This could include evidence that you have a UK-degree or PhD, or a UK-equivalent degree taught or researched in English. You may also need to provide bank statements and payslips to show the income earned by your loved one in the UK, as well as proof of your own savings.
The time it will take to gather the necessary documents required in support of your application will very much depend on what you need to prove and what you already have in your possession. In some cases, you may first need to apply for copies of certain documents, such as copies of any joint mortgage statements or bank statements.
How long does it take to submit documents for a UK spouse visa?
Having collated the necessary documentation in support of your application for a UK spouse visa, you will then have two options available to you for submitting your supporting evidence. You can either upload your documents as part of your online application or you can submit these at the same time as enrolling your biometric information.
If you wish to self-upload your supporting documents, you should refer to the document checklist you received as part of your online application, so you know which documents are needed, and follow the instructions on the document upload pages. You will be entirely responsible for uploading supporting documents for the correct category, so you must follow the document upload instructions carefully. If you do not have all your documents immediately to hand, you should be able to log back into your online account and continue to upload documents until the day before your scheduled biometrics appointment.
Alternatively, you can bring your supporting documents and pay for the document scanning assistance service, where your documentation will be scanned for you at your VAC appointment. This can be far easier and faster than doing this yourself. However, your documents should still be sized, sorted and separated according to any VAC ‘supporting documents guidelines’ to ensure swift processing. You can also pay to have any supporting documents translated into English, where required, although you will need to email these in advance of your appointment so that they will be ready by the time you attend.
Importantly, if you choose the self-upload service, you will have to organise and upload all your supporting evidence online before attending your VAC appointment. In these circumstances, you must also still attend your appointment with the following documents:
- a printed copy of your appointment confirmation email
- a printed receipt of payment for any premium services
- the first page of your visa application form
- a printout of your checklist from your completed application on GOV.UK, and
- a valid passport or other travel document, with at least one page blank on both sides.
Is premium processing available for UK spouse visas?
For an additional fee it is possible to pay for premium processing to fast-track a decision being made on an application for various different types of visa. Even though the priority service (to get a decision within 5 working days) and the super priority service (to get a decision within 24 hours) have been temporarily suspended for new family visa applications, the Home Office is aiming to reintroduce these services as soon as possible.
Importantly, even where premium processing is available when you apply, this does not necessarily guarantee a faster decision on your visa within the timescale provided, for example, if your application is not straightforward this may still result in delays. Equally, paying for premium processing does not mean an application is more likely to be successful.
Avoid delays when applying for a UK spouse visa
There are various reasons as to why an application for a UK spouse visa could be delayed. This could be where, for example, your application is not straightforward and you are required to attend an in-person interview before a decision can be made. It could also be where you have failed to provide all of the evidence that UKVI needs to make a decision on your application or where some of your documentation needs to be verified.
By seeking expert advice from an immigration specialist to assist with the application process, this can help to minimise the risk of complications. Ensuring that your visa application is free from mistakes and the right documentation is submitted in support will maximise the prospects of a successful outcome, without any unnecessary delays.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration advisers, helping individuals understand the spouse visa requirements and to make their visa application. Once your spouse visa has been granted, it will last for 33 months, and you will need to apply to extend the visa if you wish to remain in the UK. After a second period with a spouse visa, you can become eligible for UK ILR.
If you have a question about your eligibility under the spouse visa requirements or about making your spouse visa application, contact us.
Spouse visa UK requirements FAQs
How long does a spouse visa last?
The UK spouse visa is usually granted for an initial period of 33 months. You would then apply to extend the visa for a further 30 months. After this second period of leave as a spouse, you become eligible to apply for UK indefinite leave to remain.
What documents do you need to apply for spouse visa?
Your spouse visa application will need to include documents that provide your relationship and marriage are genuine, and that you meet of the visa requirements, such as evidence of income and your English language certificate.
How long are spouse visas taking?
The official UK spouse visa processing times, as per the guidance given at GOV.UK, is up to 24 weeks. However, during 2022, the average time was more like 3 months.
Is there a fast track for spouse visa UK?
It is possible to pay for premium processing to get a faster decision from the Home Office on various types of visa applications, but the priority and super priority services have been temporarily suspended for new family visa applications.
How long does it take for UK visa to be approved?
Processing times for UK visas will depend on the visa sought and whether an application is made from overseas, or to switch or extend a visa from inside the UK. This could be from a few weeks to several months.
Is there a delay in spouse visa UK?
If an application for a UK spouse visa is complex, or there is insufficient evidence for the Home Office to make a decision, there may be delays. It is always best to first seek expert advice to minimise these risks.
Last updated: 8 February 2024