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.
An upsurge in the number of spouse visa applicants is expected after 2020, when EU freedom of movement ends and European nationals will have to apply for permission, such as a spouse visa, to enter and remain in the UK under the country’s new immigration system.
The Home Office’s decision to grant a spouse visa is literally life-changing, particularly if a couple is having to live apart in different countries until and unless the spouse visa is granted.
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
Spouse visa applicants must show they meet the minimum financial threshold. This is currently set at £18,600 as a combined gross annual income for the applicant and their spouse.
If the applicant has children who are not British citizens or do not have settled status in the UK, the income threshold increases by £3,800 for the first child and £2,400 for each subsequent 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.
Anne Morris is a UK immigration solicitor and founder and MD of UK law firm, DavidsonMorris.
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 does it take to get spouse visa?
Spouse visa processing can take between two weeks up to three months, depending on the complexity of the application and the country the application is being made from.
Last updated: 8 February 2020