As a non-UK national spouse or civil partner of a UK citizen, you do not automatically acquire immigration rights or lawful status in the UK. You will instead have to apply to the UK Home Office for permission to come to the UK to live with your spouse. As part of the application, you need to provide compelling evidence that you meet the Spouse Visa requirements.
The Home Office is taking an increasingly tough stance when determining spouse visa applications, so it is important to ensure you follow the correct process and that your submission is comprehensive in evidencing your eligibility.
The following guide looks at the eligibility criteria for this category of visa, from who can apply, to how to build and submit your application.
The Spouse Visa UK is the permission granted by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to a foreign national from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland to come to the UK to live with their partner.
This category of visa is based on an individual’s right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), namely the right to respect for one’s private and family life. Under Article 8 of the ECHR, as a non-EEA national you can apply to live in the UK on the basis of family life as the “partner” of:
- A British citizen
- A person with indefinite leave to remain in the UK or settled status
- A person in the UK with refugee status or humanitarian protection
Under a Spouse Visa you will be eligible to undertake paid employment or enrol on a full-time course of study in Britain. As the partner of a UK citizen or someone settled in the UK, you may also be entitled to a number of state benefits. You may also become eligible for settlement after the qualifying period of five continuous years residence in the UK.
If your application for a Spouse Visa is successful, your visa will initially be granted for a period of 33 months. If, however, you apply for leave to remain in the UK as a spouse, then you will be granted leave for 30 months.
If you are applying as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, you will only be permitted to come to the UK for a period of 6 months to enable you to get married. You will subsequently need to apply for a Spouse Visa on the basis of your recent marriage or civil partnership.
Please note, you cannot work or study if you are applying for a visa or extending your stay to get married or become civil partners.
To apply for a Spouse Visa UK, you must either be the partner of a British citizen or, alternatively, the partner of someone with indefinite leave to remain or settled status, or the partner of an individual in the UK with refugee status or humanitarian protection.
However, the definition of partner is relatively wide in that it not only includes a spouse or civil partner, it also covers the fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of a British citizen or someone with settled status in the UK.
That said, where you and your partner are engaged to be married, or plan to enter into a civil partnership, you must prove that you will marry or enter into a civil partnership within 6 months of arriving in the UK.
If you are not married, nor indeed planning to get married or enter into a civil partnership, in other words, you are applying as an unmarried partner or common-law spouse, you must have been living in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years.
Based on the relationship requirements as set out above, to be eligible for a Spouse Visa UK you must fall into one of the following categories:
- You are in a civil partnership or marriage that’s recognised in the UK
- You and your fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner will marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK within 6 months of arriving
- You have been living together in a relationship for at least 2 years prior to the date of submitting your application.
There are also a number of additional Spouse Visa UK requirements that, in most cases, must be strictly adhered to, not least because UKVI is continuously seeking to crack down on sham marriages.
As such, to be eligible for this type of visa, you must also satisfy all of the following Spouse Visa requirements:
- You and your partner must both be aged over 18
- Your relationship must be genuine and subsisting
- You must intend to live together permanently in the UK
- Any previous relationships must have broken down permanently
- You will be financially supported while in the UK
- You can speak and understand English to the requisite level
Under the financial Spouse Visa requirements, you and your partner will need to show that you can support each other and your dependent children without recourse to public funds.
Here, the minimum income threshold is currently set at £18,600 per annum, increasing to £3,800 where you apply with one dependent child, and thereafter an extra £2,400 for each additional child.
However, in order to meet the relevant threshold, there are several different sources of income that you can rely on, including income from employment or self-employment, non-work income such as from property rentals, cash savings greater than £16,000, maternity pay and/or pensions.
Further, in the event that your partner is in receipt of a specified benefit or allowance in the UK, you will be exempt from meeting the financial requirement in the form of the minimum income threshold. Rather, you will need to provide evidence of adequate maintenance and accommodation instead.
Save except where you are a national of a majority English-speaking country, to qualify for a Spouse Visa you will need to provide evidence of having an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised as being equivalent to a UK bachelors degree, masters degree or PhD, or that you have passed an approved English language test.
However, you will be exempt from meeting the English language requirement in the following circumstances:
· You are aged 65 or over
· You have a physical or mental disability that prevents you from meeting this requirement
· There are exceptional circumstances that prevent you from being able to meet the requirement prior to entry to the UK.
To apply for a Spouse Visa, you will need to submit an online application with UKVI and pay the relevant fee. This is currently set at £1523 if applying from outside the UK and £1033 if applying from within the UK.
If you are applying to extend or switch in the UK, you will also need to pay £19.20 to have your biometric information enrolled. This includes a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photograph of your face.
You will be instructed on how and where to make an appointment to submit your biometric information when you apply. This will be at a visa application centre if applying from outside the UK, or a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point when applying to switch or extend.
You may also be liable to pay a healthcare surcharge as part of your application to enable you to use the NHS while living in the UK.
If you apply from outside the UK a decision will usually be made within 12 weeks. From within the UK it should take around 8 weeks when using the standard service, although you may be able to pay an additional fee of £800 for the super priority service to get a faster decision.
If you are applying as a spouse or civil partner of a UK citizen or someone settled in the UK, in addition to a valid passport you will need to provide documentary evidence of your marriage or civil partnership. As previously indicated, this must be a marriage or union that is legally recognised under UK law.
Alternatively, if you are applying as an unmarried partner or common law spouse, you must provide evidence that you and your UK partner have lived with each other for at least 2 years prior to applying. This will need to include documents like a joint bank account, joint tenancy agreement or joint mortgage.
In either case, whether you are applying as a married or unmarried partner, you must provide evidence that your relationship is ‘genuine and subsisting’, in other words, that supports the sincerity of your relationship. This can include evidence of communication between you and your partner as a couple, such as texts or emails, as well as photographs of the two of your together and travel documents to prove any visits to one another.
If either you or your UK partner has been married or in a civil partnership in the past, you will also need to provide evidence of the permanent breakdown of the previous relationship, such as a divorce or dissolution order.
Finally, you will need documentation to support both the financial and English language requirements. This should include at least 6 months worth of pay slips for both you and/or your partner or evidence of self-employed earnings, a letter from your respective employers outlining your role and job security, as well as evidence of any savings and/or benefits upon which you rely.
For the English requirement you will need either a certificate of your academic qualification or having passed the necessary English language test.
You can apply to extend your stay under a Spouse Visa, although you must do so prior to the expiry of your existing leave. You must also prove that you have been living together with your UK partner since your initial visa application and that you intend to continue to do so after you apply to extend your visa.
Additionally, you may be eligible to switch into the Spouse Visa category if you came to the UK under a different type of visa and you have been granted leave other than as a visitor for a period of more than 6 months.
In the event that you have been granted a visa for less than 6 months, typically you will need to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance as a spouse or civil partner. If you are applying from outside the UK you should apply in the country where you are ordinarily resident.
Having lived continuously in the UK for a period of 5 years, you may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). This means that you can settle in the UK on a permanent basis free from immigration restrictions. Most individuals who have a Spouse Visa UK are on the 5-year route to settlement.
Please note, you cannot count any permission to stay in the UK as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner.
When applying for ILR you will usually need to satisfy the KoLL requirement, namely your “knowledge of the English language and about life in the UK”. This means you must be able to demonstrate a commitment to respect the UK’s laws, values and traditions, whereby the ability to communicate in English and have knowledge of UK life forms an integral part of this commitment.
Unless you are exempt by reason of age or otherwise, you can satisfy the KoLL requirement by proving your knowledge of English and passing a ‘Life in the UK’ test at an approved test centre.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for UKVI to refuse an application for a Spouse Visa. This is often due to a lack of documentation, not least where UKVI is not satisfied that the applicant and their UK partner have a “genuine and subsisting” relationship based on the documentary evidence submitted in support.
However, in the event that you are refused a Spouse Visa, there is a legal right of appeal to the first-tier tribunal. You will have 28 days to appeal after you get your decision from UKVI. It will cost you £80 to appeal without a hearing, although you are entitled to attend an oral hearing at a cost of £140.
In either case, it is always best to seek specialist legal advice from an expert in immigration law in advance of any hearing or appeal decision. These types of cases can be complex, with much at stake, so you will need to know exactly where you stand legally and what the best course of action is to take.
DavidsonMorris are experienced UK immigration specialists offering guidance and support to individuals in relation to UK immigration status and Home Office applications.
We can advise on the eligibility criteria you will need to evidence a UK spouse visa and the process you will need to follow for your application. We can also help where you have dependants applying with you or where you are looking to extend your visa.
For specialist UK immigration advice, contact us.