If you are currently living and studying in the UK under a Tier 4 student visa and are married to or in a civil partnership with a UK settled person, you may be looking at the spouse visa as an option to remain in the UK after your studies.

Switching from Tier 4 to a spouse visa is an attractive route in many ways, not least as it allows the visa holder to work in the UK without restriction and will give temporary leave to remain in the UK for an initial two and a half years.

The UK spouse visa is however far from straight forward in its eligibility requirements on applicants. Get the application wrong and you are facing a refused visa – meaning a non-refundable fee and having to leave the country (potentially without your spouse) at the end of your Tier 4 leave until you can secure lawful status in the UK.

We look at the key crtieria you will need to show when applying for a spouse visa.

Are you eligible to switch from Tier 4 to the spouse visa?

To be eligible to switch, you will need to meet the requirements under the spouse visa.

You must be in a genjuine relationship that falls under one of the following:

  • Married or in a civil partnership recognised in the UK; or
  • Cohabitants, having living together in a relationship for at least 2 years at the time you apply; or
  • A fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner and will marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK within 6 months of arriving.

In addition, all of the following must apply:

  • You and your spouse or civil partner both need to be 18 or over.
  • Your spouse or civil partner must also either be a British citizen, have settled in the UK with indefinite leave to remain, settled status or proof of permanent residence, or they have refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK.
  • You and your spouse or civil partner must intend to live together permanently in the UK and you have suitable accommodation in place.
  • You have good knowledge of the English language.
  • You can financially support yourself and any dependants.

Exceptions to the criteria may be relied on where:

  • You have a child in the UK who is a British citizen or has lived in the UK for 7 years and it would be unreasonable for them to leave the UK.
  • There would be very significant difficulties for you and your partner if you lived together as a couple outside the UK that could not be overcome.
  • It would breach your human rights to stop you coming to the UK or make you leave.

Further, all applicants will also be assessed against suitability criteria, which considers the applicant’s character and any potential mandatory and/or discretionary reasons for refusal, such as criminal convictions. This is a substantial area; take legal advice prior to applying if you have any concerns about your circumstances.

What is the process of switching from Tier 4 to a spouse visa?

If you are looking to switch from a Tier 4 visa to a spouse visa you will need to make an application to the Home Office. Ensure you are using the correct form and that it is the most up to date version. You will also need to attend an appointment to provide your biometric information; ie, your fingerprints and a digital photo.

You will also need to provide documentary evidence that shows you meet the eligibility criteria, for example, your knowledge of English and proof of income.

English language requirement

In the event that you have a degree or academic qualification that was taught or researched in English, or your qualification is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree or higher, assuming you can prove these qualifications this will constitute sufficient proof of your knowledge of English.

In the absence of any relevant academic qualification, you can prove your knowledge of English by passing an approved English language test with at least a CEFR level A1 in speaking and listening.

You will not need to prove your knowledge of English or take a test if you are a national of a majority English speaking country such as Canada, New Zealand or the USA. You will also be exempt if you are either over 65 or have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting the requirement.

Please note, if you took the CEFR A1 approved English language test when you applied for your first spouse visa, you’ll need to take a CEFR A2 test when you apply to extend the spouse visa after two and a half years.

Proof of income

As at June 2019, the following minimum salary thresholds apply to the combined income of you and your partner:

  • No children – £18,600 pa
  • 1 child – £22,400 pa
  • 2 children – £24,800 pa
  • 3 children – £27,200 pa

In practice, this test has become extremely complex, for example there are further rules relating to use of savings to meet the threshold. Take advice if you are concerned about whether your income meets the threshold and how best to evidence this.

How long does it take to switch?

The average processing time for switching from a Tier 4 visa to a spouse visa from within the UK is aroun 8 – 12 weeks, although processing times can vary. You will in any event need to apply well in advance of your Tier 4 leave expiry.

How much does it cost to switch?

The fee for making an application to switch from a Tier 4 visa to a spouse visa from within the UK is £1033 (as at June 2019). If you need to make an application in person using the priority visa service, there will be an additional fee.

You may also be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge and there is also a fee of £19.20 to enrol your biometric information.

Do you need help switching from Tier 4 to a Spouse Visa?

Spouse visa applications face stringent processing, and will require you to provide compelling evidence to the Home Office that you meet all of the requirements, from the genuine nature of your relationship with the UK settled person to your financial means and accommodation while in the UK. It is therefore important to ensure that you are well prepared prior to submitting your application, otherwise risk your application being delayed or even denied.

When making an application to switch from a Tier 4 student visa to a spouse visa,  professional legal advice can provide essential guidance and insight into the application process and eligibility criteria.

Remember also that the spouse visa is only valid for two and half years, and you will have to go through the process again before this period of leave ends should you wish to remain in the UK with a view to becoming eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after five years.

DavidsonMorris’ team of immigration legal advisers can support with your application to switch visa categories to the spouse route. For advice on your circumstances, contact us.