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 British citizen or UK settled person, you may be looking at the spouse visa as an option to remain in the UK after your studies.
The UK spouse visa application 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, or until you can secure lawful status in the UK.
We look at the key criteria 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 genuine relationship that falls under one of the following:
- Married or in a civil partnership recognised in the UK; or
- Cohabitants, having lived 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 either be a British citizen, have settled in the UK with indefinite leave to remain, settled status, 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 from coming to the UK or make you leave.
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 an area of uncertainty so it is recommended to take legal advice prior to applying if you have any concerns about your circumstances.
Minimum salary threshold
Spouse visa applicants must show they meet the minimum salary requirement.
In practice, this test has become extremely complex, for example there are further rules relating to use of savings to meet the threshold. Below we summarise the key points, but it is recommended to take advice if you are concerned about whether your income meets the threshold and how best to evidence this.
The minimum salary threshold requirement is set in Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. Applicants must evidence their income and that they have adequate accommodation to live together and with any dependants.
Your spouse (ie your ‘sponsor’) must earn a gross annual salary of £18,600 to satisfy that they can support you as their spouse. This increases with every dependent child. The following minimum salary thresholds apply:
- No children – £18,600 per annum
- 1 child – £22,400 per annum
- 2 children – £24,800 per annum
- 3 children – £27,200 per annum
It may be possible to rely on salary alone, or to combine a below-threshold salary with savings, or to rely on savings alone if you can show a minimum of £16,000 in savings plus the shortfall between the salary earned and the amount required, multiplied by 2.5.
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 ENIC 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.
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 from within the UK, you will need to make an application to the Home Office online.
You will then 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.
Spouse visa supporting documents
One of the main reasons for spouse visa refusals is inadequate supporting documentation and failing to satisfy the caseworker that the eligibility requirements have been met. In many ways it is better to over-evidence and compile extensive documents to support each of the eligibility requirements. As a minimum, you will need to provide:
Proof of identity & status
Your application should be accompanied by proof of your identity, age and nationality, such as your valid passport, and that of your sponsor to prove their identity and UK status.
Evidence that the marriage and relationship are genuine
You will need to provide compelling evidence to prove the relationship requirement. This includes your marriage or civil partnership certificate, as well as photographs and evidence of communication and contact between you e.g. emails, chat logs, holidays taken together. It is also advisable to submit a covering letter with your application stating how you met and other important details of your relationship.
Proof of adequate accommodation
the documents to be provided will depend on whether the property is owned, rented etc. So the relevant documents could be a copy of the tenancy agreement, letter from landlord, land registry title etc.
Proof the financial requirement is met
If relying on salary, you will need to include recent payslips and bank statements and the employment contract. It can also be helpful to include an employer letter on company letterhead confirming employment and salary.
Proof the English language requirement is met
Your application must include proof of sufficient level of English Language such as a copy of their English Language Test Certificate or their Degree certificate.
Additional documents may also be required, depending on your circumstances. For example, if you have been married before, you should provide proof of your divorce.
How long does the spouse visa last?
Spouse visas are granted for an initial period of two and half years.
To remain in the UK after this period, you will have to apply to extend your spouse visa before your visa expires. After 5 years, you can become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
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 around 8 – 12 weeks, although processing times can vary.
You will, in any event, need to apply in advance of your Tier 4 leave expiry to avoid overstaying and falling out of lawful status.
How much does it cost to switch to the spouse visa?
The fee for making an application to switch from a Tier 4 visa to a spouse visa from within the UK is £1033. If you need to make an application in person using the priority visa service, there will be an additional fee.
Most applicants will be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge and there is also a fee of £19.20 to enrol your biometric information.
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.
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.
Switching from Tier 4 to a Spouse Visa FAQs
Can I change my student visa to spouse visa in UK?
You can apply to switch from the student to spouse visa provided you meet the eligibility requirements, which includes being married to a British citizen or a person with ILR or settled status in the UK.
How long is a spouse visa valid for UK?
If applying from within the UK, the spouse visa is usually granted for 30 months.
How much does a spouse visa cost UK?
The Home Office application fee in 2021 is £1,033 if you are applying to switch to the spouse visa inside the UK, or £1,523 if you are applying from outside the UK.
Last updated: 15 March 2021