Where to apply for a UK settlement fiancée, partner or marriage visa?
There is no provision in the immigration rules for issuing a settlement fiancée visa from inside the UK. An initial application must be submitted to the British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission with jurisdiction over the applicant’s country of citizenship or where they normally live and have long-term immigration status. For example, individuals residing outside their home country on a permanent or temporary basis may be eligible to apply for a UK fiancée visa through their local UK visa-issuing post provided they have a valid long-term work visa, student visa or permanent resident status in the country of application.
Unlike fiancée visa applicants, those applying for a UK spouse visa based on marriage to a British citizen or legal permanent resident, or an unmarried partner visa based on a de facto relationship, have the option to switch into the spousal or partner visa category (further leave to remain or FLRm) from within the UK. This provision only applies to those who initially entered the country on a visa or entry clearance valid for over six months (e.g. work visa or student visa). Visitors are not eligible to change their immigration status while in the UK.
Thus, in most cases, the visa process begins when a foreign fiancée, partner or spouse submits a settlement application to the appropriate British Consulate or Embassy abroad. Despite the fact that the sponsoring British citizen or permanent resident is not required to be present with the applicant at the time of submission, a successful outcome often depends on the sponsor’s ability to comply with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) requirements and provide all the necessary supporting documentation as part of the initial application package.
UK Visa Application Centre (VAC)
In most countries, the British Consulates and High Commissions are no longer directly involved in routine administrative processing. The vast majority of UK settlement visa applications are submitted through UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) around the world. It should be noted that all VACs are commercial organisations owned and operated by private companies. Therefore, they play no role whatsoever in the actual decision-making process. It is against official UK Border Agency (UKBA) policy for VAC clerks to play any part in or influence the outcome of a UK marriage, fiancée or partner visa application.
The VACs conduct an initial review of the available evidence to ensure that all supporting documents meet the necessary requirements and are in line with UKBA submission guidelines. It is the applicant’s responsibility to prepare and file a complete and correct application form along with any supporting documentation required for applications made on the basis of marriage or de facto relationship under the settlement category. VAC clerks are not responsible for incomplete or inaccurate applications. The final determination of eligibility will be made by the examining UKBA Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) at the British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission based on the information provided by the applicant and their UK sponsor.
All visa applicants are required to provide biometric information (fingerprints and photographs) as part of the application process. For this purpose, all VACs are equipped with optical fingerprint scanners and digital photo cameras. In addition to reviewing visa applications and biometrics services, some VACs are responsible for collecting visa application fees on behalf of the UK Border Agency and returning processed applications.
In some countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand, visa applicants are required to make a postal application within two weeks of their biometric appointment at a local immigration office. There are no Visa Application Centres in these countries, and applicant’s biometric information is collected by the local immigration authorities, i.e. Department of Homeland Security/USCIS in the United States and INZ offices in New Zealand. Applicants in Australia must have their biometric information processed at their local British Consulate or Embassy.
Once the required biometric data has been collected by third party agencies, applicants have two weeks to send their complete UK settlement visa application, including any supporting documents, to the appropriate UK Border Agency (UKBA) processing hub. UK fiancée, spousal and partner visa applications submitted through the UKBA hub in Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand are forwarded to the regional British High Commission in Manila, Philippines for processing. Effective December 21, 2012, all UK settlement visa applications submitted in the US and Canada are processed in Sheffield, UK.
Decision-making process: no second chance
The vast majority of UK settlement fiancée, partner and marriage visa applications are decided without any further reference to the applicant or their sponsor. The examining UKBA Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) make a decision based on the paper application and any supporting documents included in the initial package. According to the current procedures as defined in the official UKBA policy manual/entry clearance guidance, an interview is not a required part of the application process, which means that you may not be able to explain a discrepancy in your application after it has been submitted. Important: you will not be able to submit additional documents to the UK Border Agency after you have filed your application. The documents you provide at the time you submit your application are the only documents that will be considered. The British Consulate involved in the assessment process will not accept revised application forms and/or additional supporting documents sent later in the process by post, email or fax.
Although not common, some visa applicants may be required to attend a personal interview or participate in a telephone interview with the examining UK Border Agency officials. Statements made during the marriage visa interview will help the UKBA examiner make a final decision. It is entirely at the discretion of the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) whether a settlement visa is granted or denied, or the case requires additional administrative processing. The personal or telephone interview process can be stressful, which often leads to confusion and potentially giving incorrect answers that can delay the application, or even result in refusal. For this reason, it is important to prepare thoroughly for the initial fiancée or marriage visa interview.
You can expect a quick turnaround if your case is considered to be ‘clearly approvable’. This is when an application is complete and accurate and does not raise any concerns over its legitimacy, and complies with the UK immigration rules. Thus, it is safe to say that processing times often depend on the quality of the information and supporting documents provided at the time of submission. A well-presented application with strong documentary evidence will be approved much faster than one with some important information missing.