The UK settlement fiancee visa is specifically designed for partners of British citizens and UK legal permanent residents wishing to get married in the UK within six months. This visa category allows a non-EEA/EU national to come to the UK to marry and subsequently switch into the spouse or spousal visa category (further leave to remain or FLRm) from within the country. The settlement fiancee visa must not be confused with a short-term visit for marriage visa which is granted on the condition that the holder will leave the UK after the marriage has taken place.
The first step towards a successful UK fiancee visa application may seem obvious, yet it is missed by many couples who mistakenly assume that applying for a settlement visa is merely a formality. There are certain eligibility requirements that the foreign partner and their sponsor must meet in order to reunite in the UK. The criteria established by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), formerly UK Border Agency (UKBA), the official body that deals with UK visa and immigration applications, are based on the complex rules and regulations which are often unstated, poorly stated, or without any apparent purpose. What initially looks like a simple task of filling out routine application forms and paying fees rapidly turns into a strange world full of hostile immigration officials asking numerous questions to confirm that you and your loved one meet the strict criteria for approval. Rushing into the minefield of immigration may not be the best approach to resolving individual cases as each UK entry clearance application is considered on its own merits. Research and thorough preparation is the key to success.
In order to successfully obtain a UK fiancee visa, applicants must meet the following basic requirements, although this is by no means exhaustive, as every immigration case is different. The UKBA Entry Clearance Officers (ECO) are trained to examine family applications based on objective facts and with the use of some ‘rules of thumb’. The vast majority of settlement applications are decided on a ‘balance of probabilities’ without reference to the applicant.
- ‘Present and settled’: The sponsor must be entitled to live and work in the UK without restrictions on their stay. The qualifying sponsor must be either a British citizen, whether through birth, descent or by naturalisation, or legal permanent resident holding indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or right of abode in the UK. The sponsor must be ‘present and settled’ in the UK or, if residing overseas on a temporary basis, expect to return to the UK to live before or at the same time as the applicant enters the country on a fiancee visa.
- Free to marry: Both the sponsor and their foreign fiancee must be legally free to marry at the time of application, or able to demonstrate that their divorce/dissolution proceedings are well underway. The UK fiancee visa application will normally be refused if the examining UKBA officials are not satisfied that the applicant and their sponsor are able to get married within six months.
- Age requirement: Both parties must be at least 18 years of age at the time of application. If the applicant is about to turn 18, and the sponsor is 18 or over, the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) has the authority to issue a fiancee visa on a discretionary basis. The visa will normally be valid from the date the applicant has reached the qualifying age.
- Requirement to have met: Sufficient documentary evidence must be provided to show that the sponsor and their foreign fiancee have met in person prior to filing the settlement visa application. It is advisable to spend as much time together as possible, as the UKBA officials tend to be suspicious of couples with no extensive ‘face-to-face’ meeting history prior to sponsorship.
- Wedding arrangements: Both parties must have a serious intention to marry within six months of the fiancee visa validity period. The marriage must take place in the UK.
- ‘Bona fide’ relationship: It must be evident that the applicant and their sponsor have a genuine relationship as defined by the UK Border Agency. Detailed proof must be supplied to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the examining UKBA Entry Clearance Officers that both parties intend to stay together in a committed relationship following their marriage in the UK.
- English language test: Effective November 29, 2010 applicants who are not citizens of a predominantly English-speaking country are required to pass a mandatory English language test before applying for a UK settlement visa as a fiancee, proposed civil partner, de facto partner or spouse of a British citizen or UK permanent resident. Applicants who have a degree which was taught or researched in English and evaluated by UK NARIC as meeting or exceeding the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s degree in the UK are normally exempt from the new English language requirement.
- Financials and accommodation: The sponsor must be financially secure and have suitable accommodation in the UK. The UK Border Agency introduced a new threshold requirement on July 9, 2012. A qualifying sponsor must be earning £18,600 per annum for at least six months immediately preceding the date of filing the application (12 months for self-employed sponsors). This rises to £22,400 if there is one dependent, £24,800 for two dependents, £27,200 for three etc. (£2,400 for each additional child included in the settlement application). Sponsors may also rely on other personal financial resources, such as savings or non-employment sources of income and permitted benefits, sufficient to maintain the applicant in the UK without recourse to public funds. Applicant’s savings and non-employment income may also be taken into account by the UKBA officials when making a final determination of eligibility. Both the applicant and their sponsor are required to submit evidence of meeting the new threshold requirements as part of the initial application. The new threshold requirement does not apply to sponsors in receipt of DLA or other related benefits according to UK Border Agency policy guidelines.
There may be other ‘local’ requirements beyond these basics depending on the country of application. The eligibility requirements may include medical checks (in certain countries, such as the Philippines, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Russia, Ukraine, China, Belarus, Hong Kong and some others, applicants are tested for active tuberculosis). If the foreign partner is living and working in another country on a temporary basis, they will be required to provide proof of long-term immigration status in that country, i.e. residence card, work permit. Otherwise, they may be required to return to their home country to submit the settlement application through the local British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission.