17 February 2020
The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has released the new immigration instructions affecting Appendix FM settlement fiancée, spouse and unmarried partner visa applications made outside the UK. In a brief one-page internal memo addressed to the UKVI’s commercial partners VFS and TLS, the Home Office provides a list of specific documents that will no longer be accepted as part of Appendix FM family applications. The new policy does not affect applications made in the UK, i.e. further leave to remain (FLR) applications under the 5 or 10-year partner route to settlement.
These important changes are introduced as a result of the UKVI document reduction pilot scheme for Appendix FM spouse and partner visa applications launched by the Home Office on the 16th September 2019 at six UK Visa Application Centres in India. The scheme has now been extended globally resulting in the aforementioned policy memorandum being released in February 2020.
The reasoning behind the new UKVI policy is to reduce the amount of documents submitted as part of Appendix FM settlement partner and spouse visa applications. Although well-intentioned, the idea of putting certain restrictions in place may result in an increased number of family applications being refused on relationship grounds. There is no clear Home Office guidance of what actually constitutes sufficient evidence of a genuine and stable relationship, as all family visa applications are assessed based on their individual merits. In light of recent procedural changes, couples are naturally concerned to ensure that they sufficiently demonstrate the genuine and ongoing nature of their relationship as the burden of proof falls on the visa applicant and their sponsor in the UK.
Forcing couples to exclude certain types of “unnecessary” documents as a matter of the new UKVI immigration instructions without providing an exhaustive list of other supporting documents that may be accepted by the UKVI case workers when conducting a relationship assessment creates a lot of uncertainty at the moment. The documents that will not be accepted include call logs, social media chat history, money transfers, greeting cards, phone cards, wedding receipts and invitations, letters from friends etc. It is unclear at this stage how the UKVI case workers expect partner, fiancée and spouse visa applicants to demonstrate regular contact with their sponsor in the UK without call logs or social media chat printouts. Likewise, it is unclear how couples are expected to demonstrate shared financial commitments without submitting money transfer receipts, as generally, those applying for a partner or spouse visa from outside the UK are unable to provide a joint bank account, tenancy agreement or utility bills in both names due to not living together with their sponsor. Apart from phone logs and money transfers, it is impossible for many couples to provide any other supporting documents to demonstrate that their relationship is genuine and subsisting.
The UKVI states that with immediate effect “prohibited” documents will be excluded by VFS and TLS staff during the scanning phase of the application process. VFS and TLS offices around the world have been instructed not to accept the above-referenced documents provided in support of an Appendix FM settlement partner, fiancée or spouse visa application. They will not be scanned. This really puts the matter of having a “decision ready” application and other adequate evidence into perspective. Please contact our team of expert UK family visa advisers to find out what other documents may be used to support a settlement partner or marriage visa application.