UK partner and marriage visa fees to increase effective 6 April 2018

23 March 2018

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have announced that the current visa application fees will be increased at the beginning of April 2018. The UKVI have on many past occasions raised their fees between March and April annually. The new fees have been approved by Parliament and will come into force on 6 April 2018. This means that all individuals applying for a UK de facto partner or marriage visa on or after the above date will be subject to the new visa fees.

The cost of applying for a UK settlement visa from outside the UK, i.e. fiancée, unmarried partner or spouse of a British Citizen or legal permanent resident, will go up from current £1,464 to £1,523 per applicant (£59 increase). Minor dependants under the age of 18 must pay a separate visa application fee, regardless of the outcome of the principal applicant’s immigration application as the UKVI visa processing fees are non-refundable. Unfortunately, there is no option for a refund should the applicant receive an unfavourable decision.

Those who apply for further leave to remain (FLR) to switch or extend their existing partner or spouse visa from within the UK, will have to pay £1,033 (currently £993) for postal applications, or £1,643 (currently £1,583) for applications made in person at the local UKVI Public Enquiry Office (PEO). For indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applicants, the current Home Office fees have had an increase of £92, leaving sole applicants with no dependents a fee of £2,389 for single postal applications and £2,999 for premium PEO applications, respectively.

Those who opt for the same day decision can apply in person. The same day service attracts an additional fee aside from the standard application fees as listed in the categories above. Effective 6 April 2018, the cost of booking a PEO appointment in the UK for FLR and ILR applicants will increase from current £590 to £610 which includes dependent children.

Applicants in certain countries can benefit from additional user pay services, i.e. settlement priority service (10 to 15 day turnaround), walk in without an appointment, keep passport when applying. There has been an increase in these aspects of the application process. The UKVI settlement priority (fast track) service fee is set to increase to £573. As usual, this is the expedited or priority service fee per applicant, including any dependents, regardless of age and aside from the International Healthcare Surcharge (fiancée applications excluded).

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Mandatory NHS immigration health surcharge for partners to double

7 February 2018

The immigration healthcare surcharge (IHS) was first introduced in April 2015 with the view to provide the NHS with more funds to assist them in the provision of medical services to those seeking to settle in the UK in addition to the British public who also use the NHS. This fee applies to the main applicant and any dependent children. It is also irrespective of whether the applicant or their sponsor in the UK holds individual private healthcare insurance or joint family private insurance. The fee is still a mandatory requirement as part of the visa application.

Prior to April 2015 applicants were not required to pay any fees to use the National Health Service in the UK. The initial fee for applicants submitting an entry clearance application from outside the UK was £600, which is £200 for each year of the visa duration. Those who were applying for further leave to remain from within the UK were required to pay £500. Only members of specific countries such as Australia and New Zealand were initially exempt from paying the IHS fee, but they were later added to the list and are now required to pay the mandatory NHS surcharge as part of their visa application. The NHS surcharge does not apply to fiancées of British Citizens and UK legal permanent residents as well as family members of EEA nationals living and working in the UK as qualified persons.

The UK government has announced plans to increase the mandatory NHS fee for applicants seeking to live in the UK for more than six months. The new proposed fee stands at £400 per year, as opposed to the current £200 per year per applicant. Those seeking to apply for a visa in other longer-term categories such as students and those on Tier 5 visas will expect to pay around £300 as opposed to the £150 previously required.

This change may be acceptable for a couple with no dependant children, but for a family of four, five or more seeking to reunite and finally enjoy their lives together in the UK, the new NHS fee will be between £2,000 to £5000. This is in addition to the UKVI immigration application fees which currently stand at £1,464 per applicant for entry clearance, the travel tickets to the UK, transportation to the visa application centre and fees to either expedite the visa application (currently £551 per applicant), or courier original supporting documents to the UKVI processing centre in Sheffield for example. We can only imagine the financial burden this will place on many families, those who may just meet the minimum income threshold through employment, self-employment, or who may apply with savings alone.

Unfortunately, the NHS and Home Office fees cannot be paid in instalments or once the applicant arrives in the UK and begins working so that they can contribute to the NHS fee. This is a mandatory fee which must be paid when submitting a UK partner or spouse visa application to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Failure to make this payment means that either the application can be refused, or that one cannot proceed pass the printing of an appointment confirmation due to the automatic redirection to the NHS payment website.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New UKVI scanning service introduced for some participating countries

12 November 2017

The scanning service was first introduced in early 2017 to aid both efficiency and ease of processing for UK visa applications, including settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visas. Due to the UKVI decision making centre in Sheffield undertaking the application processing of more countries directly, creating a new scanning service allows the UKVI to improve their efficiency and meeting the processing time frames. Reducing the number of paper applications sent to Sheffield directly by post essentially means that the vast majority of applications will be mandatorily scanned and submitted electronically. Although well intentioned, the new scanning service has resulted in an increasing number of settlement applications being refused due to clerical errors made by VFS and TLS staff around the world.

What is the UKVI scanning service?

The new UKVI scanning service enables the applicant to have their supporting documents scanned and submitted to the UKVI decision making centre in Sheffield electronically. This service is provided for a fee, or without charge depending on the country of application. For example, if applying from the Philippines, there will be a fee payable to use the scanning service at the Visa Application Centres (VAC) in Manila and Cebu. However, if applying from Albania or Canada the new scanning service is provided without charge. For some countries where scanning is mandatory, there will be no extra fee for this service.

Once the documents have been scanned and submitted to the DMC (decision making centre) in Sheffield by VFS or TLS staff at the local UK Visa Application Centre, the applicant will be able to take their important original supporting documents back home. Therefore, there is no need to send any original documents to Sheffield by post. The applicant’s passport will be retained by the Visa Application Centre in the country of application.

Those who chose to use the new UKVI scanning service will need to take the original supporting documents to their biometric appointment at the relevant Visa Application Centre in the country of their residence. The VFS or TLS staff will scan the documents onsite and return them to the applicant. All documents presented must be legible, not crumpled and no smaller than A4 in size. Items which are smaller than A4 should always be copied onto another A4 sheet of paper to ensure the evidence meets the requirements. Staples and paper clips must be removed before submission, which allows the documents to be scanned quickly by the VFS or TLS clerks, reducing the waiting time at the VAC. We always encourage our clients to make a copy of all the documents submitted. This means that the duplicate copy of the application is always retained by the applicant or their sponsor.

Risks involved

The scanning service proves to be reassuring to applicants who prefer to keep their original documents due to sentimental or other reasons. However, as this method is not error free, there have been some situations where the scanning service resulted in the examining entry clearance officer (ECO) in Sheffield overlooking submitted supporting documents resulting in an application being refused. This is a recent example of some of the negative sides to the scanning process, as explained by a UKVI scanning service user:

“They have refused our application as Danni is not British?? We have his British Passport there with us and took photocopies of it, that were included in the paperwork? We are completely bewildered. We of course presented Danni passport which the lady in Dusseldorf scanned. She said they didn’t need to retain his passport as it would be sent ‘electronically’ to the UK. What a shambles! It seems like half our documents haven’t been properly scanned and forwarded to the UK. The refusal is based on “It is not accepted that your sponsor is a British citizen as claimed. This is because you have not provided any evidence that he is a British citizen and holds a UK Passport. We drove 8 hours to present his passport!! I am trying to contact the TLS Dusseldorf office, but you can’t ring them, only an only “Feedback and Complaints’ screen. I have tried typing into that three times and it when I hit ‘save’ it just blanks the fields again. Useless! We are going crazy!! I don’t know if you can contact Sheffield or TLS Dusselfdorf?? and ask what happened to our documents?

In this situation it is always wise to carefully observe the clerk at the UK Visa Application Centre as they scan the application to ensure that they do not miss anything out or overlook any documents that are vitally important to the application. While it is nerve wracking flagging up a potential oversight with visa officials on the spot, we would always encourage our clients to do so, as it minimises the distress caused if the application is refused due to “failure to submit appropriate documents or evidence”, which was in fact submitted at the Visa Application Centre, but overlooked by the VFS or TLS clerks.

As the supporting documents are all scanned at the Visa Application Centre on the day of the appointment, there is no opportunity for the sponsor to forward any additional documents to Sheffield from the UK. The sponsor must ensure all of the supporting documents are sent to the applicant in good time, as they cannot re-submit any documents at a later date. In addition to this, documents cannot be scanned and submitted to the DMC in Sheffield from any other location except from at the Visa Application Centre with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of normal residence.

As the UKVI has recently increased the number of countries which they directly process applications from, the list of countries that will be required to post or scan their applications into the UKVI may change over the next few months, and we will continually advise our clients of such changes to enable them to prepare their applications in the correct format for the decision making centre in Sheffield. In those countries where the scanning service is not mandatory yet, we encourage our clients to submit original supporting documents to Sheffield by courier thereby minimising the risk of refusal due to a clerical error on VFS or TLS side.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New ways to meet the financial requirements as of 10 August 2017

24 July 2017

It has been exactly five years and two weeks since the UKVI introduced life shattering legislation requiring British citizens and permanent residents seeking to sponsor their spouse, fiancée, unmarried partner and their dependent children for a UK settlement visa to meet the financial requirement. The minimum income threshold was set at £18,600 per annum for couples with no children. If the sponsoring British citizen and their foreign partner or spouse have a dependent child the threshold rises to £22,400. An additional £2,400 is added for any subsequent child.

The result of the 9th July 2012 legislation meant heartache for families who did not meet the mandatory income requirements. Thousands of settlement visa applications have been placed on hold since February 2017 following a Supreme Court judgment, and some applications did not even reach the entry clearance officers desk, due to not meeting the current immigration rules. Especially hard hit were sponsors employed in the northern and southern areas of the UK, outside of London, where the pay gap was unbearable and unfairly placed such sponsors with the decision to move to another country with their foreign spouse.

Even with a starting salary under the threshold with a promise of it rising after probation or a years’ service, would still mean thousands of potential applications likely to be refused on financial grounds. Self-employed sponsors knowing that they would have an influx of clients and could demonstrate they would meet the income threshold, based on upcoming contracts, still would not have a chance of being considered as this would not reflect the accurate income at the time of submission. As a result, literally thousands of families have been separated due to the UKVI financial requirements without the hope of being able to use Article 8 as a defence. However, the new immigration rules of August 2017 stand to give many families hope again.

Support from third parties

On a review of the original Appendix FM (financial requirement) the rules stated that third party financial support would not be accepted. However, the new rules as of 10 August 2017 indicate that in certain exceptional circumstances third party support will be accepted in some cases.

The UKVI will be accepting the following in support of an application:

  1. a credible guarantee of sustainable financial support to the applicant or their partner from a third party. This can be a family member or close friend who can support the applicant
  2. Whether there is enough evidence to assure the UKVI caseworker that there will be no change to either the financial assistance available to the applicant and their partner; and
  3. The relationship between the applicant/sponsor and the third part is not likely to change

Discussing this aspect, the third party, such as a family member or friend, will have to provide verifiable documentary evidence that they are able to support the applicant in the UK and this can take the form of an affidavit which is witnessed / notarised with evidence of the financial support available, e.g. salaried employment or savings. They also need to provide evidence of their financial situation to allow the UKVI entry clearance officer to assess whether the guaranteed financial support will be available to the applicant and sponsor throughout the duration of their settlement visa or further leave to remain (FLR).

Therefore, if a third party promises to provide support, provides an undertaking and financial evidence of support, and yet their employment is only fixed term for six months, then it is highly unlikely that this would be accepted, because the financial support should be available to the sponsor and applicant for the period of the limited leave applied for, i.e. 30 months for a spouse / partner settlement visa or further leave to remain (FLR), if applied from within the UK.

The relationship held between the couple applying for the visa and the third party is another important aspect. If the relationship is that of a parent and child, supportive relationship whereby they have always helped each other and there is also evidence of this, then this relationship is unlikely to change. This should be taken into account when relying on third party support.

Perspective employment of self-employment income

The previous immigration rules indicated that the sponsoring British citizen or permanent resident had to be with their employer for six-months or more at a salary of £18,600 per annum. If the sponsor had recently started new employment they must have a letter from the new employer confirming the income amount and have evidence of earning £18,000 within the last 12 months prior to application. The rules now indicate that the UKVI will consider the following:

  1. credible prospective earnings from the sustainable employment or self-employment of the applicant or their partner; or
  2. any other credible and reliable source of income or funds for the applicant or their partner, which is available to them at the date of application or which will become available to them during the period of limited leave applied for.

The new rules indicate that prospective employment or self-employment will now be accepted IF a formal offer of employment has been made, or there is evidence that within three months of the applicant arriving in the UK, self-employment or employment for the sponsor will commence. Unlike in the previous rules, self-employed sponsors can now provide a signed or draft contract for the provision of services or franchise which is on headed paper of the company that the self-employed person will be providing services for. These all contribute to supporting evidence showing that the income will be available and can be relied upon.

The new rules only act as an exception to be considered if the application at first glance does not meet the £18,600 requirement based on self-employment or employment categories directly without considering future earnings or third party assistance. The income requirement has not been dropped, it remains at £18,600 but allows that with assistance from the sources above, the requirements are met, or that if under the UKVI minimum income threshold requirement.

Mortgages as a source of income

Considering the fact that the new legislation is based on exceptions and that the income requirement is still the same, should the application not meet the required financial threshold, it may be possible to rely on income or funds from other acceptable sources such as residential or commercial mortgage. In order to facilitate a UK visa application without hard cash savings available or the relevant income, a sponsor may decide to purchase a property with a mortgage amount or loan to value slightly higher than the sale price of the property in question.

With the loan to value being slightly higher than the property sale price (and after the deposit is applied) will, on application of the mortgage by the lender, permit the sponsor to have extra cash available to meet the shortfall of the income requirements. Subject to the mortgage being provided by a lender that is the FSA equivalent regulated, as such and that with the exceeding loan to value, the mortgage payments are still reasonably affordable by the mortgage applicant for the duration of the limited leave to remain applied for, this additional source of income may be considered by the UKVI caseworkers when making a final determination of eligibility.

Considerations of the HRA 8 and children

The UKVI now must consider that there are some situations where an offshore parent of a child in the UK would be disadvantaged by the decision to refuse the application based on the income requirement not being met. A prime example of this is where parents in the UK must raise their child without the assistance of family or grandparents, and must work because the other parent may not have a UK visa. The parent in the UK obtains employment to care for themselves and the child, but because of not having the support of grandparents or assistance with school runs, school holiday cover etc., it is only practical for the main caregiving parent to resort to lower paying part-time jobs to enable them to care for the child. This automatically affects the possibility of never meeting the income requirement that would enable the offshore parent to come to the UK, and share the financial responsibilities.

This approach was often ignored by the UKVI. However, this story is played out repeatedly, as it is so common, the new legislation considered this. Therefore, it now covers article 8 consideration and such exceptional circumstances, that as in the above a refusal would deprive the rights of a child under 18 by invoking harsh consequences on that child or partner. It will now become mandatory for the UKVI caseworkers to consider the interest of any child under 18.

Access to Public funds

There are also two situations where some benefits will be considered with the employment income as a base figure. The circumstances permitted are if (1) a parent who has a low income is claiming certain benefits, and there are compelling reasons involving the welfare of a child, or (2) where an application meets the grounds for destitution under section 95 the Immigration Act.

Duration of leave to remain when applying under the new rules

It is vital to note that where such exemption applications are made as indicated above. The applicant will be placed on a 120-month route (10 years) to settlement (ILR/Naturalisation), if during this time the sponsor/ applicant meet the income requirement without the four exceptions above, then the applicant can revert to being on the 60-month rout (5 year route to settlement).

This legislation is to be enacted from the 10th August 2017. In the meantime, while we wait for the final areas of the new legislation to be refined as indicated in the statement of changes, we welcome your questions on the upcoming changes. Please complete the online assessment form on the right hand side if you wish to discuss your case with one of our UK marriage visa consultants. We aim to respond within 24 hours excluding weekends and bank holidays.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UKVI visa application processing fees increase from 6 April 2017

5 April 2017

It has been announced that the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) processing fees are set to increase tomorrow, 6 April 2017. The new Home Office immigration and nationality fees were approved by Parliament on 3 April 2017. The significant increase is seen at the settlement fiancée, unmarried partner and spouse visa applications made outside the UK and indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications for non-EEA nationals who have already completed their five-year probationary period in the UK. The new fees are as follows.

The cost of applying for a UK settlement fiancée, partner and marriage visa is set to rise from its current rate of £1,195 to £1,464 per applicant (£269 increase). Postal indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and further leave to remain (FLR) applications for temporary visa holders with no dependents will cost more – £2,297 (£422 increase) and £993 (£182 increase), respectively. Those who wish to apply in person (same day service) at the local UKVI public enquiry offices will have to pay an additional fee of £590 on top of the standard application fee. Dependants must pay a separate application fee, which is non-refundable regardless of the outcome of the principal applicant’s immigration application.

The UKVI settlement priority (fast track) visa service fee will rise to £551 (currently £450) per applicant, including any dependents, regardless of age. This additional service is available to eligible applicants in participating countries which guarantees the settlement partner, fiancée or spousal visa application will be processed at the front of the UKVI queue, normally within 10 to 15 working days. It should be noted that this service does not guarantee a successful outcome, as settlement priority applications not meeting the UKVI criteria for approval will be refused. Unsuccessful applicants are not entitled to a refund.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Supreme Court: income threshold requirement ‘lawful in principle’

1 March 2017

In late February 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that a controversial Home Office policy was ‘lawful in principle’. The policy, which requires households to reach an income threshold of £18,600 per annum before spouses or partners from outside the European Economic Area are granted a UK settlement partner visa, fiancee visa or a spouse visa, has brought widespread protest and condemnation. However, while critical of the government’s implementation and general handling of the policy, Supreme Court judges ultimately elected to uphold it. Nonetheless, they expressed criticism for the government’s dereliction of duty to children affected by the policy.

Currently, thousands of families are separated by national borders, as the minimum income threshold makes it impossible for many non-British partners to enter the country. This, argue the families affected, violates their human right to a family life. According to the Home Office, the reasoning behind the financial requirement is to lessen the burden on the British taxpayer. By ensuring that families can support themselves before any UK settlement visas under the partner route are granted, the Home Office believes that they are preventing these families from relying upon the welfare state, and thus addressing concerns within Britain about the impact of immigration on the benefits system. For couples with no children under the age of 18, the minimum income requirement is £18,600 per annum. If the sponsoring British citizen and their foreign partner or spouse have a child of non-British citizenship, that rises to £22,400. An additional £2,400 is added for any subsequent children. As is stands, the policy does not apply to partners or spouses within the European Economic Area – but this may alter, pending Brexit negotiations.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the financial requirements did not take into account the income of the non-British partner unless they were physically in the UK with permission to work at the time of application. Nor did they consider any outside assets apart from cash savings that the couple or family may have. The decision was made purely on the earnings of the British partner. Campaigners pointed out that this put many couples in an impossible and frustrating position – as a minimum income threshold which could easily be met were both their incomes taken into account is nigh on impossible for someone to achieve on their own, possibly while also trying to raise a family without the presence and assistance of their partner. Many Britons have moved abroad in order to be with their partner, and live as a family.

Judges were not unsympathetic to the plight of the thousands of couples and families affected by the current Home Office policy. They admitted that the ruling would cause “significant hardship” for many people. They were also heavily critical of the government’s implementation of the policy – particularly as regards children. While upholding the Home Office’s right to continue with their minimum income threshold, they also warned that changes would have to be made. In particular the Home Office must take “proper account” of the nation’s duty to safeguard children. Furthermore, the Supreme Court recommended that “alternative sources” of income were considered during visa applications – not simply the wages of the British party.

The Supreme Court has no legal power to overturn or alter government policies, unless those policies are deemed to be intrinsically unlawful, or in contravention of human rights. The seven judges who considered this case were condemnatory of the suffering it has caused, but ruled that it was not, ultimately, against the law to require families to meet a minimum income threshold before visas could be granted. The Home Office has stated that “The court has endorsed our approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities. This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest. The current rules remain in force, but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child.”

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Removal of 28-day grace period for FLR extension applications

21 November 2016

The recent changes to the UK immigration rules remove the ’28-day grace period’ which allowed applicants to apply for further leave to remain (FLR) after their current visa or leave to remain had expired. Apart from other migration categories, the new Home Office regulations also apply to extension applications made under the partner route on or after November 24, 2016 including spouse, unmarried partner and dependent children applications sponsored by British citizens and UK permanent residents.

The 28-day grace period was established in October 2012 for all visas to allow the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to disregard a small period of overstaying by the applicant provided an extension application was submitted within 28 days from the expiry of the initial visa. In this case, the examining UKVI officials could consider extension applications under normal immigration rules and procedures without imposing any penalties or sanctions on the applicant. The 28-day grace period arose from an amendment to the Immigration Act 1971 referred to as ‘Section 3C leave’. A person would not be deemed an overstayer while they were waiting a decision on an in-time application. However, when the application for a visa extension was made out of time, section 3C was not applicable. The 28-day grace period was therefore introduced to deal with extension applications made post the expiry date of the visa. It has been considered helpful in preventing out-of-time applications from being disregarded because of a simple mistake or exceptional circumstances. This approach was confirmed by the Upper Tribunal in December 2015 in the case of R vs Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Effective November 24, 2016 the 28-day grace period will no longer apply. The government seeks to emphasise the importance of UK immigration laws being complied with strictly. Recently, the Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, published a written ministerial statement summarising the amendments and noting that the new requirement is designed to encourage greater compliance with the rules. Effectively, this means that all those with a valid visa to remain in the UK (either on the partner route or other) must ensure that their extension applications are made before their current visa expires.

In an attempt to reduce the harshness the government has reduced the 28-day period to 14 days. Currently, the UKVI can disregard this limited overstaying period if the Secretary of State considers there is a good reason beyond the control of the applicant or their representative, for the tardiness. Moreover, any person who has obtained extended leave via section 3C can only stay for 14 days from the expiry of any leave extended by section 3C.

Thus far, the reduced grace period has received wide criticism, on the grounds that it does not adequately protect individuals who are entitled to remain in the UK because there may be circumstances beyond their control. The critics note that there is a genuine need both for leniency and for setting realistic time frames. There are specific cases, for instance, which would lead individuals to infringe the new time limits. Without a doubt, some applicants who have been refused permission to remain in the UK may need more than 14 days to seek legal advice, understand their current situation and consider the best option for themselves and their families.

The shorter 14-day period places undue pressure on families, critics note. If the objective of the grace period is to provide leniency, then the regulations should remain true to the spirit of the law and offer a realistic time period for applicants to put their affairs in order. “A 14-day grace period is better than nothing,” argue those who back the new requirement, though there are many examples of cases in which 14 days may simply not be enough. If an individual’s right to remain in the UK is paramount, and leniency is taken into account, the measure can, perhaps, be considered excessively strict. Until any amendments are made to the new regulations, however, all individuals relying on visas to remain in the UK should make it a priority to apply for extended leave before their current visa expires.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New A2 English language requirement in the family route

15 November 2016

In January 2016, the UK Home Office announced a new English language requirement for foreign nationals applying to extend their existing settlement visa or leave to remain under the family route. Non-EEA partners and spouses of British citizens and UK legal permanent residents wishing to extend their existing leave after completing their initial two and a half year probationary period in the UK will soon have to pass a mandatory English test at A2 level.

The purpose behind the new requirement is to ensure that those living in the UK on a settlement spouse or partner visa continue to learn English and increase their fluency over time. That is, a wife, husband or unmarried partner from non-majority English speaking countries who is taking the family immigration path to remain in the UK, will have to prove that they possess a specified higher level of English. The new Home Office requirement will be effective from May 2017 onwards. It will apply to all individuals whose leave to enter or remain as a partner or spouse is due to expire on or after May 1, 2017 apart from nationals of majority English speaking countries and who hold a degree taught or researched in English. Applicants over 65 and those who have a disability which impedes them from fulfilling the requirement or can prove exceptional circumstances are exempt.

The English language requirements for family migrants have been present in UK immigration law since November 2010. Currently partners and spouses of British citizens and permanent residents are required to show they have at least an A1 speaking and listening comprehension level before they can apply for a settlement fiancée, de facto partner or spousal visa to enter or remain in the UK. The new A2 requirement only affects partners and spouses who have already been living in the UK for two and a half years and who wish to remain further. Those applying for an initial fiancée, partner or marriage visa from outside the UK will still be required to pass an A1 level English test. Once in the UK, first time family visa holders will be required to pass a higher A2 level English test before they can apply to extend their existing visas from inside the UK. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) aims to encourage non-EEA nationals to learn English so they can integrate into British society as quickly as possible. By ensuring that all those wishing to remain in the UK progressively improve their English level, the government feels that immigrants will be more likely to find work and adapt well to their new country.

There are specific providers that are approved under the Immigration Rules to provide A2 level speaking and listening tests for non-EEA nationals applying for further leave to remain as a partner or spouse. These are Trinity College London and IELTS SELT Consortium. The UKVI English test for partners applying to extend their existing UK settlement visa or leave to remain are designed to confirm the applicant’s fluency in speaking and listening to ensure they can understand short, simple, clear messages and announcements. In the speaking part of the test, the candidate must be able to follow a simple factual conversation or express simple opinions.

The UKVI-approved Trinity College London and IELTS listening and speaking tests for partners and spouses last a total of seven minutes and are undertaken with one examiner. Candidates can prepare for the exam online or can opt to follow an accredited English language course.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK spouse and partner visa application process after Brexit

11 July 2016

Brexit is a huge topic of conversation in most households in Britain right now. Whilst Leave campaigners are rejoicing, Remain campaigners and those EEA citizens living in the UK that were unable to vote are feeling sad about the split, which many anticipate will be a very messy divorce. Interest in UK immigration and British citizenship has increased since the Brexit decision was announced, and many visa holders and prospective applicants are asking questions such as what will happen if I hold a UK settlement fiancee, partner or spouse visa, or an EEA family permit? Will I still be able to apply for a visa to remain in the UK if I do not have one already? The answers to these questions are as yet unclear, and will remain unclear until article 50 is invoked and the UK officially decides to leave the EU. However, it would be reasonable to assume that living and working in the UK is likely to be significantly more difficult for EEA nationals and their family members after the leave vote, and is likely to involve adhering to new restrictions and barriers: these barriers are likely to be financially costly, and take the form of permits, visas or other requirements.

Much of the ways in which Brexit will affect UK visa applicants will depend on whether or not Britain wishes to remain a part of the EEA common market. It is expected that if Britain wishes to continue trading with the EU then a commitment to continue the freedom of movement for the EEA nationals will be part of this negotiation: in that instance much of the visa application process will remain the same. This would be good news for EEA citizens and their families living, or wishing to settle in the UK on a permanent basis. However, if Britain makes the decision to leave the common market in order to fulfil their promise to regain control of the borders then the visa application process is likely to look very different leaving EEA nationals in a situation where they will need to apply for UK entry visas to remain in the UK in much the same way as non-EEA citizens currently do.

UK settlement visas for partners and spouses of British Citizens

The good news is that non-EEA nationals who are applying for a UK de facto partner, fiancee or spousal visa are the least likely to experience much change to the application process as a result of the Brexit decision. These types of visas are issued to foreign nationals who have a partner or spouse that is a British citizen or has already achieved permanent settled status in the UK (indefinite leave to remain or ILR), so the anticipation is that there will be little to no change in the way that these applications are handled by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). UK settlement visas are issued under UK immigration Rules and there are currently no legislative proposals to change the existing policy.

Surinder Singh route

Spouses of British citizens living in other EEA countries who are hoping to take advantage of the Surinder Singh route to settle in the UK are likely to be affected. The Surinder Singh route to entry appeals to couples that do not meet the financial requirement of their settlement visa application, and allows the sponsoring British citizen to move to another EU country before bringing their non-EEA spouse to live with them in the UK under the EEA family permit scheme circumnavigating the need to apply for a traditional UK spouse visa under UK immigration Rules. This route is expected to be one of the first to close.

EEA family permit

Most of the media attention surrounding the rights of EEA nationals to live in the UK has focused on those individuals applying for EEA family permits and residence cards to confirm their right to live and work in the UK. This is where the results of the Brexit referendum are most likely to change the application process. EEA nationals who have been living in the UK for less than five years are expected to be asked to apply for the relevant (points based or family) visa in order to remain in the country, whilst future EEA applicants hoping to live in the country would have to apply for UK entry clearance in the same way as non-EEA citizens are currently required to. The group that this will affect the most are EEA citizens wishing to move to the UK, along with their non-EEA partners. The process is likely to be more time consuming, complicated and expensive following the process of leaving the EU. It is likely that EEA nationals wishing to settle in the UK permanently will have to meet minimum income requirements, adhere to point based application process and jump through a wide variety of new hoops.

It is likely that EEA citizens residing in the UK currently will not be thrown out of the country, but instead will be asked to apply for a visa to stay – just as non-EEA citizens would be. Those visa applicants who do not meet the requirements may not be able to stay. Those who have obtained permanent status through living in the UK for five non-interrupted years may apply for a Home Office document certifying permanent residence. Although not mandatory, as the UK visa application process becomes more ambiguous and complicated as a result of the Brexit, it is advisable to apply for permanent residence as soon as legally possible. This document confirms the holder’s right to live and work in the UK on an indefinite basis.

It is unlikely that we will see immediate changes to the UK visa application process, and until article 50 is invoked and the discussions between the British government and Brussels surrounding how this will change their relationship begin, we cannot really predict exactly what the results will be. It could well be that the UK wishes to remain part of the EEA common market, in which case the free movement of people is likely to be a non-negotiable part of that agreement. However, until article 50 is invoked, it is hard to predict what the result of this unprecedented process is likely to be.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK partner and spouse visa fees set to rise on 18 March 2016

7 March 2016

The UK government announced earlier this year that UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) application fees would increase to reduce reliance on taxpayer contributions. As a result, some visa categories will see a significant increase (up to 25%) in 2016. Most notably, UK settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visa application processing fee is set to rise from its current rate of £956 to £1,195 per applicant. The associated premium services will also see an increase after 18 March 2016. The UKVI settlement priority service fee will go up from £360 to £450 per applicant. Dependants must pay a separate application fee. All fees are non refundable regardless of the outcome.

Those applying for further leave to remain – FLR, indefinite leave to remain – ILR (settlement) from inside the UK after 18 March 2016 will have to pay £811 (currently £649) and £1,875 (currently 1,500), respectively. Applications made in person at a local UKVI premium service centre in the UK (same day service) will attract a higher booking fee in the amount of £500 (currently £400) per person. Naturalisation application fees will rise to £1,236 (currently £1,005) as the citizenship ceremony fee in the amount of £80 has been added to the UKVI application processing fee.

The NHS immigration health surcharge that must be paid as part of any settlement or FLR application made from inside or outside the UK remains the same in 2016. Those applying for a UK settlement partner or marriage visa from outside the UK are required to pay £600 in addition to their base UKVI application fee whereas FLR applicants must pay £500 per person. Australians and New Zealanders will be required to pay the NHS surcharge as part of their immigration application after 6 April 2016 despite the existing reciprocal health care agreements with the UK.

Posted in UK marriage visa news
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