The settlement spousal visa is absolutely essential for anyone who wishes to live in the UK by virtue of marriage to a British citizen or UK legal permanent resident. Permission to live and work in the UK on a permanent basis can be granted to the foreign spouse, as long as both the applicant and their UK sponsor meet the requirements established by the UK Border Agency, the official government body responsible for administering the immigration system in the UK.
Non-EEA/EU nationals can apply for a UK settlement visa by submitting an application to the British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Successful applicants under this category will initially be granted a multiple entry visa or entry clearance valid for two and a half years with an option to apply for an extension (further leave to remain or FLRm) shortly before the end of their probationary period in the UK.
Foreign partners who are already in the UK on a visa that is valid for more than six months, such as a work permit or student visa for example, may be eligible to apply for a spousal visa from inside the UK. This also applies to settlement fiancee visa holders who have married their intended spouse and seek to remain permanently in the UK on the basis of their marriage. The immigration process is initiated by filing an application for further leave to remain or FLR(m) with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), formerly UK Border Agency (UKBA). The extension application can be submitted by mail or in person. The benefit of applying in person is that the application will be processed on the same day (this option attracts a higher processing fee). Postal applications invariably take longer although the fee is lower.
A UK settlement visa or further leave to remain, if applied from within the UK, gives the foreign husband or wife the right to live and work in the UK for up to two and a half years, and can be considered the first step towards residency (indefinite leave to remain or ILR) in the UK.
In order to qualify for a UK settlement marriage visa, both the applicant and their UK sponsor must meet certain eligibility requirements. This is an area where both partners should give a lot of thought to whatever documents might be used to support the application.
- ‘Present and settled‘: Eligible sponsors are required to have no restrictions on their stay. There are only two types of sponsors that are able to meet this requirement: British citizens, whether by birth, descent or through naturalisation, and UK legal permanent residents, i.e. indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and right of abode holders. If the sponsor is living abroad due to their work or family commitments, they must declare their intention to return to the UK before or at the same time the applicant arrives in the UK on a spouse visa.
- Validity of marriage: Parties must be legally married. The marriage must be valid in the country where it took place and recognised under UK law. Marriage certificates in a foreign language must be translated into English.
- Age requirement: Both parties must be at least 18 years old on the date of arrival in the UK. If the applicant is about to reach the qualifying age, and the sponsor is 18 or over, the UKBA examiner may grant a settlement visa on a discretionary basis. The spousal visa will normally be valid from the date the applicant turns 18.
- Genuine marriage: The applicant must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the examining UKBA immigration officials that they have a ‘bona fide’ and ongoing relationship with their UK sponsor. In order to issue the spouse visa, the Entry Clearance Officer must be satisfied that the marriage was entered into in good faith, and not to evade UK immigration laws.
- Threshold requirement and accommodation: The sponsor must be financially able to support their foreign spouse and any dependents without applying for any disbursements of public funds, and provide suitable accommodation which will not become overcrowded within the definition of the Housing Act. Effective July 9, 2012, sponsors must be earning at least £18,600 per annum (this increases to £22,400 if there is one dependent, £24,800 for two dependents, £27,200 for three etc.) continuously for six months (12 months for self-employed sponsors), or have personal savings and/or other sources of income, including permitted benefits, sufficient to meet the new threshold requirement. Applicant’s personal savings, earnings (if permitted to work in the UK) and non-employment income may also be taken into consideration by the Entry Clearance Officer when assessing a married couple against the existing financial criteria for sponsorship. Under the new rules, if the applicant’s sponsor is in receipt of DLA or other disability-related benefits as defined by the UK Border Agency, they are automatically exempt from the new financial requirement.
- English language test: The UK Border Agency introduced the English language requirement on November 29, 2010. The vast majority of visa applicants are required to pass a mandatory English language test before applying for a UK settlement visa. Only nationals of majority English-speaking countries and applicants who have a degree which was taught or researched in English and deemed by UK NARIC as meeting or exceeding the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s degree in the UK are exempt from the English language requirement. The cost of a test varies depending on the country of application.
In addition to the basic eligibility requirements outlined above, which apply to all UK sponsors and their foreign spouses, there may be other ‘local’ requirements depending on the country in which the partner is based at the time of application. The additional criteria may include medical checks (in some countries, such as the Philippines, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and many others, prospective immigrants are required to undergo a mandatory pre-entry TB test prior to applying for a settlement visa). If the foreign spouse is applying for a UK marriage visa from a third country, they will be asked to provide a residence card or work permit to prove their long-term immigration status in that country. Otherwise, the applicant may be required to return to their country of citizenship to submit the settlement application at the local British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission.