I am an American visiting my boyfriend in the UK. If we decide to get married, can I stay and apply for a British passport?
This is a common question and I thought it may deserve a post.
There is more than one side to it – the first is about getting married in the UK, the second – about staying in the UK after marriage and the third is about a British passport. Let’s get over it in steps.
Getting married in the UK
If you are visiting the UK, one of the things you are not allowed to do, unless you have a special permission, is to get married.
If you are a visa national and have to get a visitor visa before travelling to the UK, you will be making a declaration when applying for a visa that you are not planning to get married in the UK. If you are an American, or any other non-visa national, you may not be aware of the rule. But the rule still exists – you need a special type of visa for getting married.
There are two types of visa for this purpose – a fiancé visa for those what want to stay in the UK after marriage and marriage visitor visa for those who want to get married in the UK and leave.
People who have a temporary residence visa for work or studies in the UK are, of course, allowed to get married during their stay, but not visitors.
So if you are visiting your boyfriend and have decided to get married in the UK, you will have to leave the country and apply for entry clearance as a fiancé of a person settled in the UK.
Staying in the UK after marriage
Having married a British citizen, you don’t get an automatic right to live in the UK. You have to apply for permission to stay as the spouse of a settled person.
Being a visitor, you cannot switch into the spouse immigration route, whether you are a visa national or not.
If you came to the UK with a fiancé visa, you will have six months to get married. You will not have the right to work or use the NHS while you are in the UK with a fiancé visa, but as soon as you get married you can make an application for permission to stay long term.
You will not have to leave the UK but can apply to stay as the spouse of a British citizen. Once this application is approved, you will have permission to stay for 2.5 years with the right to work or set up a business, study the UK and have free access to the NHS.
The spouse visa has to be extended for another 2.5 years before you can apply for permission to stay permanently.
So the right to live in the UK with your husband is not automatic – you have to meet the requirements for a spouse visa and make the visa application from abroad or from the UK, depending on your immigration status.
Applying for a British passport
British passport is a completely different story. The times when you could be entitled to a British passport simply by virtue of being married to a British citizen are long gone.
Now you have to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen first.
In order to qualify for naturalisation, you have to have lived in the UK for a continuous period of five years immediately before applying.
If you are married to a British citizen but you have been living abroad as husband and wife, your qualifying time for British citizenship only starts once you relocate to the UK.
You have to hold indefinite leave to remain in the UK before applying for naturalisation.
The advantage of being married to a British citizen is in that you don’t have to wait for an extra 12 months after the grant of indefinite leave to remain and can apply for naturalisation straightaway.
Applications for naturalisation normally take a few months. The standard processing time is six months. In our experience, 90% of applications are decided in a shorter period.
You don’t have to stay in the UK while your application for citizenship is under consideration. When it is approved, you will be invited to a citizenship ceremony and will have to attend it in the UK. You will receive a certificate of naturalisation which will be proof of your British citizenship and entitlement to hold a British passport.
You will need your naturalisation certificate to apply for a British passport and you will need a British passport if you travel outside the UK.