UK spouse visa, or unmarried partner visa – who is it for?
Are you married to a British citizen or a person with a permanent right of residence? Are you planning to make the UK your home? If the answer to both questions is yes, spouse visa UK, also known as partner visa UK, is for you!
If you are unmarried partners and have lived together (not just dated!) for at least two years, you are eligible as well.
Civil partnership is on a par with marriage.
Overview of the requirements
Spouse visa requirements can be summarised as follows:
- Relationship – recognised and subsisting marriage or, if you are applying as unmarried partners, evidence of cohabitation for at least two years;
- English language – unless you meet the language requirement by being a national of a majority English speaking country or by having graduated from a recognised University where tuition was in English, or unless you are exempt from meeting the requirement – you have to take a test to A1 level (speaking and listening only);
- You have to have adequate accommodation in the UK;
- Financial requirements: income (£18,600) from specified sources or savings (£62,500) unless you are exempt;
- Good character requirements;
- Intention to make the UK your home.
In order to sponsor your partner, you need an annual income of at least £18,600.
If you have a dependent child who is not a British citizen, the minimum income is £22,400 and addition £2400 applies for the second dependent child and all other children.
This can be your salary before tax, or income from dividends, rental of property, investments, self-employment or pension.
The evidence you will have to provide will depend on the source of income and on how long you have had this income.
If the sponsor is working for a company owned or partly owned by a family member, there are special evidential requirements.
In the more common scenario, the sponsor works for the same employer for more than six months and is paid above the required minimum throughout the period.
Self-employed income is more complex evidentially, and a combination of employed and self-employed income is even trickier.
The timing of the application can determine what documents you will need in support.
It is important to mention, that the foreign partner’s work-related income does not count in the initial applications for entry clearance. The non-employment income of both the sponsor and the applicant counts.
Exemption from the financial requirements
If the sponsor is in receipt of disability-related benefits the minimum income requirement may be considered met.
In exceptional circumstances, where refusal of the application would cause significant hardship you may be able to rely on third-party support or other sources of income. And in most exceptional circumstances you may get a waiver of the financial requirement. If that’s the case, the visa will be issued under the 10-year route. All cases requiring the decision-maker to exercise discretion are complex and an experienced immigration solicitor will maximise your chances of success.
What is the difference between the 5-year and the 10-year route
Where all financial, evidential and other requirements are met, the UK spouse visa is granted under the 5-year route. This means that after five years you will qualify to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
If some of the requirements are not met but due to special circumstances a refusal would be unfair and cause significant hardship, the visa is granted under the 10-year route.
The 10-year route visa holder qualifies for indefinite leave to remain after 10 years of residence. This means they would have to extend the application three times before applying for ILR.
You can switch from the 10-year route to the five-year route as soon as you qualify. You do not have to wait for the expiry date of your visa. However, you will be paying the Immigration Health Surcharge second time if you have a valid stretch of the previous visa.
Where to apply
If you are based abroad, you will need to apply for entry clearance from your country of origin or the country where you normally live. The type of application is called settlement. You can make an application for leave to remain as the spouse inside the UK, if you are living in the UK in another immigration category, for example as a student or a sponsored worker. You cannot apply for leave to remain as the spouse or partner if you are only visiting the UK.
How much does the spouse visa cost?
The application fee depends on whether the application is made from abroad or in the UK.
Spouse visa fee for an application made outside the UK is £1523, the Immigration Health Surcharge is £1200, priority service is £573.
If you are applying in the UK, the visa fee is £1033, the Immigration Health Surcharge is £1000 and super-priority service is £800.
Spouse visa UK processing time
Standard processing time of a spouse visa entry clearance application is three months. More complex applications can take up to six months.
The processing time can be expedited by paying an additional fee. Priority applications are expected to be processed within three weeks, but this is not guaranteed.
Sometimes, the processing time may be longer than expected even if the priority fee has been paid. This may be due to a previous refusal of a similar application, or if the applicant relies on exceptional circumstances, or if some of the documents required in support of the application are missing.
Applications made within the UK by standard service also take around three months. By paying for a super-priority service you can expedite the processing time to 24 hours. Again, applications which need the attention of a senior caseworker may not be suitable for priority service.
What happens after the visa is granted
If you are applying for entry clearance, you will get a stamp in your passport allowing you to enter the UK within a 30-day period. Upon arrival, you will have to collect your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) from a local post office. The BRP is a plastic card similar to a driving licence. It will confirm your immigration status and show the expiry date of your visa.
How long is the partner visa UK for?
If you are applying from outside the UK, your visa will be valid for 33 months. You will need to travel to the UK within a month of being granted the initial entry clearance and collect your BRP at a post office in the UK.
If you are applying in the UK, the visa is issued for 30 months. You no longer receive a vignette in your passport. Only a BRP card which is also an ID document similar to a driving licence but without your address on it.
You will need to extend your spouse visa before applying for ILR. The standard process is one extension and then an application for ILR after five years of residence.
If you are on a 10-year route you will have to extend your visa twice unless you switch to the five-year route.
Before switching to a spouse visa, think ILR
Plan for your ILR ahead. If you hold a Tier 2 General visa which leads to settlement after five years, switching into spouse visa may delay your indefinite leave to remain. The time spent in different immigration categories cannot be combined for ILR other than on the basis of a 10-year-long residence.
Remember that the Immigration Health Surcharge is not refundable. If you paid for five years but decided to switch to another route after one year of sponsored employment, you will be paying Immigration Health Surcharge again in full.
Does the spouse visa give me the right to work?
Yes, absolutely. The spouse visa, unlike fiance(e) visa, gives you the right to take up employment, set up your own business, work as a freelance, or study. You will have to pay international students fee, though, until you have indefinite leave to remain.
If you are a sponsored worker switching into the spouse visa route, you can continue working for your employer.
Extending the spouse visa UK
The requirements for the extension of the spouse visa are very similar to the initial entry clearance requirements. You will need to demonstrate adequate income, accommodation, knowledge of English (at A2 level this time) and genuineness and subsistency of your relationship.
For the extension application, you do not have to rely on the employment income of the sponsor. It can be the applicant’s income, or the sponsor’s, or joint income of both.
If your circumstances change, you have to be proactive and seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Indefinite leave to remain and citizenship
For indefinite leave to remain application you will be required to take the Life in the UK test. This applies to all, including people coming from a majority English speaking country. Those who have to take an English language test have to pass it at B1 level.
Applicants over 65 years of age are exempt from the language and knowledge of life tests. For others these tests are mandatory. If you are unable to pass the test you may get an exemption after 15 years of residence. In the meantime, you will have to continue to extend your visa every 2.5 years.
If you are married to a British citizen, you will be entitled to apply for naturalisation immediately after you are granted ILR. If you are the unmarried partner of a British citizen or a settled person, you will have to wait for 12 months.
This is a quick sketch giving you a general idea of the requirements, processing times and the general procedure of applying for a spouse visa. Whether you need legal advice and representation depends on whether you can afford to have the application refused. The purpose of representation is to give you confidence in the outcome, present all the relevant documents in the required format and preempt any complications. If this is where you need help, please get in touch!