The information on our partnership pages provides a basic outline. During the current upheaval, however, many temporary arrangements are operating. Here are some useful links which we are assured will be continually updated:
The Free Movement website gathers together various updates on changes to immigration law and practice caused by coronavirus.
Worried about how COVID-19 might impact spouse and partner visas ?
Check out this useful guide from JCWI
- Who are ‘partners’?
- The Immigration Rules
- The rules relating to partners in Appendix FM and Appendix FM-SE
- Who can apply?
- Applying from abroad
- Applying from within the UK
- Time periods for limited leave and indefinite leave (ILR)
- What leave will be granted and when will the partner be eligible for ILR?
- Domestic violence and bereavement
- Refused applications
- Confidentiality in appeals
- Applicants who cannot meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules
- What happens if my partner is an EEA national?
- What is a marriage/civil partnership visit visa?
- What happens if my sponsor has limited leave?
- Immigration Rules – Home Office links
- Support UKLGIG
Last updated: April 2020
British immigration law has, over recent years, become increasingly complex and it is now very difficult to provide a general guide. You must read the Immigration Rules and any related guidance before making an application and shouldn’t rely on this guide alone.
It’s traditionally been UKLGIG’s position that those with ‘straightforward’ applications should be able to make an application without the help of a legal advisor. We now believe that the need for specialist advice has increased due to the complexity of the rules introduced by the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI), particularly since July 2012. [Note that we refer to both ‘The Home Office’ or its subsidiary ‘UKVI’ on this page. No difference is implied.]
This guide is a starting point to make the Immigration Rules more accessible but shouldn’t be your only source of information. The word ‘leave’ is used extensively on this page. ‘Leave’ is the term the Rules use to mean permission to stay in or enter the UK.
The requirements are different depending on the status of the partner who already has the right to live in the UK. This guide deals mainly with the partners of those who are British or settled (hold indefinite leave or permanent residence in the UK). It also includes the partners of those who are in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection (though there are separate rules for the partners of refugees who were already partners before the refugee left their home country). The situation for the partners of EEA nationals is dealt with on a separate page.
We also have a list of links to the important pages of the UK Visas and Immigration section of www.gov.uk and the associated guidance.
Who are ‘partners’?
The same-sex partners of British citizens or those ‘settled’ in the United Kingdom (those with indefinite leave to enter or remain) can apply to come to the UK, or stay in the UK under the British Immigration Rules on the basis of three types of partnership:
- Marriage/civil partnership
- Two years’ cohabitation (commonly known as unmarried or same-sex partners)
- Fiancé/proposed civil partnership
Spouses and civil partners are treated the same in immigration law. Since 2014 same-sex couples have been able to choose between marriage and civil partnership. The UK also recognises overseas same-sex marriages.
There are also a limited number of British Diplomatic Posts abroad where it is possible to register a civil partnership or same-sex marriage, although since the introduction of same-sex marriage in the UK, some British Diplomatic Posts abroad no longer offer civil partnership registration. Check the position with your nearest British Diplomatic post.
Civil partnership status, however, is not limited to those who enter into a British civil partnership in the UK or at one of the British Embassies abroad which conducts ceremonies.
Applications can also be made on the basis of certain overseas relationships which are recognised as being civil partnerships under British law. These relationships are listed in Schedule 20 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 but a more detailed (unofficial) list can be found in Wikipedia’s Schedule 20 page. Even if a relationship does not appear in the current or future Schedule 20, it may be acceptable if it meets the general conditions in section 214 of the CPA.
If you are in an overseas relationship which has been recognised in the law of that country (or region of that country), you can check with the UKVI contact centre whether your relationship is considered equivalent to a UK civil partnership.
‘Unmarried/same sex’ partners
The Immigration Rules no longer use this term (though some forms and guidance still do). The Rules, however, do make clear that an application can be made by ‘a person who has been living with the applicant in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership for at least two years prior to the date of application’. The prior cohabitation is mandatory – it is not sufficient that you have just been in a relationship for 2 years. (Note – There is no period of prior cohabitation required for an application as a spouse/civil partner). If you don’t meet this requirement you can seek legal advice and see whether you can still apply.
The EEA Regulations 2016 recognise those in “durable relationships” under EU law. This is currently interpreted by the UKVI to mean two years’ prior cohabitation just like the UK unmarried partners rules.
Fiancés and proposed civil partners
A visa application in this category can be made from outside the UK only. A fiancé/proposed civil partner visa allows people to come to the UK for the purpose of entering into a marriage/civil partnership within six months and then apply for the right to stay as a spouse/civil partner.
The Immigration Rules
The rules relating to partners in Appendix FM and Appendix FM-SE
Appendix FM contains the rules which apply to the partners of British citizens or those ‘settled’ in the UK who wish to come to or stay in the UK on the basis of their relationship. Appendix FM-SE specifies exactly the format of the documents which must be followed for an application to be considered.
The rules give separate requirements for entry clearance applications (applications from abroad also known as visa applications) and applications for leave to remain (applications from within the UK). The rules are similar for each but not exactly the same.
Who can apply?
The Immigration Rules require that applicants must be ‘suitable’ and ‘eligible’.
‘Suitability’ deals with issues of criminal conduct, ‘bad character’ and certain aspects of previous immigration history. More details can be found in Appendix FM at S-LTR and S-EC under the heading ‘Family life with a partner’.
For those applying for a visa (entry clearance), they must also consider whether their application may be refused under paragraph 320 (11) of the immigration rules ‘where the applicant has previously contrived in a significant way to frustrate the intentions of these Rules’. So if you have tried to secure a visa or leave to remain in the UK in the past and have a ‘bad’ immigration history, your application may be refused.
We especially advise those with negative immigration histories to seek specialist legal advice.
- Relationship requirements
- Financial requirements
- English language requirements
- Immigration status requirement (leave to remain only)
Applicants must also check, in addition to these requirements, whether they are applying from a country where a TB (tuberculosis) certificate is required.
Under relationship requirements, the rules require the following:
- The applicant’s partner must be British, settled, a refugee or have humanitarian protection.
- The applicant must be aged 18 or over at the date of application.
- The partner must be aged 18 or over at the date of application.
- The applicant and their partner must not be within the prohibited degree of relationship (for example siblings).
- The applicant and their partner must have met in person.
- The relationship between the applicant and their partner must be genuine and subsisting.
- If the applicant and partner are married or in a civil partnership it must be a valid marriage or civil partnership, as specified.
- If the applicant is a fiancé or proposed civil partner they must be seeking entry to the UK to enable their marriage or civil partnership to take place.
- Any previous relationship of the applicant or their partner must have broken down permanently.
- The applicant and partner must intend to live together permanently in the UK.
Unmarried/same sex partners must show two years’ prior cohabitation.
You must pay particular attention to the requirement to show a ‘genuine and subsisting relationship.’ It’s not enough to simply submit a marriage or civil partnership certificate, you must give evidence of the genuine nature of the relationship. The UKVI internal guidance as to factors they will take into account can be found here in “Family Policy/Partners”.
We suggest that you do your best to provide as many of the following documents as possible, in addition to the mandatory documents requested by UKVI (this is not an exhaustive list and we are not suggesting that every applicant must have all of these documents):
In connection with the relationship requirements, your documents should include such things as:
- A statement or declaration from each of you detailing most, but not necessarily all of the following:
- how and when you met
- how and why the relationship developed
- if you’ve spent time apart – why, and how you felt during this time
- your shared social activities and hobbies
- milestones in your relationship such as moving in together or going on holidays
- what makes your relationship special for you
- what makes your partner special for you
- future plans you may have.
- Evidence of cohabitation (essential for unmarried partners and helpful although not mandatory for spouses/civil partners or fiancés/proposed civil partners). This might include joint leases or a letter from your landlord stating that you live at the same address; joint utility bills; individual utility bills; letters addressed to you both at the same address; official documents which are addressed individually but show the same address. Unmarried partners must produce as much evidence of cohabitation as they can for at least two years. They should use any document which shows their name(s), their address and the date.
- Passport stamps and/or tickets to show visits to your partner’s country and/or travel together
- Evidence of contact while apart e.g. telephone bills, a selection of emails, Skype or WhatsApp records, for any periods when you were separated
- Photographs of you together clearly dated, captioned and accompanied with an explanation
- Supporting letters from friends and family, saying in their own words:
- how long they have known you both
- how long they have known of the relationship
- reasons why they believe the relationship is genuine and committed
- how you would feel if you were forced to be apart
Since July 2012, the financial, as well as the evidence requirements have become very strict.
The basic position is that the evidence must show a gross annual income of at least £18,600 (plus an additional £3,800 for the first dependent child and an additional £2,400 for each other dependent child). This minimum income will qualify alone, or in combination with savings of £16,000, plus additional savings equal to 2.5 times the shortfall in gross annual income. The savings must be held as cash savings (this means that you have the money in a bank account in your name or in the joint name with your partner, and you have access to them with or without notice period, over a six month period – certain investments can be liquidated within the six months and count as cash).
- Example 1: An income of £18,000 would be £600 short. To make up this shortfall the couple would need £17,500 savings (£16,000 plus £600 x 2.5)
- Example 2: No income would require £16,000 plus £18,600 x 2.5, total £62,500
For some applicants, it may be relatively straightforward. For example, if the British (or settled) partner is working in the UK, earns an income of £18,600 or more and has done so for more than six months, has been in the same job for more than six months, and has the required evidence, the situation is relatively straightforward. For those who are self-employed, have been in their employment for less than six months or are returning from abroad, however, the rules and evidence are more complex, unless they can rely upon savings alone. Directors of small limited companies probably have the hardest job in proving that they meet the financial requirements.
The income level does not apply if the British (settled) partner is receiving one or more of the disability-related welfare benefits listed in Appendix FM.
For more information on the income and/or savings requirement, see the Home Office guidance at Annex FM 1.7: financial requirement and the immigration rules at Appendix FM-SE or take specialist legal advice.
It is crucial to supply the required documents, and applications will be refused without the correct documentation as set out in Appx FM-SE.
You must also show there is adequate accommodation for all family members: this is accommodation which the family must own or occupy exclusively. ‘Adequate’ is defined by reference to non-overcrowding/contravention of public health regulations.
For a couple, it is sufficient to show that they have a bedroom that they occupy exclusively, even if they live/will live in a shared house.
The rules are less prescriptive as to evidence on this point but we suggest you supply the following documents (as appropriate):
- Land Registry entry or mortgage statement if you own the property
- Rental contract
- Letter from owner/landlord
- Recent utility bills
See also E-ECP.3.1/3.2 Appendix FM family members under the ‘Family life as a partner’ heading.
English language requirements
You should read the English language guidance as a starting point.
Appendix FM in E-ECP.4.1 states that you must provide specified evidence that you:
- are a national of a majority English speaking country listed in paragraph GEN.1.6 (under the family members/general heading); or
- have passed an English language test in speaking and listening at a minimum of level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages with a provider approved by the Secretary of State; or
- have an academic qualification which is either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or PhD awarded by an educational establishment in the UK; or, if awarded by an educational establishment outside the UK, is deemed by UK NARIC to meet or exceed the recognised standard of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or PhD in the UK, and UK NARIC has confirmed that the degree was taught or researched in English to level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or above; or
- are exempt from the English language requirement under paragraph E-ECP.4.2 (see list below).
You are exempt from the English language requirement under E-ECP.4.2 (see p.9) if at the date of application:
- you are aged 65 or over;
- you have a disability (physical or mental condition) which prevents you from meeting the requirement; or
- there are exceptional circumstances which prevent you from being able to meet the requirement prior to entry to the UK.
If you are not from one of the listed majority English language countries (Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; the Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Canada; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; New Zealand; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinidad and Tobago; or the United States of America), do not have a qualifying degree, or are not exempt as above, you must have an approved test and required evidence, as listed in Appendix O.
Appendix O contains the same list as provided in Applying for a UK visa: approved English language tests (GOV.UK guidance). Please note that most of the approved English language tests are valid for two years.
Please also note that once you obtain your visa, you will need to show a higher level of English when you apply for an extension of leave and indefinite leave.
Immigration status requirements (leave to remain only)
If applying from within the UK, you must not be in the UK in any of the following categories:
- as a visitor,
- with a visa which was originally granted for a period of six months or less, apart from fiancé or proposed civil partner visas, or leave granted for family court proceedings; or
- on temporary admission; or
- in breach of immigration laws (disregarding any period of overstaying allowed for by para 39E of the immigration rules – last para).
But, importantly, the immigration status requirements may not apply if paragraph EX applies (see below).
Applying from abroad
Applications for entry clearance should be made in the applicant’s country of residence. ‘Country of residence’ is not necessarily their country of origin and refers to wherever the applicant has permission to reside, for example, for work or study purposes. Many countries will issue overseas nationals with residency cards in these cases. An applicant who has permission to stay in a country as a visitor for six months is not a resident.
Applications are made online,. The procedure changes slightly from country to country so you must always check the specific procedures for your country. This can be done by finding the appropriate visa application centre.
You must also check the applicable fee. Some embassies offer a priority service for payment of an extra fee.
A “health surcharge” for use of the NHS was introduced for all new applications for entry clearance or leave to remain for over six months, made on or after 6 April 2015. As at April 2020, the charge is £300 per year for students and £400 per year for all other types of application, payable in full up front. The total fee is calculated automatically online when you apply, if your visa is valid for 2 ½ years, you will have to pay £1000.
A charge is payable for each dependent as well as the main applicant. The fee is supposed to increase from October 2020.
Note that you will also need to have a tuberculosis (TB) test if you are coming to the UK for more than six months and are currently resident in any of the listed countries. The test certificate is valid for six months only and will be required at the first visa application stage
If a visa application is successful, a visa is issued for one month from the stated date of intended travel. You must enter the UK and collect your biometric residence permit from a designated Post Office. The biometric residence permit will show leave to remain for 33 months. The only exception to this is fiancé/proposed civil partners who will have six months in their passport, and need to marry within the six-month period and then apply for leave to remain as spouses or civil partners. They will not need to leave the UK to apply.
Applying from within the UK
The Further Leave to Remain application must be filed before the existing Leave to Remain or proposed civil partner/fiancé visa expires to ensure you remain lawfully in the UK.
An application may possibly still be successful if made while an overstayer in very limited circumstances under paragraph 39E of the Immigration Rules or, under Section EX of Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules, where you can show that there are ‘insurmountable obstacles to family life with [the British based partner] continuing outside the UK’. The applicability of these exceptions can be very hard to prove.
So long as you have made the application before your leave to remain expires, you continue to be legally in the UK with your existing visa status, until a decision has been taken and any appeal against a negative decision has been resolved. If you had permission to work before you made the application you will continue to have this permission to work whilst the application is being considered. If you did not have permission to work when you made the application this continues to be the case until you receive a positive decision.
An application is considered as ‘made’ as soon as you submit it online and pay the relevant fees (or as soon as the form is received by the Home Office in the rare circumstances where a form can be sent by post).
It is now only possible to complete further leave to remain (FLR) and indefinite leave to remain (SET) application forms online.
Application fees are payable at the end of the initial online application form stage. On top of the standard application fee, there is a biometric enrolment fee and if you wish to take advantage of the Super Priority 24 hour service there will be an extra £800 to pay. For further leave as opposed to indefinite leave applications, you will also need to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).
After payment of the fees you will be directed to the Sopra Steria – UKVCAS website to book an appointment to enrol your biometrics and have your documents processed at a UKVCAS centre. A few core centres offer free appointments, other centres charge a fee.
Once you submit your online form, you need to scan and upload supporting documents. This can be done before, or during an appointment at the Sopra Steria – UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) centre you have chosen for your biometric appointment. If you do the uploading yourself beforehand, you must upload all the documents before your appointment day. If you opt for Sopra Steria themselves to upload the documentation you should bring with you complete sets of both originals and copies of your application package, all on A4 sized paper which can be easily scanned and uploaded.
In either case, do not forget to bring with you the appointment confirmation with QR code as they will not let you in without it. You must also bring your passport.
There are UKVCAS centres across the UK.
Of the 57 UKVCAS centres, six are core service centres which offer free appointments up to four weeks in advance. The six core centres are in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Croydon.
50 enhanced service points are accessible in several cities across the UK and charge for appointments, up to two weeks in advance. Services available also include same day, next day or out of hours appointments, documentation checking and an on-demand VIP service.
You should present your evidence in a way that is easy for the Home Office to read. They are under considerable pressure of time and you should therefore prepare an index and list your documents under logical headings.
There is no magic formula for how to present your evidence – use your common sense. Remind yourself of the type of evidence required using our evidence page and compare this with the list of documents generated by the application process. If in doubt, be over-inclusive rather than under-inclusive. Many of the items included in our list may not be mandatory, but will create a much stronger application.
Time periods for limited leave and indefinite leave (ILR)
If an application is successful, the applicant will be granted a period of leave depending on the type of application made. All applications lead to a grant of limited leave and all applicants must spend at least five years in the UK before being eligible for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
What leave will be granted and when will the partner be eligible for ILR?
- Spouse/civil partner visas (entry clearances): One month to travel to the UK and then 33 months on biometric residence permit
- Fiancé/proposed civil partner visas: Six months and then they must apply to extend their leave for a further 30 months after they are married/civil partnered (and this can be done at any point during the six months, after the wedding/civil partner ceremony)
- Leave to Remain (applications within the UK): 30 months
- The foreign partner will need to extend for a further 30 months beyond the initial 30 (or 33) month period. Those who have met the rules in Appendix FM will become eligible for indefinite leave to remain after five years.
- Those who have relied on 1 (see below), will need to continue to extend every 30 months to reach a total period of 10 years before they become eligible for indefinite leave to remain.
Prior to obtaining indefinite leave, a partner will be free to take employment, but there will be a prohibition on receipt of public funds. Partners are free to use the NHS and to travel in and out of the country. Fiancés/proposed civil partners can only work after they have switched their immigration status in the UK after registering their civil partnership or marriage.
Visas are issued as stamps in passports giving permission to enter and remain in the UK but all grants of leave to remain from within the UK are given on a biometric residence permit which is a separate card. If you have one of these cards you must remember to take it with your passport when traveling abroad.
Domestic violence and bereavement
There is provision both within Appendix FM for indefinite leave to be granted before five years if the relationship ends as a result of domestic violence or bereavement. See also our Domestic Violence page.
Refusals under Appx FM attract a right of appeal on human rights grounds.
You should instruct a lawyer to advise and assist you in respect to this appeal. If you are unable to find a lawyer within the deadline, you should complete and submit the appeal form as fully as possible yourself.
Confidentiality in appeals
All appeals at any tribunal or court in the UK are public and any member of the public may attend. Often there will be other people who have their own appeal in the same hearing room in the room when your case is being discussed. Also the determination of any appeal (the written decision which sets out the detailed reasons) is a public document and will have the names of the appellant and any witnesses recorded in it. If your case mentions your sexual orientation or gender identity or that of your partner, you may not mind that being public, but if you do then you must tell the tribunal that you need that private information to be kept confidential from other people. They will not do so unless you ask them to.
There are two things you can ask the tribunal to do:
- anonymise the appeal by replacing the name of the appellant with a set of initials or, if there is a very strong reason, removing names from whole determination. This means although the names are in the copies of the determination sent to the appellant and the Home Office, the names will not be in the public record copy and the names will not be on the list of cases on the wall outside the hearing room;
- have any discussion about the case in private with no one else allowed in the room.
You can ask for one or both things. You should ask at the earliest stage – usually when you send an appeal form to the tribunal. You should get a decision from the tribunal before the hearing takes place about whether they agree your requests, but you should make sure you ask the tribunal staff before the hearing starts to make sure that a private hearing or anonymity have been ordered.
Applicants who cannot meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules
Traditionally, applicants who don’t meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules have sought to rely on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which applies to applications from inside and outside the UK.
It is the Secretary of State’s position that Appendix FM ‘reflects how, under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, the balance will be struck between the right to respect for private and family life and the legitimate aims of protecting national security, public safety and the economic well-being of the UK; the prevention of disorder and crime; the protection of health or morals; and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It also takes into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK.’ Refer to para GEN.1.1 under the general heading of Appendix FM.
Under the heading Section EX: Exceptions to certain eligibility requirements for leave to remain as a partner or parent, in an attempt to reflect Article 8, the Secretary of State has introduced EX 1 (Exception 1) which states that for leave to remain applications only, an applicant can be successful even if they do not meet the eligibility requirements when:
- (a) (i) the applicant has a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with a child who:
- (aa) is under the age of 18 years
- (bb) is in the UK
- (cc) is a British Citizen or has lived in the UK continuously for at least the 7 years immediately preceding the date of application, and
- (ii) it would not be reasonable to expect the child to leave the UK; or
- (b) the applicant has a genuine and subsisting relationship with a partner who is in the UK and is a British Citizen, settled in the UK or in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection, and there are insurmountable obstacles to family life with that partner continuing outside the UK.
If you are in the UK without lawful status, or if you cannot meet one of the other requirements, you may still be able to have a successful application. We strongly advise that you obtain specialist legal advice.
What happens if my partner is an EEA national?
What is a marriage/civil partnership visit visa?
It’s possible to visit the UK specifically for the purpose of registering a civil partnership, or entering into marriage, and returning to your home country afterwards. However, if you wish to do this you must apply for a special ‘visitor for marriage or civil partnership visa’ before coming to the UK. You should not come to visit the UK without this visa if you know that during your visit you intend to enter into a civil partnership.
What happens if my sponsor has limited leave?
Spouses or civil partners (or unmarried partners) of people with a time restriction on their leave to remain in UK, such as points-based system migrants or ancestry visa holders, can apply for the right to be in the UK and will usually be permitted to work. Different rules apply to this category.
- The partners of those subject with limited leave cannot use the fiancé/proposed civil partner category to enter the UK.
- In most circumstances, it is not possible to make a switch from another category within the UK if the sponsor has limited leave. Each situation should be checked, however, as this depends on the precise status of the sponsor.
- If, therefore, there is no option for the couple to marry or register an equivalent recognised overseas legal partnership, it may be necessary to obtain a marriage or civil partnership visit visa first, travel to marry or register the civil partnership in the UK, then return home to make an entry clearance application as an existing spouse/civil partner.
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