I’m here to tell you our top five ways for Americans can immigrate to the United Kingdom.
Number five: Be lucky enough to have a British parent. OK, not everyone falls in this category, we get it. If your mum, or dad is a British citizen, then you may also be eligible for British Citizenship. This means there are no visa regulations. Just apply for a British passport, pack your bag, hop on a plane and come on over. What if you’re parents aren’t from the UK? If you have a parent or even a grandparent from an EEA country you may be entitled to a passport from that country. With an EEA passport you can come to the UK and live just like any other British citizen. Number Four: Come over as a student. The Tier 4 Student Visa allows you to get a college, graduate or a professional degree. You can even use U.S. Stafford loans at most British universities. College and grad school costs less in the UK than in the States. Not just a little less, tens of thousands of dollars less. You can get your undergraduate degree in 3 years and your graduate degree in one year. That’s one less year of college to pay for . Number Three: Walk down the isle. Marry a Brit or European Union Citizen. Yes, if you marry a British person or an EEA Citizen living in the UK, you can apply for a fiancé or spousal visa. With the spousal visa you can come here to work, volunteer, go to university, set up your own business, whatever. What if you’re not ready to get married? There’s also an unmarried partner visa. If your relationship is serious enough this could be the route for you.
Number Two: Be super-skilled. The Tier 2 work visa allows skilled individuals to come to the UK to work. The UK has a skills shortage of certain professions. They even publish a list of these jobs on the Home Office website. An example of few of these professions: Social worker, Classical ballet dancer, Chemical engineer, pediatrician, graphic designer, production manager, 2D/3D Computer animator… the list goes on. If you work in IT or medicine chances are you’re covered Number One. Be an entrepreneur. UK businesses love innovation. Do you have a business or business idea? With a comprehensive business plan and seed funding starting at £50,000 – that’s about 65,000 U.S. Dollars – you can apply for the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa. Yes, £50,000 is a lot but here’s the trick: It doesn’t have to be your money. A company, individual or government agency can fund your project for you.
If you need assistance applying for any of these visas our experienced lawyers at Talley and Barrow are here to help. Call us now for a free consultation. You can also find us on Facebook and on the web at talleyandbarrow.co.uk.
Very frequently a potential client will ask, “Should I hire an immigration lawyer for a spousal visa? At times, this is a difficult question to answer because people’s individual circumstances vary. Here’s chart to help you decide if you should hire an immigration professional or if you should attempt the visa on your own.
As we share in the celebrations for the forthcoming Royal Wedding, here at Talley & Barrow, LLP Immigration Advisors, we’ve cast a professional eye over Meghan Markle’s immigration options, and why we think she may have already violated the terms of her visa.
Meghan Markle’s Canadian residency: will it make a difference to her U.K. immigration options?
For the past seven years, Meghan Markle has made Toronto, Canada her home; which is not entirely surprising as her legal drama series, ‘Suits’, is filmed in that country. A non-Canadian individual who resides in Canada for at least five years may apply for permanent residency there. Whether Ms. Markle did in fact apply and was granted a permanent residency remains unknown.
As Canada is a Commonwealth country, under Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981, all Canadian citizens are Commonwealth citizens (as is the case for the other 51 Commonwealth countries). If Ms. Markle had been granted a permanent residency she would have then been able to apply for Canadian citizenship and consequently become a Commonwealth citizen.
The U.K. boasts special immigration options for Commonwealth citizens:
Right of abode in the U.K. – a right of abode allows any Commonwealth citizen to freely enter and live in the U.K. without any immigration restrictions either because of their parents or because they are or were married to someone with right of abode.
Parents – one of the parents of a Commonwealth citizen was born in the U.K. and a citizen of the U.K. and colonies when the Commonwealth citizen was born; the individual became a Commonwealth citizen on 31st December 1982; and the individual did not stop becoming a Commonwealth citizen at any point after 31st December 1982[i].
Marriage – a female Commonwealth citizen can get a right of abode through marriage, in which she must have married an individual with right of abode before 1st January 1983, and not have stopped being a Commonwealth citizen at any point after 31st December 1982[ii].
U.K. Ancestry visa – a Commonwealth citizen can to come the U.K. for up to five years, with the possibility to settle permanently in the U.K. after five years, if they can show that at least one of their grandparents was born in the U.K.[iii]”. The Commonwealth citizen must be aged 17 or over, be able and intend to work in the U.K., and support themselves and their dependents without help from public funds[iv].
How does this apply to Meghan Markle? Without any debate, Meghan Markle will not be eligible for either of the additional immigration options, even if she had a permanent residency in Canada. It is believed that neither of her parents were born in the U.K. Her mother is of African-American descent and her father has Dutch-Irish ancestors and she is therefore unable to claim right of abode through her parents. Demonstrably claiming right of abode through marriage is impossible. Despite her alleged British roots (in which her great-great grandmother was “born in England”) Ms. Markle still does not meet the eligibility requirement under the U.K. Ancestry visa.
Can Meghan Markle qualify for a Tier 1 Visa?
The Tier 1 visas are for non- European Economic Area “entrepreneurs and investors with significant business funds available to set up or invest in a U.K. business, university graduates with a business plan which has been endorsed by an appropriate organisation, and the very few people who are internationally recognised as an exceptional talent in their field”[v].
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa – for individuals who want to set up or take over a business in the U.K., with at least £50,000 investment funds. In practice without funds of at least £200,000 many individuals will find it difficult to apply for this visa[vi]. An individual is permitted to come to the U.K. for a maximum of three years and four months. During this initial three year period, they will be required to establish a business in the U.K., invest the full £50,000 or £200,000 and create a least two full time jobs for workers settled and presently residing in the U.K. for at least 12 months[vii]. An extension of a further two years is allowed and, after a total period of five years in the U.K., the individual may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain[viii].
Tier 1 (Investor) visa – for high net individuals who will make a substantial financial investment in the U.K. A significant investment of a minimum of £2 million is required. The individual must show that they are holding funds of £2 million or above, under their own unrestricted control and in a regulated financial institution. If the individual is not holding funds in pounds sterling, the funds must be convertible to £2 million or above. An investment can only be made in “U.K. government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading U.K. registered companies”[ix]. With this visa an individual can stay in the U.K. for a maximum of three years and four months and an extension of an additional of two years is allowed if the individual meets the further requirements. By increasing the amount of the investment, “the route to permanent residency can be accelerated”[x]. An investment of £5 million or more will earn the individual permanent residency after three years and an investment of £10 million or more will earn the individual permanent residency after two years[xi].
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa – this route is for “exceptionally talented individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, the arts and technology, who wish to work in the U.K. These individuals are those who are already internationally recognised at the highest level as world leaders in their particular field, or who have demonstrated exceptional promise and are likely to become world leaders or globally recognised in their field of expertise”[xii]. An endorsement is required from either of the following: Tech City U.K., Arts Council England, The British Academy, The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering[xiii]. This visa is “subject to a limit of 1,000 endorsements in total per year”[xiv]. The individual must go through a two-stage application process; the first stage being the application for the endorsement, and the second stage being the visa application itself. Permanent residency in the U.K. may be applied for after a period of five years.
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa – for graduates who have been officially “endorsed as having a genuine and credible business idea”[xv]. An endorsement is required from either the Department for International Trade (DIT) as part of the elite global graduate entrepreneur programme or a U.K. higher education institution if it is an authorised endorsing body[xvi]. The time period for both endorsements are different, a graduate should get a decision on their visa under a DIT endorsement within 3 weeks, whereas under the U.K. higher education institution a graduate can expect to wait within eight weeks to receive a decision. Under this visa, a graduate is permitted to stay in the U.K. for up to one year, and thereafter may apply for an extension for a further year only.
How does this apply to Meghan Markle? From the above, both the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa and Tier 1 (Investor) visa seem to be within the Ms Markle’s reach in gaining entrance to the U.K.
In terms of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa, our future Royal is believed to have made more than $50,000 per episode on Suits, with her annual salary being around $450,000, which includes around $80,000 worth of annual sponsorship and endorsements income. It is further believed that Ms. Markle was paid $187,000 and $171,429 for appearing in two films both released in 2010. Her overall net worth is $5 million[xvii]. Based on this, assuming that she opens a U.K. bank account, it will not be difficult for the future Princess to deposit at least £2 million in a regulated financial institution. It is not a necessary requirement that the money has to be physically in the U.K. when she submits her application, the money may be held overseas.[xviii]
It also seems Meghan Markle has an entrepreneurial flair, since away from the camera “she is a fashion designer and the founder of a lifestyle website and brand called ‘The Tig’”[xix]. Finances will not be a problem, but as long as Ms. Markle can produce a well thought-out business plan which will survive intense scrutiny from the Home Office, she will be good to go. Or, more accurately, to stay.
Can Meghan Markle qualify for a Tier 2 Visa?
The Tier 2 visa is the route for non-European Economic Area individuals who wish to work in the U.K. A company or organisation that holds a Tier 2 licence must sponsor these individuals. “A licence is a permission given to a company or organisation to sponsor workers in its business”[xx].
When sponsoring a foreign worker for a role in the U.K. under the Tier 2 category, the employer must show that they have ‘tested’ the U.K. labour market in finding a suitable worker who is already settled and present in the U.K., otherwise known as the Resident Labour Market Test. The test obliges an employer to advertise a job vacancy to settled workers for 28 days before extending the job opening to migrant workers.
The Tier 2 visa consists of various categories:
Tier 2 (General) – for skilled foreign workers who have a job offer by a U.K. employer. The foreign worker will be required to have a certificate of sponsorship from a U.K. employer. The visa permits the foreign worker to stay in the U.K. for five years and 14 months, after which permanent residency may be applied for.
Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – for foreign workers working for multinational companies who are going to be transferred to a U.K. branch. The foreign worker will be required to have a certificate of sponsorship. This visa is split into three categories: long-term staff (this visa is for transfers of more than 12 months); short-term staff (this visa is for transfers up to and including 12 months); and graduate trainee (this visa is for transfers into graduate trainee programmes for specialist roles). The length of stay in the U.K. is different for each visa type. Long-term staff that earn less than £120,000 are permitted to stay in the U.K. for five years and one month, whereas those earning over £120,000 are permitted a nine year stay. Short-term staff and graduate trainees both have a 12-month permitted stay. The foreign worker can either stay up to the permitted time period stated above or else for that time which is specified in the certificate of sponsorship, whichever is the shorter[xxi].
Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) – for individuals who have been offered a job in the faith community. The foreign individual will be required to have a certificate of sponsorship. The individual can come to the U.K. with this visa for a maximum of up to three years and one month, or the time specified on the certificate of sponsorship, whichever is the shorter[xxii].
Tier 2 (Sportsperson) – for internationally recognised sports people and coaches. A certificate of sponsorship is also required. The individual can stay in the U.K. for up to three years, and then apply for an extension of another three years up to a maximum stay of six years[xxiii].
How does this apply to Meghan Markle? When Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, against common belief, she will not become a Princess in her own right, but the Princess Henry of Wales and more commonly the Duchess of Sussex. Being a Princess is a ‘job’. On Princess Charlotte’s birth certificate, which went viral over the internet, we noted that Kate Middleton stated her occupation as the ‘Princess of England and Wales’.
It is thus likely that Meghan Markle will be able to qualify under a Tier 2 visa, as she will be entering the U.K. to work. In order for the Royal family to carry out their Royal duties, the Royal family is issued a Sovereign Grant which are funds from the U.K. taxpayer given over to the Queen in order for the Royal family to fund their official duties[xxiv].
Based on the requirements of the Tier 2 visa, Prince Harry should have performed a Resident Labour Market Test and searched for a suitable individual to perform the role of a Princess within the U.K. before extending his search overseas. Prince Harry would have been required to advertise the role for a period of 28 days on an approved recruitment platform with a detailed description of the role. Any individual with suitable skills who had applied for the role must be interviewed by the Prince, and if such an individual was not found, Prince Harry would have been allowed to extend his search overseas.
Was Meghan Markle ‘working illegally’ by carrying out a Royal engagement?
After the news of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle broke worldwide, the couple carried out their first official public engagement, in Nottingham.
Now, without evidence of the type of visa used by Meghan Markle in order to enter the U.K., we must assume that “she does not currently have any type of leave in the U.K. beyond the Standard Visit visa granted to her on arrival at a U.K. airport. A Standard Visit visa can be issued to American citizens without applying at an embassy for permission to do so”[xxv].
Under the Standard Visitor visa in the U.K. (which permits a foreigner to visit the U.K. for leisure, for business or for another reason) individuals are not permitted to conduct paid or unpaid work. However, under Immigration Rules Appendix V, 5A, are listed certain allowed business activities, such as attending meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews, giving one-off or short talks and speeches for non-commercial events, attending trade fairs and negotiating and signing deals and contracts.
How does this apply to Meghan Markle? The future Princess has undertaken her “first official Royal engagement”[xxvi] in Nottingham: a Royal walkabout. She was seen “meeting the crowds in Nottingham with Prince Harry”[xxvii] and then attending the “Worlds Aid Day charity before heading off to the Nottingham Academy”[xxviii]. As this was Ms. Markle’s first role in her future career which does not come under the permitted business activities under the Immigration Rules Appendix V, 54, it seems that she was working illegally. However, it is extremely unlikely that a breach of the conditions of the visa will cause an adverse effect on Ms Markle’s immigration record. So, Ms. Markle, you are safe!
The advantages of coming to the U.K. on a Fiancée Visa in comparison to a Spousal Visa?
The Fiancée visa enables an individual “who has ‘settled status’ in the U.K. to bring their fiancé to join them in the U.K. Settled status means that the individual is ordinarily from the U.K. and has no immigration restrictions on the length of their stay”[xxix]. This visa is also referred to as the “prospective marriage visa”[xxx].
The Spousal visa, also referred to as the ‘marriage visa’, “allows married partners of U.K. citizens to immigrate to the U.K. because they are married to an individual who has settled status in the U.K.”[xxxi].
Whilst both visas are quite similar in terms of the requirements, there are some practical advantages of coming into the U.K. on a Fiancée instead of a Spousal visa.
Time period for getting married – under a spousal visa both partners must be married before they can apply for the visa, whereas, under the fiancé visa a serious intention of getting married within 6 months in the U.K. is required. For some couples who are eager to settle in the U.K. may feel the need to ‘rush’ their wedding but under a Fiancée visa some time to prepare the wedding is given.
Easier marriage – “getting married in the U.K. is often easier and less bureaucratic than abroad”[xxxii]. British citizens who get married abroad “need more paperwork (non-visa related, such as, a legalized birth certificate) to get married in another country than foreign nationals getting married in the U.K.”[xxxiii].
U.K. issued marriage certificate – a very significant advantage is the “U.K. issued marriage certificate in the English language. If the couple once married are planning their future life together mostly in the U.K., their life may be much easier with the U.K. marriage certificate when dealing with organisations, such as, the NHS and the banks[xxxiv].
Separate ways – as a newlywed couple, separating and living in another country from your partner may seem like a nightmare for many. The Spousal visa requires both partners to get married then go your separate ways and live in a different country to your spouse when the foreign spouse applies for the visa[xxxv]. Under the Fiancée visa this is not required.
Easier application process for when applying for the spousal visa – when applying for a Spousal visa, as part of the application process, the foreign spouse will be required to answer questions about their British spouse, such as their finances and employment. If the British spouse is in the U.K. when the foreign spouse is completing the form, there may arise some difficulties in completing the questions which are about the British spouse. Under the Fiancée visa, this is not a problem as both partners are very likely to be in the U.K. together, and therefore the questions about the British spouse can be answered swiftly.
Legally, could the Home Secretary give Meghan Markle a visa or citizenship without going through the usual steps?
No, the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom is not allowed to give Ms. Markle a visa or citizenship without her going through the steps required of any non-EEA national to complete. More specifically, in the case of the citizenship, the Home Office will consider the naturalization of a foreigner only in the case that a set of statutory requirements has been fulfilled and Ms. Markle cannot constitute an exception to this rule. The only thing that the Home Secretary is allowed to do in order to facilitate the naturalization process, is to permit for some of the requirements not to be fully satisfied. For example, in order for a U.S. citizen to qualify for the British nationality, he or she must fulfil the criteria laid down in Section Six of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Namely the applicant must be older than 18 years old; of sound mind; able to communicate effectively in English; of good character; have a good knowledge of the life in the U.K. and have lived, in case she is married to a British citizen, in the U.K. for a minimum of three years, before applying, or for a minimum of five years in case of no marriage or civil partnership. As is understandable from the time restraints in the British Nationality Act, there is no way that Ms. Markle may be granted the British nationality before her marriage to Prince Harry next May and before being a U.K. resident for three years after that. However, Ms. Markle will not be required to prove that she is able to communicate in English effectively since she is a U.S. citizen and thus automatically exempted from this requirement.
In addition, she may also not have to prove that she is of sound mind and good character because these requirements can also be certified through her public lifestyle. Furthermore, regarding the visa, the Home Secretary does not have to skip the usual steps, as Ms. Markle is entitled to apply for entry clearance as a fiancée. This is valid for six months and will allow her to remain in the U.K. after the marriage as the spouse of a British national. Or she may obtain a special visitor visa for marriage which is also valid for six months and will allow her to move to the U.K. if, following the marriage, an entry clearance application as the spouse of a British national is approved by the U.S. authorities. We’ve seen there are plenty of alternatives for Ms. Markle to obtain a visa or citizenship. There is no need – legally speaking – for the Home Secretary to offer her different treatment from any other citizen seeking the same thing.
Legally, could the Queen give Ms. Markle a visa or citizenship? Or could she request this of the British parliament?
Legally one of the powers of the Queen is to “control passports”. That is, the issuing and withdrawal of the British passport fall within the Royal Prerogative and all British passports are issued in the Queen’s name. Even though theoretically this power allows the Queen to grant British citizenship to whomever she wants, in practice she will not act in such a way. Instead the Ministers of the Crown (in this case the Home Secretary) will exercise the power of controlling passports on her behalf, applying the requirements laid down in the relevant Acts that regulate the area.
Regarding the second scale of the question, of whether the Queen can request from the Parliament to grant Ms. Markle a visa or citizenship, theoretically speaking she can do so by exercising her political right to create secondary legislation. More specifically, the Queen when it comes to issues related to the Crown, has the power to create either Orders in Council and Letters Patent. While the first type of these legislature instruments is mainly used by the Ministers, the second one seems quite appropriate to be used in the case of a royal wedding. However, we should keep in mind that the Queen’s powers, including the political ones as these, have been ceremonial for many years now and most of them are being used either by the Prime Minister or the Cabinet Ministers on her behalf. In addition, the fact the United Kingdom has attracted a significant pool of immigrants from non-EEA countries struggling to extend their rights to become permanent residents or obtain the British citizenship, may discourage, the usually politically neutral Queen, to issue a Letter Patent that may imply a type of discrimination originating by the Head of State and potentially cause a constitutional crisis.
Could an Act of Parliament give Ms. Markle a visa or citizenship?
The purpose of an Act of Parliament is to either to create a new law or to change an existing one. These Acts, as the word itself indicates, are the product of the Parliament which consists of the Queen, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Each Parliament is free to vote on any type of Act that wishes without being bound by the previous Parliaments and without binding the future ones. So, in the case of Ms. Markle, the Parliament, based on its supremacy has theoretically the power to create an Act that will grant her a visa or a citizenship. Given the political consequences that such an Act most probably will cause, the Parliament has to introduce it in a way that will change the existing immigration law and will apply to the all non-EEA immigrants wishing to get a visa or the British citizenship as Ms. Markle. The most practical way of such an Act to be realized, is through the introduction of a Public Bill which constitutes the most common type of Bill and applied to the general population rather than to specific individuals.
As in the case of the Queen, the Parliament even though it is legally permitted to pass an Act that will favour and promote just Ms. Markle’s immigration issue, the potential political and social consequences would likely prevent such a Bill from being introduced. Even if it were, it’s unlikely that it would actually become an Act of Parliament since this would set a precedent for ‘discriminatory treatment’ of the Royal family and could lead to a constitutional crisis.
How long might it take Ms. Markle to achieve citizenship if she follows the normal procedure?
As we’ve seen, Ms. Markle will have to marry Prince Harry first in order that she may apply for British citizenship under the normal procedure. Following the marriage, Ms. Markle will be able to continue residing in the U.K. as the spouse of a British national for at least three years before she need apply for British citizenship. It should be noted that, even though Ms. Markle may be exempted from some of the application requirements, she will still have to sit the test that will measure her knowledge of ‘life in the United Kingdom’. Moreover, after the application has been submitted, it will take approximately three months for it to be processed and for a response to be issued. Thus, in order to achieve citizenship, Ms. Markle may well have to wait for at least three years.
Will Ms. Markle have to give up her American citizenship?
No, according to both the U.K. and the U.S. legal systems, Ms. Markle will be able to keep her American citizenship in addition to the British one. More specifically, the U.K. allows its citizens to have dual citizenship, by enabling them to keep their other nationalities in addition to the British one. The sane rule exactly is applicable in the U.S. So Ms. Markle’s issue of retaining both nationalities is covered and permitted by both legal systems.
Do you need a U.K. Visa? Talley & Barrow specialise in all aspects U.K. visas and immigration with a strong emphasis on Spousal visas. Call today for your free consultation +44 (0)2078594274 or email [email protected].
[xvii]Sam Dangermond, ‘How Much Is Meghan Markle’s Net Worth?’, (Town&Country, 27th November 2017), <http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/a13085480/meghan-markle-net-worth/>, accessed: 10th September 2017
[xx] ICL Legal, Guide on how to apply for a Tier 2 or 5 sponsor licence and how to sponsor a migrant worker’ (6th June 2017), < http://sponsor-license.icslegal.com/guide-on-how-to-apply-for-a-tier-2-or-5-sponsor-licence-and-how-to-sponsor-a-migrant-worker/> , accessed: 10th September 2017
American citizens wishing to come to the UK to live with their British spouse are able to do so by applying for a settlement visa.
A settlement visa (also known as a spousal visa) allows a foreign spouse to apply for a visa to live in the UK on the basis that they have a spouse who is either a British citizen or who is presently settled in the UK. The settlement visa will allow the foreign spouse to work in the UK without any restriction.
The settlement visa is valid for 2.5 years and must be extended before the 2.5 years, in which the foreign spouse must meet all the requirements again.
The application can take between 3 to 12 weeks to process depending on whether you use the settlement priority service which is available for those applying in the US.
You will be required to make an account on the Visa4U website in order to complete your application. It is important to go through the application carefully to avoid any mistakes. However, if you do notice any minor mistake(s) once you have completed and printed your application you can correct the mistake(s) manually. It is advisable to then create a cover letter addressing the mistake(s). A fee is required to be paid to submit the application.
It is advisable for you to have your spouse or partner (sponsor) available as you complete your application form because you will be required to answer questions concerning your sponsor. IHS fee – as part of the application process an immigration healthcare surcharge will need to be paid. This will enable you to use the National Health Service (NHS) when you arrive in the UK.
Priority service – “a settlement priority service has been introduced by the UK Border Agency that can speed your settlement visa”. It is important to bear in mind that this is a separate service which you will be required to pay an additional fee known as the VFS Global priority fee (the current fee for American citizens are USD 771.00 for each settlement priority visa application). Additionally, it is not guaranteed that a positive outcome will be created with the priority service, all applications will have to meet the UK Immigration Rules, but “paying the additional fee will certainly help reduce the inevitable stress and delay that is caused by the settlement visa application process”.
“The priority service will allow your application to be processed ahead of the standard settlement visa applications, with a processing time of 15 days from the date of receipt by the UK Border Agency”. “There are strict rules for how this service is accessed once you have made the payment”. It is essential that your application has ‘Settlement Priority Service’ “written clearly on the outside of the envelope, including the payment reference code that was assigned when the purchase for the priority service was made”. This simply enables the UK Border Agency to identify your application as a priority.
VAF4A Appendix 2 – this is known as the financial requirement form in which you will have to show the UK Visas and Immigration of how you meet the financial requirement which is discussed below. Additionally, you will be required to answer questions on your sponsor’s work history and your relationship. The form is to be printed and completed manually. It is advisable to have all the information of your sponsor’s work history with you due to the depth of the questions.
Biometric assessment – you will be required to provide biometric information (your photograph and fingerprints) as part of the application process. Your appointment to submit your biometric information will be reserved when you pay and submit your online application. When attending your biometric appointment you will need to take your passport, biometric confirmation sheet and the receipt page with you. Your receipt will be stamped and this will need to be sent with your documentation supporting your settlement visa application, which is discussed below.
Your biometric appointment will take place at one of the Application Support Centres run by the US Citizenship Immigration Services. They are not involved in the decision-making process and cannot influence the decision on your application. Once you have given your biometric information at one of the centres you will need to submit your completed application to the UK Visas and Immigration located in Sheffield (Settlement Applications, International Operations and Visas, PO Box 5852, Sheffield, UK, S11 OFX).
Your biometric information will also be electronically sent to the UK Home Office where they will continue your application for a Biometric Residence Permit. If your settlement visa application is successful, once you have arrived in the UK you will need to collect your Biometric Residence Permit within 10 days of arriving in the UK.
The Main Requirements
Apart from you and your sponsor being the age of 18 or over there are certain requirements which must be satisfied.
Financial requirement – The financial requirement is intended to ensure that your sponsor has sufficient resources to support themselves and you without being a burden on the taxpayer.
Your sponsor is required to show that they have a gross annual income of £18,600 and have had this amount of income for six months or more. Alternatively, evidence of your sponsor’s overseas earnings and/or a confirmed job offer in the UK will also meet the financial requirement. Only your sponsor’s income will be taken into account, you cannot combine your income with your spouse’s income to meet the financial requirement. However, if your sponsor has been living in the USA with you and returning to the UK with you, your sponsor must “have a verified job offer or signed a contract of employment to start work within three months of their return (with an annual salary which is sufficient to meet the financial requirement on its own or in conjunction with other permitted sources”, which is discussed below).
Additionally, your sponsor must have been in employment in the USA when you started your application (“with a gross annual salary which meets the financial requirement alone or in combination with other permitted sources”). You sponsor must have been in employment for past six months on a continuous basis or “have received the level of income required over the previous twelve months through gross salaried income and/or other permitted sources”.
If you have children living with you in the US (they do not hold a British citizenship) the financial requirement will be higher. An extra £3,800 will be imposed for one child and then £2,400 for each additional child.
The UK Visas and Immigration have made it clear that there is no scope for exemptions of this rule unless your sponsor is “in receipt of Carer’s Allowance and certain disability-related benefits”.
Accommodation – You will have to show that you have adequate accommodation without the need to rely on public funds for when you arrive in the UK. Your sponsor will need to show that they are exclusively occupying the property. Under the Immigration Rules, part 6, this means that “part of the accommodation must be for the exclusive use of the family”. In other words, you must show that the accommodation is fit for a family.
Genuine relationship – This requirement is often the most contentious, if the application does not show that the relationship you share with your sponsor is a genuine and long-term relationship, the visa will be refused. As the UK Visas and Immigration do not know you and your sponsor personally you must submit evidence proving that you both are in a genuine and long-term relationship in which you intend to live together permanently in the UK. This requirement is to ensure that you are not marrying your sponsor to simply gain a visa to enter the UK.
Documents and Evidence
You will need to submit documentation and evidence to support your application for the settlement visa. Information about finances and employment – the evidence you submit will show how your stay in the UK will be funded. If your sponsor is employed you will have to provide their employment and financial details. Documents and evidence to submit can include:
Payslips of your sponsor. This should cover the previous 6 months (you will come under financial category A), or 12 months if your sponsor is self-employed. As the payslips in the UK are in a different form to that in the USA it is advisable for your sponsor to ask their employer to print out every payslip and to have the employer sign each print out.
Bank statements. This should show what has been paid in and out of your sponsor’s bank account for the previous 6 months, or 12 months if your sponsor is self-employed. If your sponsor does not have original copies of the bank statements (copies sent by the bank to the spouse’s accommodation address) but instead has printed out copies from downloads, your sponsor will need to have the bank stamp the bank statements.
Bank letter or balance certificate. This should show your sponsor’s account balance.• Business bank account statements.
Evidence of your sponsor’s current employment. A letter from the employer confirming your sponsor’s employment, the salary and how long your sponsor has been working for the employer. Ensure that the letter is on letterhead paper and is signed by the employer and dated. You can also include your sponsor’s employment contract.
•Evidence of any income from other sources such as friends, family, savings and property. This could include property deeds, mortgage statements tenancy agreements, accountant’s letters and land registration documents.
Accommodation details – you must submit details of the accommodation you and your sponsor will be living in or intend to live in once you arrive in the UK, along with permission for you to stay there and with any evidence of any other occupants. You can submit any of the following documents as evidence of your accommodation:
Land Registry documents
Property inspection report
If your sponsor does not own the accommodation you will need a letter from the occupant (such as a landlord or parents if your spouse lives with his/her parents) of the accommodation confirming that you are able to stay there. A copy of the tenancy agreement should be included
Information about relationship – evidence of your relationship with your sponsor and any contact between you both must be submitted. Evidence can include:
A letter from your sponsor confirming your relationship
Your marriage certificate
Photographs of your wedding ceremony or other times spent together
Evidence of how you and your sponsor maintained communication together. This can include phone records, emails, text messages and Facebook messages. It is important to have the dates of your communication visible.
Copies of your flight information to the UK. This can include your flight tickets to the UK and your sponsor’s flight tickets to the USA.
Proof that you have met each other’s families where possible.• Some shared financial responsibilities, such as, a savings account. Information about children who are traveling with you – if you are bringing your children from the USA with you to the UK, you must be able to show that you and your sponsor both “share responsibility of their everyday care and upbringing”. You can also provide a confirmation from your sponsor stating his consent of the children coming with you to the UK. Photographs of you, your sponsor and the children together will be sufficient evidence.
Additional documents – despite not being a mandatory requirement you can further support your settlement visa application by submitting additional documents. If you are intending to work in the UK after you have settled down with your sponsor, providing evidence of your employment contract, a letter from your employer and your payslips are advisable.
Sending the Application
UK Visas and Immigration have created two ways for you to send your supporting documents. All supporting documents should be sent to the UK within 20 working days for a standard settlement application and 10 working days for the priority settlement service. You will have to arrange to post or courier your supporting documents (UPS and DHL are common examples, FedEx has not been accepted as a courier for USA applications) and the weight of your supporting documents must not exceed 5 pounds. Alternatively, you can contact VFS Global to digitally scan your supporting documents which will be submitted to UK Visas and Immigration.
What to do after shipping
This is primarily a waiting period and it is important not to book your flight to the UK until you receive your passport because your passport will show you whether your settlement visa application has been successful.
If your settlement visa application has not been successful you can appeal, bearing in mind that the appeal process can be slow (6-12 months). Alternatively, you can reapply but this will be a more expensive option compared to an appeal.
If your partner or spouse has a long-term visa or residence in the UK you may be able to apply to join them as a dependent on a Family Visa for a spouse or partner. A visa is needed if you are planning to live with a family member for more than six months. If you are already in the UK you may be able to apply to extend your visa.
However, if you have a visitor visa of less than six months you will not be able to apply for a family visa from within the UK. If your partner, fiancé or spouse is a student or temporary worker, you will not be able to gain a family visa.
The Family Visa process has stringent criteria. There are lots of reasons why you may qualify but a number of incidences where you might not. Family visas are something which need to be investigated fully for your individual circumstances.
Refusal of family visas does happen and can lead to difficult choices for families and relationships. We look at a few scenarios in this article.
Spousal visa difficulties experienced by couples
Currently partner visa applications are falling, from 46,906 in June 2006 to 27,345 in June 2015, when 66% of applications were granted favorably.
Case 1: David Kiff of the UK, and Wanwan Qiao of China
Wanwan lived in the UK for three years, initially on a student visa, and met David in April 2016. For a visa to be granted to a non-EU spouse any couple needs to be earning a combined income of £18,600, or be facing significant difficulties to live outside the UK. Their first application was denied as David was self-employed and could not properly demonstrate his income. The Home Office stated they were declining their second application based on immigration rules, and saw no reason why the couple cannot live in China. Wanwan is heavily pregnant, but has been granted exceptional leave to remain with an extension for four months, and can re-apply after she has given birth.
Case 2: Toni Stew of the UK and Mohamed El Faramawi of Egypt
Again, this couple’s issues began with them not earning the combined £18,600 per year requirements. They met in Egypt in 2009 and married six years later. They have a 17-month-old son Ali who lives with mum Toni in the UK. As Toni doesn’t earn the income threshold requirement, Mohamed is not allowed to come to the UK, and has only seen his son a handful of times. Toni works part-time while caring for her son.
Thousands of couples are said to be affected by the minimum income requirement introduced in July 2012.
Case 3: Lauren Segan of the UK and American, Spencer Russ
Both students, Laura and Spencer have been married for less than a year. Laura is still studying and feels it’s unfair of the UK government to expect her to earn the £18,600 threshold, whilst studying, in order to bring Spencer back to the UK. They met when they were both teaching English in Russia.
What exactly was the change in law for income requirements for couples?
Under the family migration policy British citizens, foreign nationals who are settled in the UK and those with refugee status can apply to sponsor their partner’s visa. They must also show they have sufficient funding to support them. The minimum income requirement was introduced in July 2012. For a non-European partner and child, the amount is £22,400 with an additional £2,400 for each additional child. Applicants who receive the status of “family of a settled person” cannot claim benefits or public funds.
The minimum income requirement policy was challenged in the High Court in 2013 and the Court of Appeal in 2014 as being discriminatory, and not compliant with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Article 8 is the right to a private and family life. The Supreme Court ruled the immigration policy lawful, but it continues to separate and cause pain to many couple and families.
What is the “Surinder Singh” route?
Some applicants who were unable to meet the income threshold have taken the “Surinder Singh” route to bypass the law. They work in another nation in the European Economic Area for three months or more. When they return to the UK they are treated as an EEA citizen, instead of a British citizen. This means they can bring their spouse to the EEA country, then on to the UK without having to meet the income threshold. The Home Office must be satisfied that any applicant following this route did not do so just for immigration purposes.
Why is the American show “90-day Fiancé” so popular?!
The American TV show “90-day Fiancé” and its spin-offs follow the stories of American citizens moving abroad to be with partners, often that they have recently met online. Or American’s who bring their partners to the USA. These relationships often result in quick marriages, which some see as a route to immigration or monetary gain, and not real love stories. For some the stories are true romance and show individuals adapting to new countries and relationships. For other participants in the show there are obvious issues, visible one-sidedness, or a need for love or gain not shared by the spouse to be.
Lastly, can simple mistakes on visa applications cause problems for couples?
Yes! Simple errors on any visa and immigration application can cause huge problems, even the rejection of the visa itself. It’s vital that anyone completing an application is 100% confident they meet the requirements and criteria and can demonstrate this. Submitting an incomplete or incorrect application will almost certainly cause problems. Any attempt to hide details or submit fraudulent applications is likely to cause both immediate and future refusals. If you are not sure about any part of a visa application – take advice, it may seem expensive, but is likely to save money and heartache later.
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