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In detail: UK Spouse and Partner visas

Fiancé/Fiancée visa is for 6 months with no right to work. You have to come to the UK, get married and apply for a Spouse visa within this period. Switching to a Spouse visa can be done quickly on 24-hour service or 5-day service. A Fiancee visa does not count to settlement, so the sooner you switch the better.

Spouse visa is for 30 or 33 months and allows to work immediately. The extra 3 months are given when you apply outside the UK, otherwise it’s 30 months (2.5 years). This is for married couples and also civil partners who have a partnership certificate. Civil partnerships are now legal for all couples, for partners of the same or opposite sex (in the past it was only for same-sex couples), as long as you register your relationship at the Register Office. If you/your partner are outside the UK, they can use the Fiancee visa route as above. 

Unmarried Partner visa is similar to Spouse visa in terms of length and qualifying for settlement. However, the qualifying conditions are very different: Instead of being married you need to have lived together for 2 years and being able to prove it. The problem is usually the latter – evidence as per very strict requirements. Alternatively, you can get married (or register a civil partnership) and qualify for a Spouse visa.

From 31 December 2019 civil partnerships became legal for everyone. Before that only same-sex couples could enter it. Now, the opposite-sex partners can choose between marriage or civil partnership.

How does it affect Immigration? As we explained a lot over the past 10+ years, the only ‘unmarried’ visa option used to be an Unmarried Partner visa (to heterosexual couples). But the rules require living together for 2 years – and being able to prove it with strict specified evidence, which is often a challenge. Many a time we were asked by clients what to do if they were not ready to get married (or preferred not to for one reason or another). We had to advise to either get married (to secure a Spouse visa) or get a Fiancee visa (giving 6 months, after which to get married), or wait until the “living together for 2 years” rule has been satisfied, which is difficult if the previous UK visa is about to expire. 

Now any couple can register a civil partnership and for the purpose of UK visas, be treated in the same way as married couples.What is the legal difference (other than for visas)? Actually, not much legal difference, it is more of a cultural and religious matter. There is no religious attachment to civil partnerships, no ceremony conducted at the church (only at a Register Office), no exchange of vows etc. However, if the couple wants to part ways, they have to follow almost the same procedure as married couples do. 

Benefits (other than for visas): unlike unmarried partners, civil partners share the same property right, pension benefits, parental responsibility rights, inheritance tax benefits. In other words, there are more similarities than differences. Perhaps it is just the sign of changing times …

5-year route is a standard one, meaning you could qualify for permanent residence status after 5 years in the UK, not counting time spent on a Fiance(e) or other visas, such as a student one. The 1st visa is issued for 30 months (2.5 years) if you apply inside the UK, such as if switching from a Tier 4 or Tier 5 visa. Or for 33 months (2.5 years + 3 months) if you apply outside the UK. The 2nd visa is extension for further 2.5 years, then settlement.

10-year route is used when you have serious, exceptional circumstances why you cannot meet the Rules. It can be being unable to meet the Financial Requirement or if you are currently without a legal status in the UK (i.e. an overstayer). The 1st visa is usually for 30 months (2.5 years or 2.5 years+3 months), then you need further 3 visas, each for 2.5 years, meaning you can only settle in the UK after 10 years.  

Visa options: Spouse/Civil Partner, Fiancée or Unmarried Partner.

English: A1.

Financial Requirement: income of £18,600 or savings of £62,500, can be in UK or elsewhere. Income can be from pension, property, dividends from non-UK company. Non-UK employment is acceptable but only together with a job offer from a UK employer.

Most commonly met with: savings in the UK and/or abroad, pension or combination. If your employer is transferring you to the UK, you can use the job offer together with earnings overseas.  

Consideration time: entry visa applications take 3 months on standard service or 1.5 – 2 months on premium service.

Outcome: visa for 33 months (spouse), or a fiancée visa for 6 months.

Right to work: Spouse or Partner visa allows work, Fiancée visa doesn’t.

Next step: if you have a Fiancée visa, you have to get married and apply for a Spouse visa. If you have a Spouse visa, you have to extend after 2.5 years.

Visa options: Spouse/Civil Partner or Fiancée.

English: A1.

Financial Requirement: Sponsor’s income of £18,600 or savings of £62,500 or combinations. Most commonly met with: Sponsor’s UK employment or self-employment, the couple’s savings in the UK and/or abroad, pension. 

Consideration time: entry visa applications take 3 months on standard service or 1.5 – 2 months on premium service.

Outcome: visa for 33 months (spouse), or a fiancée visa for 6 months.

Right to work: Spouse/Civil Partner visa allows work, Fiancée visa doesn’t.

Next step: if you have a Fiancée visa, you have to get married and apply for a Spouse visa. If you have a Spouse visa, you have to extend after 2.5 years.

Visa options: Spouse/Civil Partner or Unmarried Partner. Can also leave the UK and come back on a Fiancee visa.

Can switch from: most UK visas, such as any Tier, Fiancée, Partner 10-year route. Cannot switch from a visitor.

English: A1. If you are switching from a Tier 4 visa, you can use your UK degree.

Financial Requirement: income of £18,600 or savings of £62,500.

Most commonly met with: UK employment or self-employment; savings in the UK and/or abroad; PhD scholarship.=

Consideration time: 2 – 3 months on standard service but can also use next-day service by a prior appointment.

Priority service available? Yes, 24-hour service or 5-working-day service. 

Outcome: visa for 2.5 years (30 months).

Right to work: Yes.

Next step: extension for further 2.5 years.

English: A2.  In some cases, you may rely on having met it during the last application.

Financial Requirement: income £18,600 or savings of £62,500.

Most commonly met with: Sponsor or Applicant’s UK employment or self-employment, the couple’s savings in the UK and/or abroad, pension.

Consideration time: 2 – 3 months on standard service but can be faster with optional Priority services. 

Priority service available? Yes, 24-hour service or 5-working-day service. 

Outcome: visa for further 2.5 years (30 months).

Right to work: Yes.

Next step: permanent residency (ILR) after 5 years if you are in the standard 5-year route. 

If you are in the 10-year route, then further extensions until you have spent 10 years in the UK (unless you switch to the 5-year route). You may not need to meet the Financial and English language requirements.

If you do not have a valid visa in the UK at the moment, we will explain your options and guide you on applying accordingly. Maybe you overstayed your past visa, came to the UK as a visitor and remained since, and would now like to obtain a legal status here. This includes situations if you were brought to the UK as a child and are now looking to legalise your stay as an adult. 

Options include applying under the 10-year route, which has a benefit of not leaving the UK but has a downside of being discretionary. It also means another 10 years to settlement. We will advise on your chances on success under the 10-year route, and if your application is successful, you could later switch to the 5-year route to speed up your path to settlement. 

You may also consider leaving the UK and applying under the standard 5-year route, assuming you and your British partner can meet the requirements including Financial Requirement £18,600. The downside is leaving the UK and being apart from your partner (and children, if applicable), plus the chance of being refused if you get the application wrong and then having to re-apply or appeal, ie more and more waiting. The upside is almost likely getting a visa approved if you and your partner meet the requirements, plus being put in the 5-year route, meaning twice sooner to settlement than under the 10-year route. 

To discuss further, please start from Booking a consultation here.  

If you have a visa as a Spouse/Partner or Parent in the 10-year route, you can switch to the standard 5-year route. Instead of waiting for 10 years to qualify for settlement, you can qualify after 5 years on 5-year-route visas. You can switch as soon as you meet the requirements, you don’t have to wait until the current visa expires. 

Example 1: you did not have a valid visa in the UK (ie you were an overstayer), applied for a Partner visa, were granted a leave in the 10-year route. You and your partner can now meet all the requirements for the standard 5-year route visa, so you can switch anytime, thus beginning “your” 5-year qualifying period towards Indefinite Leave.

Example 2: you had a UK visa, such as Tier 4, it was about to expire but you and your partner couldn’t meet Financial Requirement £18,600 to switch to a standard Spouse/Partner visa. You were granted a leave in the 10-year route instead. One year later you and/or your partner have income of £18,600 and can switch to the 5-year route. 

There are more examples, to discuss your situation please book advice session with us here. 

This is an unexpected side effect of the 10-year route! If you are in the standard 5-year route, you would not like to extend this qualifying period beyond 5 years. Why would you? It would mean more applications, more Government fees and health surcharge payments (for a full visa every time, even if you only need a year). Yet some migrants end up ‘switching’ from the 5 to 10-year route. Or rather being switched – involuntarily and unintentionally. 

For example, you had a Spouse/Partner visa. Then applied for extension but the visa officers concluded you hadn’t  met the requirements. They cannot just refuse, they are obliged to consider all circumstances including family life. Since it wasn’t your first application as a Partner (ie not switching from another visa), it is likely you would not be refused but put into the 10-year route instead. 

Of course, having a visa under 10-year route is better than no visa, especially if you indeed couldn’t meet the requirements (usually, Financial). If, however, you made a technical mistake (missed some documents or miscalculated earnings), and it could have been corrected (by adding documents or adding savings), then a refusal would have been better. You could re-apply, correcting the mistakes, and continue in the 5-year route, even with the loss of Government fee, although health surcharge would be refunded. Or you could have appealed, saving on Government fee but delaying the process potentially by a year. 

In other words, with a refusal you would have had options. With being involuntary put into the 10-year route, you cannot appeal (as there is no refusal), cannot re-apply with the same application. You can switch back to the 5-year route but that’s another full Government fee and full health surcharge!

It is, therefore, important to prepare your case carefully!

Qualifying period: 5 years in the UK on the Spouse and/or Unmarried Partner visas – standard route. 10 years in the UK under the 10-year route, or 10 years of legal stay on any visas, whichever is sooner. 

English: B1 for all.

Life in the UK Test: Yes for all.

Financial Requirement: income of £18,600 or savings of £34,600.

Most commonly met with: Sponsor or Applicant’s UK employment or self-employment, the couple’s savings in the UK and/or abroad, pension.

Consideration time: 6 months on standard service or can also use Priority services by appointment.

Priority service available? Yes, 24-hour service or 5-working-day service. 

Outcome: Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

Right to work: Yes.

Next step: British Citizenship.

This is our main speciality, we have helped 1000s of couples! Generally, you need income of £18,600 per year (more if children are also applying) or savings of £62,500 held for 6 months. We highlighted above most common options in each scenario. For more details, we have a dedicated page here including what to do if you don’t meet it. 

Fiancé/Fiancée visa A1
1st Spouse or Partner visa, including after initially being on Fiancée visa A1  
2nd Spouse or Partner visa after initial 2.5 years A2  
Permanent residency ILR B1  

Priority consideration services for a Spouse/Partner visa are very popular: you would have a decision on the next working day after the appointment, as opposed to waiting – and worrying – for several months. You can also choose a service that takes 5 working days. The Government charges extra fee for each of these. 

We book an appointment for you, we upload the documents beforehand and ‘hold your hand’ throughout the whole process. You can keep your passport during the processing time.  

24-hour service and 5-working-day service are available for in-UK applications: switching to a Spouse or Unmarried Partner visa from Tier 4 and other permissible categories; applying as a Spouse after being on a Fiancée visa, extension after initial 2.5 years; ILR after 5 years. Not available under 10-year route. 

Standard service is also available and takes approximately 6 months for ILR, or 2 – 3 months for switching and extension. You can keep your passport during the processing time! Our How It Works page has more. This used to be postal service before it changed in November 2018. 

Applications outside the UK: standard service takes approximately 3 months, priority – approximately 1.5 – 2 months.