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How To Get A UK Spouse Visa During Pandemic

It is clear that the net effect of the lockdown has had significant effects across all areas of the law and legal industry generally but perhaps none more so than immigration law in the UK. There have been some fascinating trends during lockdown, especially in relation to applications for marriage visas in relation to those wanting to move from a non EU country to the UK. I will explore some of those issues below.

Before I begin though, it is worth noting that this article mainly applies to those wanting to apply as the long term partner, fiancé or married partner of a person who has citizenship in the UK. That application would be made via the Home Office website and would be made as an ‘out of country’ (i.e. outside of the UK) application. Be warned though… the online form is detailed and complicated.

Travel to the UK

After the UK visa application has been finished and hopefully granted, the applicant is usually granted 33 months leave to remain in the UK (the period should be 30 months but the Home Office provides an extra 3 months leeway on top of the usual leave). This is so that they have time to set up a new life in the UK and so then allow them to gain the required 30 months of residence in the UK before applying for the final 30 months. Of course, this is critically important as any partner making an application under the Entry Clearance process is able to apply for ILR (indefinite leave to remain) after 5 years residence in the UK. At this point, there are no immigration restrictions on the person with a right to then apply for full citizenship. 

Of course the problem is that if the applicant has not travelled to the UK within the ‘extra 3 months’ then, following the second period of leave to remain in the UK, they may not have gained the full 2.5 and subsequently (following the further leave to remain application) the full 5 years residence without having to make a further extension application. This costs both time and money!

Another negative consequence is that in most immigration applications, a successful application results in an applicant receiving a 30 day visa rather than their full leave entitlement. This is important because it inevitably means that they must travel within the 30 days to the UK following which they would attend at a post office to receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) with their full leave entitlement endorsed on that card. It follows that only at this stage are they regarded as having been granted their full leave entitlement. 

The problem here is that if, for any reason, a person is unable to travel to the UK within that 30 day visa period, then they are in significant difficulty. That said, until the end of 2020, the Home Office have granted visa applicants a concession in this regard so that all those whose vignette has expired can simply email the Home Office at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk stating their name, nationality, date of birth and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. They should then receive an extension to the initial 

30 day visa period

Indeed, it would appear that the Home Office are now starting to endorse passports with 90 day leave rather than the usual 30 days as recognition of the problems faced by those whose applications have been successful but then face logistical difficulties in travelling to the UK. 

English Language Test Requirement

One of the most vital requirements pursuant to Appendix FM in respect of securing a spouse visa is that the person making the application must satisfy the English Language requirement by having an Honours or a Masters degree that was taught in English, by coming from a designated/listed English speaking country or having passed an English Language test. It is the latter that has caused the greatest problems – for, as one might expect, during lockdown many of the test centres were closed to the public meaning that an applicant could not satisfy that element. No online alternative was suggested or created (unlike in many other educational/testing settings). This has meant that in many countries, the possibility of making a spouse visa application has simply not been possible.

Biometric Appointment

Another vital part of the process for obtaining a marriage visa in the UK is that the applicant, having submitted the Home Office form, uploads their documentation (whether by way of attending a designated centre where the documentation will be uploaded for you or by simply uploading the documents yourself) and attends a scheduled appointment to confirm their identity and provide their biometric information in order that the application may be finalised. Again, as you might expect, many of these centres were closed during the pandemic thereby resulting in a delay in relation to the finalisation of the application process.

Conclusion

The current hope of a vaccine being rolled out internationally and quickly hopefully means that the current disruption, uncertainty and increased expense is coming to a gradual end. However, it is vital to keep a watchful eye on the Home Office website, so that you are fully up to date with the current requirements; the current ‘hostile environment’ within the UK immigration legal system means that it is critical to get everything right first time.

This information was kindly provided by Legal Visa. Check their website if you need such services.

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