From 1st December 2013 changes will be made to the UK immigration rules which apply to settlement applications being made for UK marriage and UK partner visas by family members of British citizens serving in HM Armed Forces. There will be no changes made in respect of UK spouse visa applications made before 1st December, meaning anyone who applied before this date but is yet to receive a decision from UK Visas & Immigration (formerly the UK Border Agency) will still have their settlement application processed based on the previous rules.
The changes to the immigration rules only affect non-EEA family members of British citizens serving in HM Armed Forces. The rules were implemented in July 2012 as part of a wider ranging programme of immigration reform, generally brought in to prevent family members of British citizens becoming a burden on the taxpayer, and also to ensure that family members entering the country will be able to integrate into British society. Therefore, these changes were not introduced specifically to target members of HM Armed Forces. At the time, non-EEA family members of HM Armed Forces personnel were made temporarily exempt, awaiting consultations which are now complete, and the Home Office has now released the findings and put new rules in place.
The new rules will cover British Armed Forces personnel and also the families of foreign or Commonwealth citizens who are serving in HM Forces. This includes Gurkhas discharged since 1st July 1997. Although the Home Office is sympathetic to the differing needs of HM Armed Forces family members, their intention is to bring immigration rules largely in line with those which apply to non-military personnel. The income threshold is, therefore, set at the same level as that applying to civilians: a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for a partner, £22,400 for a partner with one dependent child and £2,400 for each additional child. A High Court ruling in July 2013 which cast doubt on the fairness of this threshold has led to an interim moratorium on decisions being made in all cases where financial issues were the only factor affecting the success of a UK marriage visa application, and this will be carried over to apply to service personnel and their families also.
From 1st December 2013, non-EEA partners between 18 and 65 years of age will have to pass a mandatory A1 level English language test before applying for leave to enter or remain in the UK. Those seeking to stay in the UK on a permanent basis will need to pass the Life in the UK test and B1 level English test (KOLL) in order to qualify for settlement or indefinite leave to remain (ILR). This is to show that they have an adequate grasp of the English language, British government, culture and history. There will also be a probationary period of five years before the family member will become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. These rules are those that apply, by and large, to all non-EEA family members who apply for UK family visas, however, there are some special clauses that apply only to Armed Forces families. These clauses have been created because the Home Office has decided that there are special circumstances regarding family life in HM Armed Forces which people outside of the Forces to not experience.
Because of this, there is greater flexibility in the UK immigration rules to allow applications to be made whilst overseas. A settlement marriage or partner visa will be allowed to last longer – five years – before a renewal is required. Time spent overseas on an accompanied posting will be counted as having been spent in the UK when calculating time towards the residence requirement. If a serving foreign or Commonwealth national in the Armed Forces naturalises as a British citizen, there will be no need to switch immigration routes as was the case before. If a family member is bereaved, they will be able to apply for settlement immediately, even if the death is not in action. If a relationship of foreign or Commonwealth service personnel should break down due to domestic violence and the sponsor had not served for long enough to qualify for settlement, the partner can also apply immediately for settlement.
There will be other exceptions made for a short time only for anyone who was unable to apply before 1st December 2013 for the sole reason that they were accompanying a member of HM Armed Forces abroad. In these cases, the decision will be made in accordance to the rules pertaining on 30th November 2013. There are no changes planned for the rules relating to foreign or Commonwealth members of HM Armed Forces who are currently awaiting discharge, although sympathetic consideration will be given to anyone whose discharge is due to medical issues which are directly attributable to service. Whether the leave to stay will be indefinite or not will depend on the severity of the medical condition or injury and each case will be decided individually on its merits.
Other changes are included in the Home Office rules, but they are mostly of a technical or strictly legal nature and apply mainly to foreign troops in the UK for training purposes. There is also provision to allow for TB testing of all family members coming into the country from Afghanistan as well as clarification of clauses relating to anyone who is under a deportation order.