UK immigrant (settlement) spousal visa application process

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Where to apply for a UK settlement marriage visa?

If the foreign husband or wife is already in the UK on a valid long term visa, e.g. work visa or student visa, they may be eligible to apply for a marriage visa by making an application for further leave to remain or FLR(M) from inside the UK. Otherwise, the process must be initiated from outside the UK with the foreign spouse submitting a settlement spousal visa application to the British Consulate, Embassy or High Commission with jurisdiction over their country of normal and legal residence. Applicants physically present in other countries on temporary long term visas may be able to obtain an appointment to submit their marriage visa application at one of the nearest UK visa-issuing posts, but it is generally more difficult for settlement visas to be obtained from outside the applicant’s country of nationality or where they exercise full residency rights.

Most British Consulates around the world treat long-term work and student visa holders as temporary residents with no permanent rights to remain in a foreign country and may therefore refuse to accept the settlement visa application. Entry clearance officers may be unable to properly assess the circumstances and evaluate foreign documents presented by the applicant with the marriage visa application. The British Consulate may therefore return the application to the applicant with the recommendation that a new application is made from the applicant’s country of normal residence.

Visa Application Centres (VACs)

In most countries UK entry clearance applications can only be accepted through the accredited UK Visa Application Centres (VACs). All VACs are privately owned organisations sub-contracted by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to assist visa applicants in their locale. VAC personnel play no role whatsoever in deciding the outcome of a UK settlement visa application.

In general, the VACs are responsible for the collection of visa application fees and biometric information. The VACs are also responsible for conducting a preliminary review of visa applications to ensure that all immigration forms and supporting documents are in order and comply with the official UKBA application rules and guidelines. Nonetheless, in some countries it is still possible to apply for a settlement visa by making a postal application or submitting all relevant documents in person at the appropriate British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission.

If the initial submission is incomplete, the visa application is likely to be rejected to allow the applicant to provide the missing information. This will result in a delay in the processing of the case caused by the need to gather additional documents and book a new appointment. If the initial submission is considered complete, the VAC will forward the documents to the appropriate UK visa-issuing post for further processing and decision making.

Spouse visa processing time and decision making process

Spouse visa application processing times vary greatly from location to location, and from Consulate to Consulate. In general, the waiting time for the British Embassy to process a settlement visa application can range from a few business days to several months. Much depends on whether or not the application is deemed “clearly approvable”, meaning the immigration forms and supporting documents are accurate and contain all the required information.

Many factors, such as inaccurately completed visa application forms, a lack of supporting documentation, the need for additional background check or investigation, and incomplete applications, may influence the processing of individual cases dramatically. These factors typically double the normal waiting time for visa approval, and some cases are returned to the applicant to correct errors and inconsistencies. It should be noted that the application fee is non-refundable regardless of the outcome of the application.

The adjudicating entry clearance officer will review the paper application to determine whether the applicant meets the basic eligibility requirements to qualify for a UK spouse visa, or the case requires additional administrative processing. For instance, cases involving prior entry denial history, previous unsuccessful visa applications, deportation or overstay may be subject to additional investigation. It should be noted that the examining immigration officials are trained to consider family class applications based on objective facts and with the use of some “rules of thumb”. If the case raises serious concerns (“red flags”) over its legitimacy, the application may be put on hold pending final review by the entry clearance manager.

“Bona fide” marriage

One of the most important qualifying criteria for a successful marriage visa application is that the couple must produce sufficient documentary evidence to demonstrate that they have been in a genuine and committed relationship immediately preceding the filing of the application, and that they intend to continue living together after the settlement visa is issued. A marriage certificate alone does not constitute sufficient proof. In assessing family applications, the UK immigration authorities typically look for evidence that shows that the couple formed a genuine economic and marital union, such as living together on a permanent basis, sharing a household and various important financial and social commitments.

All visa applicants must convince the UK Border Agency (UKBA) that they entered into their marriage in good faith, and not to evade UK immigration laws. If the adjudicating entry clearance officer has doubts concerning the genuineness of the relationship or suspects immigration fraud (a “marriage of convenience”), the spouse may be required to appear for a personal interview to testify before the immigration officials, or a decision may be made at any time on the basis of the available documentation and without any further reference to the applicant or sponsor. The sponsor may also be required to participate in a telephone or personal interview. The examiner may interview husband and wife separately to ensure they give the same answers to the same questions that only people who live together in a genuine marriage would know how to answer. If there are any conflicts or discrepancies between the answers provided, the examiner may not give the couple a chance to explain or clarify.

Settlement visa interview

The consular interview is the most important part of the spousal visa application process. Unfortunately, a tremendous number of settlement visa applications fail at this stage because the applicants underestimate the crucial importance of the interview or simply are not aware of what the immigration officials are actually looking for. Likewise, statements made during the visa interview or other information included with the application, while seemingly inconsequential, may result in a significant delay or denial of the application.

The entry clearance officer has discretion to waive the personal interview requirement. Nonetheless, the husband or wife may be required to appear for a face-to-face interview if the adjudicator is not satisfied based on the documentary proof submitted with the initial application. We prepare all applications for the UK spousal visa with this in mind, making sure that each application is complete, accurate and easy to review, to encourage the Embassy officials to approve the spouse visa application quickly, and, where possible, without conducting an interview.

During the marriage visa interview, the entry clearance officer will ask the applicant a series of questions to find out more about the case and to ensure that the information in the settlement visa application forms and supporting documents is true and accurate. The adjudicating Embassy official will also ask questions to ensure that the relationship is bona fide, ongoing, and was not entered into solely for immigration purposes. Statements made during the interview will help the examiner make a final determination of eligibility. The entry clearance officer will reach a decision based on the outcome of the interview and any additional documents submitted by the applicant. Whether to issue the settlement visa or refuse the application is solely up to the discretion of the interviewing officer.

There is no set time for marriage visa interviews. The entry clearance officers take as much time as they need in order to reach a decision. Straightforward settlement visa applications can be handled within 15 – 20 minutes. More complex immigration cases can take the examiner from 30 to 60 minutes to resolve. If the applicant does not know what to expect during the interview, they may be naturally nervous and therefore answer one or more of the interview questions incorrectly. This can greatly increase the processing time or lead to initial denial of the application. Arguing later with the immigration authorities that the applicant meets the requirements and that the relationship is indeed bona fide can take weeks, or even months, to bring to resolution and visa issuance. For this reason, it is important to prepare thoroughly for the initial marriage visa interview.

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