Spousal Visa

The so-called 'spousal visa' (or Limited Leave to Enter, LLE) is issued to applicants who have married a British citizen (or permanent resident) abroad. It is issued by a foreign post where the applicant has a claim to normal residence or citizenship. The visa itself runs for 33 months and is probationary.  The formal term for this type of visa is "entry clearance".  "Entry clearances" are formally defined in Paragraphs 24 through 30 of the Immigration Rules; and the diligent researcher should examine these paragraphs to gain an understanding of the role of entry clearances in UK immigration.

When the visa is near expiry, the holder  must apply for a second visa, known as "FLR", or "Further Leave to Remain".  This visa is applied for within the UK and runs for 30 months.  It is also probationary in nature.

During the two probationary periods, the applicant cannot seek access to public funds, and must not otherwise engage in activities that counterindicate good character.  When a person accrues 60 months (5 years) of residence in the UK as a spouse, they can normally qualify for permanent residence (or ILR, "Indefinite Leave to Remain").

This article address the first application in the process (obtaining an entry clearance as a spouse) and focuses primarily upon the evidence which must be provided by the applicant.  Pages that address FLR and ILR are elsewhere.

To clarify any ambiguities in terminology or to define 'who does what', the UK person is the "Sponsor". The sponsor's role is to establish and prove sponsorship capacity.  The non-UK  spouse is the "Applicant", and it is the "applicant" who must make the application, submit the required evidence, and bear the consequences of the application's outcome.

The holder of a 'spousal visa' can undertake employment, and may use the NHS.

The rules governing 'spousal visas' are at Family Members

A spouse visa is obtained by completing the following steps...

  1. Gather the required evidence
  2. Assure that the applicant is outside of (and remains outside of) the UK until a decision is reached
  3. Fill out the online form at the UKBA site
  4. Pay the fee
  5. Schedule the biometrics enrolment
  6. Attend the biometrics enrolment
  7. (Optional) Purchase priority handling
  8. Send application, passport, passport photos, and evidence to the cognizant issuing post
  9. Await decision
  10. Receive decision notice
  11. Receive passport and evidence in the mail (courier, etc)
  12. Purchase air tickets, make travel plans

This article is primarily concerned with item [1], evidence.  A successful application for a spousal visa will generally include evidence, and some notes about this are given below. Care should be taken, however, because these notes are generic and may not apply to a given case. Some consulates are more rigorous than others, and some applicant profiles invite more scrutiny than others. Accordingly, this list should not be taken as authoritative.

With respect to step [2], staying outside of the UK, the rules state that the applicant must be outside of the UK, and entering the UK (with another passport for example) could invalidate the entry clearance. 

Also note that many people will perform step [12] purchase travel tickets, before anything else.  We emphatically advise against doing this because obtaining a spouse visa is NOT a formality.

While not included as an explicit step in the process, the applicant should prepare for a delay of up to 12 weeks.  There's more about the processing time here.

General Notes All evidence should be in the form of originals or certified copies. UKBA also asks that each submitted document be accompanied by a photocopy of the document.

We also recommend that the applicant make a photocopy of the entire application package in the event that documents are lost in the post or misplaced by the consulate.  Moreover, we recommend that the applicant make an itemized 'inventory' of their evidence using a spreadsheet or similar software.  Each item of evidence would include [1] its name; [2] its date if available; [3] its state (original or copy); and [4] its purpose in the application.  These suggestions are not requirements and may be ignored if the applicant is comfortable in doing so.

Documents submitted as evidence will be returned to the applicant once the consulate has processed them except for those addressed specifically to the consulate or those addressed 'to whom it may concern'.

In most cases, critical documents that are not produced in the English language should be accompanied by an apostil.  Such documents would include the marriage certificate and bank statements for example.

Applicants who plan to pay online using a credit card are advised to double check with their bank to assure that it will allow a large and unusual payment to UKBA.

Applicants are reminded that some consulates require that the forms be printed out.  Applicants who are in a locale where the A4 paper size is not standard should 'test print' an application to be sure their printer will function properly with pdf files drafted in A4 format.

Applicants should prepare for a period of limbo while their application is being considered.  During this period, applicants will be without their passports and will be expected to be contactable (by post, telephone, and email) by the consulate.  This period will last anywhere from two weeks to three months or more.  For more information, read Mark Blyth's article, How long will my visa take

Organization The most effective way to organize the evidence is to clip it together in a single pile and to do the same for the photocopies.  Plastic covers or elaborate colour coding schemes are discouraged.

Applicant's Identification The applicant must present a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining until its expiry, and at least one full empty page where the visa can be affixed. The passport must show that the applicant is at least the age of 18. If the applicant is 17 years old or younger, the application will fail.

If the passport was not issued in the country where the application is made, it should include evidence that the applicant is normally resident in that country (i.e., has a visa for that country that is longer than 6 months in duration). If the applicant cannot establish citizenship or normal residence in the country where the application is submitted, the application will fail save for extraordinary circumstances (such as refugees). An exception to this rule occurs where the Foreign Office has instructed a consulate to process applications from another country.

Some consulates will require that the national identity card (or birth certificate) be presented in addition to the passport.

And finally, the applicant's passport must be issued by an entity recognized by the UK as a legitimate sovereign government.

Applicant's Biometrics The applicant must provide evidence of biometric enrolment. This is a matter of recording one's fingerprints and photograph at an approved biometric enrolment centre. There's more information on our Biometric FAQ page.

Appendix 2 Spouses and fiances (among others) must download and print a copy of Appendix 2, "Financial Requirements Form".  The form contains a guidance section and its questions are very straight-forward.  This form must be filled out by hand and included with the applicant's evidence. 

Sponsor's Identification and sponsorship capacity This usually takes the form of the sponsor's passport. If the passport itself cannot be presented, then a notarized (certified) copy of the portrait page should be made by a UK authorised notary or solicitor (i.e., member of the Law Society).

If the sponsor does not have a passport, then the sponsor's original birth certificate can be substituted, although this would be considered rare.

The sponsor's identification must confirm that the sponsor is at least 18 years old. If the sponsor is 17 years old or younger, the application will fail.

If the sponsor is not British (or without right of abode), the sponspor's identification document should show that the sponsor has acquired permanent residence in the UK. A within-the-rules application cannot succeed if the sponsor's status is junior to permanent residence.  NOTE:  As established by an act of Parliament, nationals of the Republic of Ireland are regarded as having de facto permanent residence.

Finally, the sponsor must be either [1] living in the UK or [2] moving to the UK at the same time as the applicant.  These two conditions should be treated as equal in places where the guidance mentions only one.   Also note that an application cannot succeed if the sponsor is based outside of the UK and does not intend upon relocating to the UK with the applicant.

To summarize, sponsorship capacity is predicated upon three elements:  residence status in the UK (citizenship, right of abode or minimally permanent residence), age (18 or over), and a marital arrangement that is both lawful and genuine.  In addition to capacity, the sponsor must also meet eligbility conditions and these are explained in sections below. 

Evidence of marriage This would, in all but the most extreme cases, be the marriage certificate. If the certificate is not in English, it should be accompanied by an apostil, or otherwise regulated translation.  For marriages celebrated abroad, the UK generally considers marriages to be legally valid if they are legally valid in the country where they were celebrated; and both parties to the marriage had no impediments to marriage in their respective countries of domicile at the time the marriage took place. 

At the risk of being pedantic, we advise that if one or both parties did not attend the wedding ceremony, then a specialist in marriage law should be consulted prior to making the application.

Sponsor's Confirmation If the sponsor is not accompanying the applicant to a personal appearance at the issuing consulate, a confirmation must be provided. This normally takes the form of a letter in which the sponsor explains his awareness and support of the application and confirms that he/she is present and settled in the United Kingdom (or being admitted at the same time for settlement). A sample letter can be found here.

Although it is not strictly necessary, a brief summary (one or two paragraphs) of the relationship can be included which addresses: [1] how and where you met; [2] how you have maintained contact; [3] the date and location of your marriage; and [4] plans you have made for living in the UK (or more specifically, why you are opting to live in the UK).

Finally, if there are exceptional circumstances about the application, or if the sponsor is seeking a concession, it should be thoroughly explained here.

Financial Standing:  These rules were changed by Parliament on 9 July 2012 and are the most emotive and controversial of the various entry clearance requriements.  The rules themselves first appeared on the UKBA site as 'guidance', but since that time some rules have been elevated into binding legal status.   The situation has been further complicated by the imposition of legal challenges to the new rules.  For these reasons, we will not provide deep links into the UKBA site because such links are considered volatile and subject to rapid change.  Instead, we will provide the relevant search terms.   

By way of background, we can point out that when the new rules were unfurled in June 2012, they were accompanied by a wildly eccentric notation scheme which appears to have been constructed for the sole purpose of publishing the rules.  The notion scheme associates each rule with a moniker, and the monikers are derived by this formula:

  • a domain restrictor, which can be:  B (bereaved) E (eligibility), S (suitability), D (discretionary), or EX (exceptional)
  • a hyphen which separates the leading character from the remainder of the moniker
  • a phase indicator, which can be (inter alia): EC (entry clearance) or LTR (leave to remain) or (DVILR) (domestic violence indefinite leave to remain)
  • a zone indicator, which is usually P (partner)
  • a numeric which refers to the relevant paragraph in Appendix FM of the guidance

With this in mind, we can state that the financial requirement monikers of interest to most applicants are...

These monikers can be used in search engines to locate the relevant pages on the UKBA site in their current locations. 

In summary, the rules prescribe an income hurdle for the sponsor which is currently set at GBP 18,600.  There are some categories of applicant income which can be used to help clear the hurdle such as pension income.  Both the applicant and sponsor are allowed to consolidate their savings to help clear the hurdle.  There are seven (7) ways to clear the hurdle and thus meet the requirement.  These are...

  1. Sponsor's salaried employment from the previous 6 months
  2. Sponsor's salaried employment from less than 6 months (if other conditions are met)
  3. Non-employment income (allowable types are listed in the rules/guidance)
  4. Cash savings (subject to a formula prescribed in the rules/guidance)
  5. Pensions and qualifying allowances
  6. Sponsor's self-employment from the previous fiscal year
  7. Sponsor's self-employment from the previous two fiscal years

The hurdle rate itself is graduated such that the applicant's dependents raise it.  If British children are accompanying the applicant, they are excluded from any formulae or requirements.

As with all critical evidence, bank statements which are not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation.

Acceptable evidence from the applicant can include:

  • property income, as long as the property is not the primary residence of the applicant or sponsor.  Lodger income cannot be used, and if the property is not owned outright by the applicant/sponsor then only a ratio can be used.
  • dividends and other investment income, but note that portfolios may NOT qualify as savings accounts.
  • alimony/maintenance from a previous marriage can be used.  Evidence not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation.

Remember that in all cases there is a burden on the applicant to show that the amounts claimed as income or savings are derived legally.  There is, at the moment, ambiguity in the rules as to whether 'legally' means legally in the UK or legally in the country of origin.  Applicants who are unsure about the legality of their claimed income or savings should seek competent advice from a registered UK solicitor.  Along the same lines, sponsors who are relying upon self-employment or cash-in-hand income should be providing evidence that the appropriate taxes have been paid to HMRC.

In previous regimes, the couple was only required to demonstrate that their cash flows (minus housing costs) were equivalent to the income support level for a family (approximately GBP 105 per week).  This is no longer the case and internet lore on this topic is out-of-date.

In previous regimes, applicants were entitled to draw upon third parties to help establish their financial credentials.  This is no longer allowed.

In previous regimes, applicants could submit household budgets to help demonstrate the viability of their financing.  Budgets are no longer relevant.  Similarly, in previous regimes applicants could submit evidence of their own earning capacity, such as wage statements and employment contracts.  These are no longer relevant.

In previous regimes, if an applicant was refused, their dependents may or may not have been refused.  Currently however, if the applicant is refused, all dependents are automatically refused on the same grounds.  The implications of this are that refused dependents must file an appeal if the applicant appeals.

In previous regimes, the applicant or sponsor could show the prospect of gainful employment in the UK such as an offer letter or an impressive CV.  This is no longer allowed.

Accommodation (General)  The evidence for accommodation must meet two objectives...

  • The sponsor or applicant own the premises or have permission from the owner to live at the premises; and
  • The accommodation will not be overcrowded as defined by the Housing Act 1985

Accommodation (home owners) If the sponsor owns his home, he should include a certified copy of the deed showing this. If the sponsor has a mortgage, the appropriate entry from the Land Registry should be provided, and the mortgage payments should appear in the bank statements.

Accommodation (renters) If the sponsor rents a flat or house, the tenancy agreement should be provided. If the applicant is not a signatory to the tenancy agreement, then an additional statement from the landlord (or estate agent) should be provided that attests to his agreement that the premises will be occupied by an additional person. If an existing tenancy agreement is to be used, it should have at least six months before expiry. If the tenancy agreement does not have at least six months before expiry, then an additional statement from the landlord showing intent to renew at the same terms should be provided.

Accommodation (sharing a house with others and co-sponsors offering accomodation) If the sponsor and the applicant intend to live in an accommodation with multiple occupants, the information shown for renters should be provided. Additionally, the applicant and sponsor should show that they will have exclusive access to a bedroom which is not used by anyone else. A bedroom is a room which is normally used as such and kitchens, bathrooms, and utility rooms do not qualify. A bedroom can be a family room or study which has been converted for exclusive access. Finally, a bedroom must be at least 50 square feet in dimension.

Additional Notes on Accommodation For additional notes on meeting the accommodation requirement, click here.

Intervening Devotion If the applicant and sponsor have been separated for a lengthy period of time before the application is submitted (for example, longer than 3 or 4 months), then evidence of intervening devotion should be included. This would normally take the form of telephone records or other forms of electronic communication. If the couple have lived separately for a longer period, travel receipts can be used to show that contact has been continual and proportionate.

If a prolonged separation is the result of mobility issues (which would include military duties or other foreign assignments), this would take the form of assignment letters or similar documentation.

When submitting email or instant messenger logs, it is important to bear in mind that intervening devotion means evidence of contact and not an exhaustive transcript of each on-line session.

There is an interesting view on texting versus voice calls given in Goudey (subsisting marriage – evidence) Sudan [2012] UKUT 00041(IAC). Also relevant to 'intervening devotion' is the court decision in Naz (subsisting marriage - standard of proof) Pakistan [2012] UKUT 40 (IAC) (16 January 2012)

NOTE: Correspondent V Campbell has contributed a great article on intervening devotion. More...

Applicant's Social Skills If the applicant is not from an English speaking country, or otherwise exempt, they must sit an English language test and include the results with their application.  See the related news item at http://www.londonelegance.com/transpondia/content/ukba-announces-new-english-language-requirement

Medical Treatment/National Health Service  The application form includes a set of questions about the applicant's history of medical treatment in the UK; and these questions should be answered with as much precision as available to the applicant even if it means delaying the application until the information can be found.  The ECO is entitled to refuse applicants who owe more than GBP 1,000 to the National Health Service (NHS).  See the "Disclosure" section below for a discussion on applicant liabilities.

Marital History If the applicant/sponsor have a prior marriage, they must include their divorce certificates (or death certificates in the case of widowers). If divorce certificates cannot be produced, the applicant/sponsor must provide evidence that the divorce would be recognized in the UK as legitimate.

If the sponsor or applicant has been in a relationship "akin to marriage", documentation should be provided that shows that the prior relationship has permanently broken down or in some other way permanently dissolved.  If the applicant intends to rely upon common law as evidence of divorce (as in the Philippines for example), professional advice should be sought.

Applicants awaiting divorce from a prior marriage will find it difficult to qualify as a spouse and we suggest that applicants in these circumstances apply for a fiance visa. 

Movement of Children If children are to accompany the applicant, evidence should be given that their movement will not violate either the immigration rules or the Hague Convention (or other treaty which the UK is a party to). This normally takes the form of a sole custody document, or a notarized statement from the other parent. We have provided a sample here.  Applicants who must establish their sole responsibility may wish to use our questionnaire.  It lists out the relevant criteria and provides a space for the applicant to fill in their answer.  Download our "Sole Responsibility Questionnaire" here.  There is also a sample of a filled out form here.  Take note that these forms are not an official part of the application, and there is no requirement to fill them out.  Applicants should use them only if they want to assure that the relevant areas are explicitly addressed and if they think it will help clarify their circumstances. 

Applicants/Sponsors near the age of consent Although not a requirement, if the applicant or sponsor has just recently reached the age of consent, it may be helpful to include evidence that the family are aware of the marriage or were present at the ceremony. This would be especially helpful where the applicant comes from a culture characterized by strong family influence in the marital decision process.

Applicants/Sponsors with a large difference in ages The rules do not state that the applicant and sponsor must be within a certain age differential, but if there is a disproportionate age difference (for example, more than 25 - 30 years), additional care needs to be taken.  If the sponsor (applicant) has grandchildren that are older than the applicant (sponsor), the application can be tenably refused on credibility grounds.  In these cases, professional advice should be sought prior to submitting the application. 

Tuberculosis test The Foreign Office maintains a list of countries in which a tuberculosis test must accompany the application.

Immigration History If the applicant has an immigration history which reflects unfavorably upon the credibility of the application, professional advice should be sought.

Other Credibility Problems If the applicant or sponsor have reason to believe that their application may suffer from credibility problems (i.e., a sham marriage), professional advice should be sought.

Polygamous marriages along with customary marriages, travel marriages, and other similar arrangements are beyond the scope of this article and we strongly advise applicants in such arrangements to seek professional advice. 

Final Note Once landed in the UK, the applicant and sponsor are reminded that the Home Secretary is entitled to instruct the Immigration Service to inspect their home to assure that the couple has indeed taken up residence as husband (civil partner) and wife (civil partner).

 Legal Representatives for Spouse and Fiance Visas

In all but the rarest of occassions, hiring a solicitor, adviser, or lawyer for a spouse visa application is not required.  The application process is straight-forward and the instructions are clear.  However, people may want to hire a professional anyway for reasons like...

  • they do not have the time to make the application
  • they do not want to make the application by themselves
  • they require special expertise because of a pejorative immigration history
  • they expect problems getting the application approved
  • they want to offload the stress to a professional
  • they do not understand the process and want someone else to manage it

Additionally, some ECO's are appreciative of represented applications because they can enjoy an application that is correctly filled out and double checked with exactly the evidence called for and all presented in a predictable and professional format. Such applications not only save time, but also increase the confidence of the decision maker.

There are lots of ethical law firms in the UK that have experience in spouse applications along with a favourable track record of success.  These would include Laura Devine Solicitors,  Wesley Gryk Solicitors, Wilson Solicitors, and others to name a few.  For cases where the sponsor is an EU national, there are firms like Kingsley Napley, Bates Wells, and others.  For cases that do not require a full blown high street law firm, there are regulated advisers such as The Westwood Organisation and Immigration Visa Services.  All of these firms require that you pay a fee for their services, and legal aid is not available for spouse applications.   For the simplest and most straight-forward spouse applications, you can expect prices to start at 400 pounds minimum, averaging 800 to 1,000 pounds, and peaking out at 2,500 - 3,000 pounds for high street, blue-blooded service. 

Some firms will offer telephone consultations for prices starting at 50 pounds and averaging 150 to 200 pounds.

One popular strategy that has emerged over the last few years is called a "Doc Check" (short for "Documentation and Evidence Check").  In a Doc Check, you do all the work and send your evidence to the legal resource.  They examine your evidence (i.e., bank statements, tenancy agreements, photographs, and so forth) to see if it meets the standard and covers all the required aspects.  They will then give you feedback on their findings.  This gives you a chance to augment your evidence before sending it to UKBA, and possibly avoiding delay or a refusal.   Doc Checks start at 80 pounds and average 100 to 120 pounds, but not all firms will do this type of work. 

As always, beware of con artists (providing enthusiastic testimonials) and bottom feeders who operate in forums and discussion groups.   As recently as 2012 and 2013 we paralegals creating dummy accounts to promote themselves, and were also able to confirm that forum managers were aware of it.  Use caution when you read a testimonial in an internet forum.

Check and see if a legal representative is on our short list?  talk@transpondia.co.uk We don't guarantee a prompt reply due to lots of traffic.  Transpondia is totally independent and we operate at arms-length to everyone.  We have never received a tangible or intangible benefit for referring a given representative; we go strictly by their reputation and ethical quality.

A Note on Disclosure

Applications for a spouse visa are like all other UK visa applications in that they fall under Paragraph 320 sub-paragraph 11 of the rules.  This paragraph has to do with deception (including deception by silence), forgery, and contrivance.  In these cases a spouse visa application can be refused; and although these refusals can be appealed, the courts have uniformly adopted a dim view on deception.  Here's an extract from a recent (May 2012) tribunal decision... 

Those who engage, or who might be tempted to engage, in dishonest attempts to deceive the United Kingdom authorities in relation to immigration control need to be aware that such actions will have disadvantageous consequences for those who are the intended beneficiaries of the dishonest conduct. In the present case, the appellant and the sponsor have chosen to marry against the backdrop that the appellant had no automatic entitlement to live in the United Kingdom. In all the circumstances, it is, we consider, not disproportionate for the respondent to refuse the application, on the basis of paragraph 320(7A).

Source:  Mumu (paragraph 320; Article 8; scope) Bangladesh [2012] UKUT 143 (IAC) (14 May 2012)

To make matters more complex, visas obtained by deception are invalid, and there is no statute of limitation on a visa obtained by deception.  That means all subsequent visas up to and including nationality can be revoked, plus any visa reliant upon a previous visa (like children's nationality for example).  The Home Secretary has (both infamously and quietly) revoked people's nationality (including cancelled their British passport) when deception has been uncovered. 

Further to non-disclosure, the Tribunal had this to say in 2010...

When a direct question is asked, and answered untruthfully, there is both a false representation and a non-disclosure; and it is not open to an Appellant who gives an untruthful answer to a direct question in an application form to say that the matter was not material.Source:  FW (Paragraph 322: untruthful answer) Kenya [2010] UKUT 165 (IAC) (02 June 2010)  http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKUT/IAC/2010/00165_ukut_iac_2010_fw_kenya.html

We advise applicants to steer clear of deception or anything that resembles deception.

Former overstayers

Spouse applicants whose immigration history includes overstays are not likely to be refused on these grounds alone.  Please read Lisa Miller's contributed article "From Overstayer to Spouse"  along with the exemptions for spouse applicants on Overstaying.

What does “Akin to marriage” ("Like a marriage") mean? Some visa application forms may ask if the applicant has been in a relationship ‘akin to marriage’ and applicants have observed that the meaning of this phrase is vague.  This is intentional.  For our FAQ, we have adopted the view that a relationship akin to marriage will have the following traits...

  • Outward signs of affection
  • Companionship
  • Physical intimacy
  • Emotional support; and
  • Mutual concern for each other’s welfare.

These traits distinguish a genuine marriage from a sham marriage.  It is our view that when a relationship is genuine, these traits are apparent regardless if the couple has been together in a relationship for a day, a month, a year, or even decades.  The participants in a sham marriage, for example, will not engage in physical intimacy or demonstrate deep concern for each other’s welfare, so if your relationship can be characterized by any of these traits, then your answer to the question on the application form would be ‘YES’.  Note that our definition of ‘akin to marriage’ may not be appropriate for all couples, but if it works for you, certainly use it.

Indefinite Leave to Enter  Couples who had been married for at least 4 years and who had lived outside of the UK for the 4 years immediately preceeding their application were sometimes able to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE).  This is now obsolete and internet lore on this subject is out-of-date.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) couples

The framework of both UK law and more importantly, cultural outlook makes no distinction between straights and queers where family immigration is concerned.  The spouse is called a 'civil partner' and the fiance is called a 'proposed civil partner'. The application forms are the same, the required evidence is the same, and the decision criteria is the same.  The only fundamental difference is that straight marriages are celebrated in accordance with the Marriage Act 1949, and same sex partnerships are celebrated in accordance with the Civil Partnership Act 2004.  In 2012, family visas issued to LGBT couples do not attract the special attention or discrimination that they once did.  In fact, we have observed queers in prominent decision-making posts within UKBA itself.

Historically, the LGBT community has segregated itself from other migrant communities, and this tradition continues today.  So with this in mind, people researching UK immigration for LGBT couples are referred to the article 'How I Researched my Proposed Civil Partnership Visa'.  This is a first person account of an individual who navigated the process successfully.

Arriving via the Republic of Ireland

If you are travelling to the UK as a spouse for the FIRST TIME and planning to transit in Dublin, please read Lisa Miller's conntributed article... http://londonelegance.com/transpondia/notes-common-travel-area-cta

Travel dates  Some visa application forms will ask for travel dates, specifically the dates on which the applicant intends to travel.  This question can create suspicion or confusion because there are no visas within the UKBA realm that require an applicant to purchase tickets in advance.  In fact, a person should avoid purchasing tickets until after a visa has been issued and they have checked the visa for any errors.  So why are they asking this question?  The answer has two sides: historical and practical. 

Historically, the question derives from an era when online travel booking was a very new technology that was not available world-wide.  Also, that was an era when UKBA conducted in-person interviews at the officiating consulate and knowledge of intended travel dates could be used to ease the logistical and scheduling burden on the applicant (in some countries getting to the nearest issuing post can be a two or three day trip).   UKBA stopped conducting interviews in the middle of the last decade, and today people can book international flights on their mobile phones.  Also, the spouse visa originally ran for 24 months, and when mapped against the 24 month in-country residency requirement for ILR, the travel period was impractically tight.  This was fixed in 2007 when the spouse visa validity was changed to 27 months.  But when a given question appears on a form for a long time, organizations can be reluctant to remove it or update it.

On the pragmatic side, knowing travel dates may assist the decision-makers in prioritizing one application over another. 

If an application form asks for your intended travel dates, we suggest that you calculate an interval for the processing of your application to be combined with an interval needed to book your travel and purchase tickets and use the result as your intended travel date.   We have never seen a refusal based upon the grounds of invalid travel dates, and the topic itself has not been given substantive treatment in the guidance since the 1990's. 

The departure date can be up to three months in advance of the application date  If you need a forward start date, we suggest stating this explicitly in your application rather than leaving it to be inferred by your travel dates.  And to repeat: there are NO visa applications within the UKBA realm that require the applicant to purchase tickets beforehand. 

Processing Time and Interim Status  When called upon to do so, UKBA will approach Parliament with proposed service levels and these will include the expected turn-around times for processing entry clearance applications.  Performance against these standards is measured and reported monthly and is available on the net.   On that basis, UKBA staff are reluctant to provide status information to individuals unless their turn-around time has exceeded the standard (which is usually several months).  Some individuals have found unexpected delays to be frustrating, but there are no practical alternatives to obtaining the status of an entry clearance application until it has fallen outside of the standard.  For those with a desire for ultimate precision, the timing begins when the package arrives at the consulate and ends when a decision is reached.

To mitigate the lack of information, UKBA may send advisory emails to the applicant on one or more occassions, such as...

  • receipt of the application by the visa section
  • assignment of the application to an Entry Clearance Officer (ECO)
  • referral of an application (adding 15 days to the processing time)
  • decision on the application

These emails are not guaranteed to arrive in order, or even to arrive at all.  Many successful applicants receive only a single email. 

Contacting the Consulate  In 2006, UKBA began ring-fencing ECO's from contact with the general public (and we were - and remain outspoken supporters of this innovation), and it is almost impossible for an applicant to reach an ECO by telephone or email and some applicants have reported frustrations arising from this.  We have advised applicants not to waste their time in a labyrinth of recordings and automated menus that lead one around in circles and to use alternative measures. 

The 'official' method is to contact UKBA's commercial partner, WorldBridge.  This firm operates a question and answer hotline which charges by the minute.

Some questions can be answered by the caseworker in the sponsor's constituency office.  

Sometimes a fax or postal letter sent to the consulate can help resolve an issue or answer a question.   And in some cases, the consulate will initiate a telephone call to the applicant, but these occassions are rare and there is never any contact information provided when this happens.

Premium Service   Some consulates provide additional layers of service that allow the applicant to accelerate their processing time.  These are...

  • Priority/Fast Track Service - Spouse applicants can use this service and expect a signficant reduction in turn-around time.  There are related fast track services for PBS applicants, general visitors, and business visitors.
  • Business Class Service - Some service bureaus will qualify for this service, which does not reduce turn-around time, but provides courier pick up and delivery of documents, document photocopying, and access to the Sponsor Management System.
  • Prime Time/Out of Hours Service - This allows applicants to provide biometrics and submit their applications for immediate turn-around on evenings and weekends.

Most applicants will be satisfied with the priority service.  To access this service, visit the WorldBridge site and navigate to "Additional Services".  The instructions are clear, and most importantly we have observed huge numbers of satisfied customers using the service.

A frequently asked question arises along the lines of "I have already submitted my application, can I upgrade to priority?".  The answer is yes, and the instructions for doing this are on the WorldBridge site.  For more information, read Mark Blyth's article, How do I upgrade my application.

Refusals Some spouse applications are not successful. When this happens, the consulate will issue a formal notice to the applicant which lays out the basis for refusing the application.  The notice will be accompanied by an explanation of the appeals process and an appeals form. 

Upon receipt of a refusal, the applicant has two options:  [1] fix the deficiencies and apply again (i.e., make a fresh application) or [2] begin the appeals procedure.  The first option is recommended when the grounds for the refusal are straight-forward and can be easily fixed by the inclusion of additional evidence.  Many people agree that the first option is the more expedient (and sometimes the more economical).  The submission of a fresh application does not have to be immediate; some couples may wait until their relationship is more credible or until their financial picture improves.

If an appeal is needed, we emphatically recommend that professional advice be sought.  See the 'Legal Representation' section above for information about contacting a solicitor.

Refunds and cancellations:  When an application is refused, there are no provisions for the applicant to get a refund.  The cases where a refund can be claimed are listed in the citation below...

There is no target time for refunding visa fees, as our policy is only to issue refunds on an exceptional basis. Visa decisions are made at decision making hubs, outside the UK (with the exceptions of the two visa sections that are in the UK, in Sheffield and Croydon). Refunds are only issued:

  • where a customer has applied for a visa and paid the fee, but withdraws their application prior to submitting their biometric data—that is, where we have not begun to process their application (e.g.: if the customer changes their mind about travelling to the UK,
  • or where a customer has applied and paid for the wrong visa, or where a customer has paid twice in error)
  • [or] if it is apparent that there has been maladministration of the application.

Source:  Mark Harper, UK Immigration Minister, 27 Feb 2013, (Hansard source

To follow up on any of this information, check our Internet Resources page...

Reviewed 19 April 2013



Family Path FAQ

Yes. If your visa says 'No Work', it means just that. Working in the 'black economy' circumvents both the VAT and National Insurance schemes.

To begin, let's look at this comment from the UKvisas Independent Monitor...

"...Linked to the allegation of vagueness is an associated one to do with a lack of booked hotels and tickets: I am aware that some Posts advise all applicants bar transit passengers not to book tickets or hotels until they have their visa. I endorse this approach. It is not right to require bookings which will cost money before a visa is obtained and UKvisas has now issued advice which states explicitly that applicant should not be expected to make travel or hotel bookings before obtaining their visa..." --Report of the Independent Monitor 2004 (Immigration and Asylum Act 1999), published February 2005, UKvisas

So the answer is No. Round-trip air tickets are not required to apply for a settlement visa, or any other type of visa for that matter (the exception being air-side transit visas which are outside the scope of this FAQ). The Foreign Office tells us that purchasing tickets in advance of an application is not recommended because of complications that can occur. 

Yes, but not with a visa issued to a different sponsor. You will need to reapply first.

Yes. But to come back in to the UK, you would need to get a spousal visa first.