Personal Immigration
Business Immigration

Choosing the Right UK Partner Visa: Marriage Visit, Spouse, Unmarried Partner, or Fiancé?

Given the government’s intention to increase the minimum income threshold for family visas in “Spring 2024”, many people are looking to make a visa application before these changes come into effect. If you are considering applying for a visa so that you can stay in the UK with your British or settled partner, the differences between the marriage visit visa, fiancé, unmarried partner and spouse applications may be confusing. This post outlines the differences between these applications, to give you a better idea about which option may be right for you.

If You Want to Marry In the UK but Do Not Intend to Live In the UK

Marriage Visit Visa

If you are currently living outside the UK and do not plan to settle in the UK, but you want to visit the UK and have your legal wedding ceremony or form a civil partnership here, you will need to apply for a marriage visit visa. This means you will need to meet all the normal rules for visitors to the UK. In particular, you must intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit. As a visitor, you must not live in the UK for extended periods through making frequent and successive UK visits. You will also need to meet the additional eligibility requirements for visitors coming to the UK for the purpose of marriage or civil partnership. These are that you must be aged 18 or over at the date of application and you must intend to give notice of a marriage or civil partnership in the UK, or intend to marry or form a civil partnership in the UK, which is not a sham.

If you come to the UK on a marriage visit visa, you will not be able to switch to one of the other partner visas during your visit to the UK. You can read more about the difference between a marriage visit visa and a fiancé visa here.

It currently costs £115 to apply for a marriage visit visa.

If You Intend to Live In the UK: Applying as a Partner Under Appendix FM

 The spouse/civil partner, unmarried partner and fiancé options are all routes for settling in the UK. All three visa options are partner applications under Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules. If you do not meet the requirements of any of these routes, potential exceptions are indicated at the end of this post.

What Immigration Status Is Needed to Sponsor a Partner Under Appendix FM?

To sponsor a partner under Appendix FM, it is necessary to be either:

  • A British citizen;
  • Someone with indefinite leave to remain/settled status;
  • An EEA national with pre-settled status under Appendix EU who was in the UK by 31 December 2020;
  • Someone in the UK with protection status;
  • Someone in the UK with limited leave as a worker or business person granted under Appendix ECAA Extension of Stay or under the provisions of the relevant 1973 Immigration Rules (or Decision 1/80) that underpinned the European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) with Turkey prior to 1 January 2021.

Can I Apply as a Parent Instead?

You cannot apply as a parent if you are eligible to apply as the partner of the child’s other parent.  

Different Ways to Meet the Definition of ‘Partner’ 

The spouse/civil partner, unmarried partner and fiancé options are all different ways to meet the definition of ‘partner’ under the Immigration Rules. Depending on the visa you are applying for, you will need to show some different evidence to prove that you meet the relevant definition. Additionally, the fiancé visa is valid for a different time period and this route involves additional costs, set out below.

At the time of writing, the same online application form applies for partner applications under Appendix FM regardless of whether you are applying as a spouse, unmarried partner or fiancé. There is one online form for applications made from inside the UK, and a different one for applications made from outside the UK. 

Applying as Spouses or Civil Partners

If you are currently in a valid marriage or civil partnership (with a partner whose immigration status means they can sponsor someone under Appendix FM as set out above) and want to live permanently in the UK, the relevant partner visa would be a spouse visa.

This also means that, if you are currently unmarried, an option could be that you enter a valid marriage and then apply to enter the UK as a spouse. The spouse/civil partner route does not require showing that you have been in a relationship for two years.

If you are currently outside the UK and applying for a spouse visa to enter the UK, the visa would be valid for 33 months initially. If you are applying from inside the UK, the visa will be valid for 30 months.  You can then apply to extend a spouse visa for a further 30 months. If you meet all the requirements for leave to remain as a partner under Appendix FM without relying on one of the human rights exceptions mentioned below, after a continuous period of 60 months with leave as a spouse or civil partner, you would be eligible to apply for settlement.

The current Home Office fee for making an application as a partner from outside the UK is £1,846. If you are currently in the UK on a visa that allows you to switch to the partner route (it is generally not possible to apply from inside the UK if you are in the UK as a visitor or without leave) then the Home Office Application fee is currently £1,048. You can check the fees here. You would also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. The Immigration Health Surcharge is set to increase significantly this year; these changes will take effect from 06 February 2024. 

Applying as Unmarried Partners

As of 31st January 2024, the definition of unmarried partners has changed to become slightly more flexible. Previously, the rules required unmarried partners to have lived together in a relationship akin to marriage for at least two years prior to the date of application. The new definition of partner no longer requires this period of cohabitation. Instead, a partner as defined in paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules includes an ‘unmarried partner, where the couple have been in a relationship  similar to marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years’. We will know more about how this requirement is likely to be interpreted once the Home Office issues updated guidance on this. 

As with the spouse/civil partner route, an unmarried partner visa is initially valid for 33 months if you are applying from outside the UK, and for 30 months if you are applying from inside the UK. After 60 months with leave as a partner, unless you are relying on an exception in order to meet the requirements, you will be eligible to apply for settlement in the UK.

The Home Office fees for an unmarried partner visa are the same as those for a spouse/civil partner visa set out above. You would also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Applying as Fiancés or Proposed Civil Partners

If you are currently outside the UK and want to come to the UK to get married or form a civil partnership and live permanently in the UK, then you should apply for the fiancé visa.

The fiancé route does not require showing that you have been in a relationship for two years. You cannot apply for leave to remain as a fiancé from inside the UK.

A grant of entry clearance as a fiancé is for a period of six months only and you are expected to marry/form a civil partnership in the UK within this time. You would then need to make an application to stay in the UK as a spouse/civil partner. 

This means the fiancé route is more expensive than the unmarried partner or spouse visa routes. The initial application for a fiancé visa currently costs £1,846. This visa is valid for six months. You do not pay the Immigration Health Surcharge at this point. Once you have entered the UK and married/formed a civil partnership, you can apply for leave to remain as a spouse/civil partner. This leave would be valid for 30 months. This application for leave as a spouse/civil partner costs £1,048 (as you would be applying from inside the UK). In this application you would also pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. You would then be able to apply to extend the visa for a further 30 months, again paying the application fee and Immigration Health Surcharge. Unless you are relying on a human rights exception to meet the requirements of Appendix FM (outlined below), you would be eligible to apply for settlement after a continuous period of at least 60 months with leave as a partner – this 60 months does not include time spent in the UK with leave to remain as a fiancé or proposed civil partner.

Additional Requirements

For all of these options, you will need to prove that you are in a genuine and subsisting relationship with your partner, and  that you meet certain other requirements, for example regarding your intention to live together in the UK.

You will also need to meet the financial requirements. The financial threshold for a couple without children is currently £18,600 per year; as per the Government’s most recent announcement regarding increasing the minimum income threshold, this will increase to £29,000 in Spring 2024. An exception to this minimum threshold applies if your partner is receiving certain benefits, including disability living allowance, carer’s allowance and personal independence payments. You can read more about navigating the new partner and family visa financial requirements here.

In addition, you will need to show that you will have adequate accommodation in the UK that will not be overcrowded, and show that you meet the English language requirement.

Exceptions

If any of the requirements for entry clearance or leave to remain as a partner discussed in this post are not met, it may be possible to make an argument that an application should be granted based on the risk of breaching the applicant’s or another family member’s rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • See our earlier blog post on the exception under paragraph EX.1 of Appendix FM, for cases where the immigration status, financial, accommodation or English language requirements are not met but there are insurmountable obstacles to family life with a partner or settled child continuing outside the UK;
  • See also our earlier blog post on the general exception under paragraph GEN.3.2 of the Immigration rules for cases where there are exceptional circumstances that mean a refusal would involve breaching Article 8 ECHR because the refusal would have unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant or another family member;
  • It may also be possible to make an application outside of the Immigration rules. These applications have a high threshold and individuals considering this route should seek legal advice.

Note: This post was updated on 01 February 2024 to reflect changes to the definition of ‘partner’ in the Immigration rules effective as of 31 January 2024, and the date set for the IHS increase. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers

We recommend seeking legal advice before making any partner application. It is particularly important to do this if you believe you do not clearly meet the requirements of Appendix FM of the Immigration rules.

For expert advice in relation to a UK visa application or immigration appeal, contact our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.

SEE HOW OUR IMMIGRATION BARRISTERS CAN HELP YOU

To arrange an initial consultation meeting, call our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or fill out the form below.




    Attach a file if it supports your enquiry. Only .doc or .pdf files.

    open
    close

    Expert advice & representation from immigration barristers that you can rely on.

    Google+ - Five Stars

    Read the 600+ five out of five star Google reviews of our immigration barristers.

    More
    AWARDS