How to apply for a UK partner visa

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In this post, we provide a guide to applying for a visa to live in the UK with your partner.

We should say first: the process to bring a partner to the UK is as tedious as it is expensive, and is usually stressful. We are sorry that you are having to go through it. This post is designed to give you an overview of how to apply in this route from start to finish.

We will cover the main eligibility rules and process, including completing the online form, uploading your documents, timelines and fees, and provide links to Home Office and other resources to help you make your application. This post applies to the rules in place for applications made on or after 11 April 2024.

This post is intended to provide general background on the relevant issues. These rules can be complex, and the requirements of the route will vary from application to application.

Whilst we have done our best to ensure that the information here is accurate at the time of writing, the UK immigration rules change frequently, so you should always check the position at the time you make your application.

This post was written by Nick Nason, director of Edgewater Legal. Book in a free initial call with Nick if you want to discuss getting help with your application, or would like to explore what getting help looks like.

Am I eligible to apply for a partner visa?

You should first consider whether you are eligible to make the application.

This sounds obvious, but we often see people who start the process, but realise halfway through – or worse, after a refusal – that they do not meet some of the eligibility requirements.

Partner’s status

The first thing to check is that your partner has the right nationality/immigration status to make this application.

Most often in these applications your partner will be a British citizen or a person with Indefinite Leave to Remain (also known as Settled Status).

However, it is also possible for a partner to act as a sponsor where they have pre-settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme, or status under Appendix ECAA, or as individuals with protection or Stateless person status.

("Sponsor" is the term used to refer to the person you are making the application to join or stay with in the UK.)

If your partner has some other type of permission to be in the UK (e.g. a skilled worker visa), then the partner visa is not the correct application, and you will need to apply for a dependant visa.

Your status/location

If you are outside of the UK and are applying for a partner visa for the first time, you are making an 'entry clearance' application.

You should make the application from a country where you are a national, or where you are 'living' on a non-temporary basis. You must not be in the UK when you make an entry clearance application.

If you are in the UK, and are ‘switching’ into the partner route, you will need to hold some form of other immigration permission which lasts for more than 6 months.

So you can’t be in the UK as a visitor and ‘switch’ into the partner route. This is a common misunderstanding and can lead to significant issues if you tried to make an application on this basis.

If you are applying as a fiancé(e) you can’t switch into the partner route from within the UK whatever visa you hold: an application as a fiancé(e) has to be made from outside the UK.

Main criteria

Once you have established that this is the right application and you’re in the right location, the next thing to check is that you can meet the main eligibility criteria.

In order of how often they are usually an issue for clients, these are as follows:

  1. Minimum Income Requirement
  2. Relationship requirement
  3. English language requirement
  4. Accommodation (and maintenance) requirement
  5. Good character

We will look at each one before then looking at the process of applying.

Minimum Income Requirement

The main challenge for the vast majority of applicants is meeting the minimum income requirement, and where you have to show that you and/or your partner has a certain level of income or other financial resource.

Most commonly in the initial application the minimum income requirement is met by a sponsor having a job with a certain salary above the minimum, but it can also be met using other income or resources, such as a pension, or a certain level of cash savings.

In certain circumstances different sources of income or other financial resources can be combined to meet the minimum threshold.

The requirement has to be met in the initial application as a partner, but then also in the extension application, and the application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (also known as settlement) at the end of the 5-year period.

Because the rules aim to accommodate many different types of financial circumstance at different stages of the process (initial applications, extensions, settlement), they can be pretty difficult to navigate.

And so historically the main issue for most applicants meeting the requirement in the last few years has not been their level of income – most full-time jobs were paid above £18,600 when this was the minimum through to 10 April 2024 – but rather providing documents in the format specified by the Home Office.

The scale of the challenge has now grown for those making their first application as a partner on or after 11 April 2024, with the increase of the minimum income requirement from £18,600 per year, to £29,000 per year.

Note that if you are already in the partner visa route (i.e. you made your first application which was successful on or before 10 April 2024), you will not be subject to the increased requirement in your extension or settlement applications.

Note also that, at the time of writing (11 April 2024), the government's plan is to increase the minimum income requirement to £34,500 in autumn 2024, and then £38,700 in early 2025.

Because of how complex the rules can be, we are not going to cover these in detail here and have prepared the following specific guides which you can check out if they apply to you:

  1. Using employment income in your partner visa application
  2. Using cash savings in your partner visa application
  3. Using income as a company director in your partner visa application

It is important to note that it may be possible, subject to providing the evidence specified by the Home Office, to rely on other income to meet the minimum threshold if these three scenarios do not apply to you, for example by using the following:

  • self-employment income
  • pension income
  • property rental income
  • dividends or other income from investments, stocks, shares, bonds or trust funds
  • interest from savings
  • certain maintenance payments
  • UK Maternity Allowance, Bereavement Allowance, Bereavement Payment and Widowed Parents Allowance
  • payments under the War Pensions Scheme, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and the Armed Forces Attributable Benefits Scheme (provided that they are not considered as pension income)
  • a maintenance grant or stipend associated with undergraduate study or postgraduate study or research
  • ongoing insurance payments
  • ongoing payments arising from certain legal settlements
  • ongoing royalty payments

If you are attempting to meet the threshold using one of these alternative sources – alone or in combination – then the most user-friendly Home Office document to understand what you need to provide in terms of evidence is here.

(I use the term advisedly and relatively: it’s not very user-friendly, and the PDF version is 78 pages long)

The underlying rules which govern the evidence you need to provide are contained in Appendix FM-SE. But this is even less user-friendly, and I would start with the guidance above.

Those in receipt of certain benefits

Note that if your partner is in receipt of certain government benefits at the time of application, the minimum income requirement does not apply.

Instead, individuals in this position are required to provide evidence that they can maintain and accommodate themselves adequately in the UK without recourse to public funds. There is specific Home Office guidance on how to meet this alternative requirement.

If you don't meet the minimum income requirement

If you do not meet either requirement then it may still be possible to argue that there are exceptional circumstances in your case, although this is can be very difficult to do.

Guidance on how the Home Office will consider an application based on exceptional circumstances is here.

Relationship requirement

On the basis that you can meet the minimum income requirement, the second most common issue we see in these applications is meeting the relationship requirement.

Qualifying relationships

The partner category covers several different types of relationship, all of which are made on the same form. They include:

  • marriage
  • civil partnership
  • fiancée(e)
  • proposed civil partnership
  • unmarried partner

Under previous iterations of the UK immigration rules, each of these applications had their own separate rules (e.g. fiancé(e) visa, spouse visa etc).

Sometimes you will hear previous applicants, lawyers, and the Home Office refer to them in this way.

But in reality all applications are now made on the same ‘partner’ application form and they don’t technically exist as separate visa routes any more.

So even if you are applying as a fiancée or proposed civil partner (where you will only be getting an initial period of 6 months permission to enter), you apply on the same form as a spouse or unmarried partner (getting 2.5 years permission to stay).

We look in more detail at the fiancé(e) process in our post Making a UK Fiancé(e) Visa Application, and Extending as a Spouse.

Note also that only certain overseas civil partnerships are considered to qualify for the purposes of a UK partner application.

Further information on this is available in our post Which Overseas Civil Partnerships are Recognised in the UK?

'Genuine and subsisting' relationship

There are several aspects of the relationship requirement in a partner visa application. However, the one that usually causes the most concern is the requirement to provide evidence that your relationship is 'genuine and subsisting'.

The requirement means that, for example, if you are married, simply submitting your marriage certificate as evidence of your relationship will not normally be sufficient (I have advised clients after their application was refused because this was all they sent).

What evidence should be provided then?

We cover this in detail in our post Evidencing 'Genuine and Subsisting' Relationships, and which will take you through the kinds of evidence the Home Office might expect to see depending on your situation.

Unmarried partners

In addition to genuine and subsisting relationship evidence, if you are applying as an unmarried partner, you will need to show that you have been in a relationship similar to marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years prior to the date of the application.

In applications made prior to February 2024, applicants in the vast majority of cases had to show that they had been living together for a two-year period.

However, this definition was updated in early 2024 with applicants now needing to show instead that they have been 'in a relationship similar to marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years', not necessarily that they have been living together for that period.

Whilst this allows for a much greater degree of flexibility in unmarried partner applications, it is likely that you would still need to explain why you live apart (e.g. work, study, religious reasons), and provide strong evidence of ongoing contact during the two year period.

And if you have lived together, evidence of this is still likely to be amongst the strongest you can provide of your relationship.

Fiancé(e)s

There is an additional requirement for those applying as fiancé(e)s who:

must be seeking entry to the UK to enable their marriage or civil partnership to take place in the United Kingdom

In terms of additional evidence relating to this, you are invited in the application form to provide details of where the marriage will take place, and a date, 'if known'.

If you know the location you will be getting married, then you can provide this in the form, and evidence (for example) of a booking at a venue with your supporting documents.

However, lots of people applying don’t want to book anywhere until they have the visa, and so don’t know when or where they will be married.

In our experience this is usually also fine, and we have seen clients submit emails with registry offices about the booking process (etc), and which have also been accepted.

Other relationship requirements

There are other requirements of the rules regarding the relationship which are usually uncontroversial:

  • You and your partner are both over 18+ at the date of application.
  • You are not related to your partner
  • You have met your partner in person
  • If you are married or in civil partnership, the marriage or civil partnership is valid
  • You intend to live together permanently in the UK

There is one final requirement that can sometimes be less straightforward:

Any previous relationship of the applicant or their partner must have broken down permanently

If you or your partner has previously been married or in a civil partnership, you will have to provide details of the previous relationship and its breakdown, and usually the relevant court documents to confirm the end of these relationships.

Where a person is still legally married to someone else, Home Office guidance suggests that an application as an unmarried partner can be made if

… they provide evidence that the new relationship is genuine and subsisting and that the previous relationship has broken down permanently

However, we have seen at least one application refused because a Home Office caseworker failed to understand this guidance and where we had to assist our client in an appeal (see our case note on this).

And which is a useful reminder that it is important to try and be as clear as possible in your application in explaining how you meet the rules, and how your evidence helps you do this.

English language requirement

Broadly, there are three ways it is possible to meet the requirement in a family visa application. If you don’t meet one, then move on to the next:

  1. Be from a country on the majority English speaking country list
  2. Have a degree (BA or above) awarded in the UK (or taught in English outside of the UK and approved by Ecctis)
  3. Pass a specified English language test

We have provided a detailed video guide outlining this requirement: How to meet the English language requirement in a UK partner visa application.

A written version of the guide is also available here.

Accommodation requirement

You must provide evidence that you will have adequate accommodation in the UK. The three most common scenarios we see are couples who

  • Will be living with a family member in the UK
  • Will be moving into a rented property
  • Will be moving into a house that is owned

The evidence that you need to provide will differ depending on how you intend to meet the requirement, and we will be providing a detailed guide relating to this soon.

I have sometimes seen applicants who have obtained specific reports (e.g. from surveyors) on their proposed accommodation, although this is not usually necessary to meet the requirements of the rules, and I have never obtained one.

For your reference, the Home Office guidance is here.

Other requirements?

In some cases, you will need to meet the requirement to provide a TB test. You can find out here if this is necessary in your case.

There many be other requirements depending on your circumstances, but the ones listed above are by far the most common in the partner route.

How do I make the application for a partner visa?

Once you have decided you are eligible, you will need to make the application.

The process has some variations depending on where you are applying from, but in most cases you will need to

  1. Submit an online form and pay the extortionate fees
  2. Provide your supporting evidence
  3. Attend a biometrics appointment
  4. Wait for the decision
  5. Receive your decision and enter the UK within a certain time period (if approved)

Let's look at each one.

Complete the application form …

The application form if you are inside the UK is here. The application form if you are outside of the UK is here.

We are aiming to do a walk-thru-talk-thru of the form providing guidance on how to complete both forms, and which we are hoping will be available on our YouTube channel soon.

You don’t have to submit the application form in one go, so setting up and navigating through the relevant form is a good way of understanding the requirements you need to meet.

…pay the fees

When you are ready to submit the form, the final step you will need to take in order to actually file the application with the Home Office is to pay the application fees.

The date you pay the application fee is considered the date of your application.

This is important for various reasons including, for example, making sure that your minimum income requirement documentation is correctly dated.

If outside of the UK, you will pay £4,951 in application (£1,846) and Immigration Health Surcharge (£3,105) fees.

If you are in the UK, you will pay £3,635.50 in application (£1,048) and Immigration Health Surcharge (£2,587.50) fees.

If you have dependants making the application at the same time then you will need to also pay their application and IHS fees.

Note that there are a bunch of additional fees which you should also factor in, some of which are optional (e.g. payment for priority), and others that are not (e.g. the exchange rate used in overseas applications will regularly add on 4-5% to the ‘sticker price’ quoted above).

Please see our post The main (and hidden) costs of applying for a partner visa for a full rundown of these.

If you can’t afford the application fees, then there is a fee waiver process. However, the waiver is only likely to be obtainable by those who are relying on exceptional circumstances (i.e. they don’t meet the minimum income requirement).

See our guide Applying for a Home Office Fee Waiver for further information on this.

Providing your evidence

Once you have submitted your online form you will need to provide your supporting documents showing that you meet the eligibility criteria (set out above).

You can upload these documents via one of the Home Office’s commercial partner's websites – in the UK, UKVCAS, and outside, VFS Global or TLS Contact – which you will be able to access via the online application form (after payment of the fees you are asked to follow a link which takes you to the relevant website).

Whilst it is still possible to get everything scanned at your biometrics appointment, the vast majority of applicants – and certainly in almost all of our applications – use the document upload facility.

In my view this works best in most cases because

  • You have control of the process of providing the documents, including

    • Quality of the scans
    • Making sure all documents are actually provided, and none are missed
  • Many supporting documents (e.g. employer payslips) are ‘born’ digital, meaning that in many cases you would be simply printing the document out only to have them scanned back in

We would usually recommend providing a (digital) covering letter which is uploaded with the rest of your documents. We provide a template with our application checking service if you feel like you need support with this.

For more information on how to organise your documents, we are aiming to record a guide for our YouTube channel soon.

Attend a biometrics appointment

The Home Office will not consider your application until you have attended the biometrics appointment.

Whilst you are allowed to provide your biometrics several weeks after the online form is submitted, the service standard – the length of time that the Home Office gives as its aim to make a decision in the application – doesn’t start ticking until you provide your biometrics.

Biometrics appointments are booked in the same place you upload your documents on the Home Office commercial partner websites (UKVCAS in the UK, or VFS Global/TLS Contact outside).

You can usually obtain free biometrics appointments. In the UK, they are released each day 28 days in advance. If you need a free appointment and can’t find one, keep trying. Out of country – depending on location – availability is generally better.

Otherwise, this is one of the ‘additional services’ you can opt for, as covered in our note on hidden fees. At busy times, there may be limited appointments, but usually you can find a (paid) appointment in 1-2 weeks within the UK.

At the current time, you can’t find out about biometrics availability until you have submitted an application, which can be annoying if you are on a deadline.

Waiting for the decision

Clients most commonly ask the following questions whilst waiting for a decision

  • how long will my application take?
  • is there any way of chasing the Home Office to get a quicker decision?
  • if applying for a partner visa from abroad, can I visit the UK whilst waiting for a decision?
  • if applying from within the UK, can I leave the UK whilst waiting for a decision?
  • what if my financial circumstances change whilst waiting for the outcome of my partner visa applicatio

We deal with these in a separate blog post.

Receive decision and travel

In an application from overseas, on the basis that the decision is a positive one, you should get an email with a letter attached which currently looks like this:

The current practice in overseas applications is for the Home Office to issue a vignette (sticker) granting you permission to enter the UK and which looks like this:

Having travelled to the UK, you would then collect your Biometric Residence Permit.

However, note that BRPs are due to be phased out in favour of an online immigration status system by the end of 2024, so it is likely that after this, instead of being issued with a vignette, you will instead be given an e-visa to travel, and which would be tied to your passport number.

In applications from within the UK, current practice is for the Home Office to email the decision (there is no letter). The email currently looks like this:

As above, it is likely that the content/format of this email will change when BRPs are phased out, currently due to happen at the end of 2024.

This post is intended to provide general background on the relevant issues and does not constitute legal advice. The law (and fee rates) may have changed since the date this article was published. You should always take legal advice relating to your individual circumstances.