Bringing a loved one to live with you in the UK has always been a topic subject to much confusion and scrutiny. Our latest series of webinars took the viewers through the evidence required and in the fourth one, the 10 steps involved in involved in making an application for your partner, spouse or fiancé. The series is available to watch here.
The application process varies slightly depending on which country you are applying from. Here we will set out the steps involved in applying specifically from the USA.
Americans are “non-visa nationals”, do I even need a visa?
Whilst American tourists and business visitors can enter the UK without having to apply for a visa in advance, anyone wishing to stay longer than 6 months must apply for a visa that will permit them to do so. American spouses and partners are no exception and must apply for a visa before travelling to the UK.
Visa application - stage one
The first stage is the submission of the actual visa application form on the gov.uk website. This involves a lengthy application form answering detailed questions about your background and current circumstances. After you have filled out all of your details, you also have to select a US location where you will enrol your biometrics. Biometric enrolment is mandatory for all applicants and involves providing your fingerprints and having a digital photograph taken of you. It is currently possible to enroll biometrics at several US locations on the attached document. Next, you pay your immigration health surcharge fee, pay your application fee, and then, your application is officially considered submitted.
Visa application -stage two
After submission, you will have to attend your biometrics appointment and arrange your documents to be sent to the decision-makers. This part involves interaction with the heavily criticised VFS Global website. VFS Global is an outsourced service specialist company that the Home Office has hired to handle the administrative tasks related to visa processing.
Navigation of the VFS website has mixed reviews on trust pilot, with 73% rating their service as a ‘bad’ one star. The negative comments include difficulties with the functionality of the website, the inappropriate up-selling of services and the nightmare of trying to upload their supporting evidence to the VFS portal.
There are essentially four ways to submit your documents and evidence to UKVI via VFS Global if you are applying from the USA:
This is usually my way of doing things. It ensures I can check all evidence uploaded and that I do not have to rely on a third party scanning things (as they have proven incapable of doing so in the past). Under this option, all scans have to be uploaded before the appointment in precise form (such as less than 6MB per document) and proof of upload provided together with the usual passports and any other ancillary items taken to the biometrics appointment. Following biometrics, the postage and return options are the same as explained for option 2 below.
This option requires purchase of the service ahead of time and a receipt to be brought to the biometrics appointment together with your originals passports and appointment sheet. Following the appointment, you’ll have to send your stamped appointment sheet (or receipt confirming enrolment), passports, all documents and a method of document return to an address in New York for consideration. The method of document return can be your own purchased courier return (ensure it is with UPS only and covers correct weight) or purchase from the VFS website. Usually purchasing own labels and envelopes works out cheaper.
Options 3 and 4 (UK Scanning Services where you pay VFS Global in the UK to scan documents in the UK for you) has a step by step guide as to what they need you to do. Their guide can be found here.
Things are slightly different for those opting for ‘Settlement Premium Package’ purchased at an additional USD 2000 on the VFS website. This package allows your settlement visa (this doesn’t mean permanent visa in this context but refers to your fiancé, partner or spouse visa) to be put ‘ahead of the queue’ (the meaning of this needs a blog on its own!) and a bundle of other services such as courier and SMS services, scanning, ability to keep passport and so on purchased within one bundle. VFS advertise this as their “deluxe settlement service package, offering you the highest levels of service, comfort and speed when applying for a settlement visa”.
What isn’t so clearly identified on their VFS is that the faster part can actually be purchased on its own under the ‘Priority Visa for Settlement’ option on VFS Global for USD 772. As I never use their scanning service anyway, I usually advise to go with this service if someone wishes to try a faster service and meets the criteria for doing so.
Decision and documents
The making of a decision is conveyed through a cryptic email which informs you that a decision has been made on your application (they don’t bother to tell you the result). Following that email, the actual passport and decision letter will be sent back to you using the courier return service. If the Premium Service was opted for, VFS will contact you to arrange personal collection. The all important outcome is therefore only known once a person gets their passport and decision letter back.
If your visa application has been granted, you will receive your passport back with an entry-clearance vignette stamp which will enable you to enter the UK. For spouse / partner visas this will be for 30 days. After arrival in the UK you will then collect a card (it looks like an ID card) called a Biometric Residence Permit which sets out your full visa details and duration. This is collected from a post office closest to your residence in the UK or you can select a different location when completing the online application form. Those granted fiancé visas will not collect a Biometric Residence Permit, rather, their whole 6 months will be endorsed on the vignette in the passport.
Last words of advice
Keeping a close eye on the website, instructions, prompts and confirmatory emails is crucial to success. Things do change rapidly with VFS and sometimes in contradiction with the information on gov.uk website and the Immigration Rules. If you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed with this process, please do get in touch with us. Our family migration team has years of experience dealing with this type of work and will work with you to take as much of the stress and uncertainty out of the process as possible. Our online contact form is the best way to get in touch with us.
Katherine L via Yell - 03/01/202003 January 2020
Elena Goodall via Google - 28/12/1928 December 2019
David Meighan via google - 08/12/1908 December 2019