Can a Person in an Arranged Marriage Apply for a Spouse Visa, Given the Genuine Relationship Test Requirement?
In the past decade, the UK government has come under some criticism for being somewhat less than progressive when it comes to what constitutes a 'genuine and subsisting relationship' in our wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural society. Indeed, add to this the legacy of the 'hostile environment' introduced by former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, Theresa May, and now actively cultivated by our current Home Secretary Priti Patel, the UK's immigration system is a minefield for applicants for some visa routes, especially the spouse visa. Non-EEA nationals who have entered into an arranged marriage with a British citizen or settled person may, understandably, be concerned that their relationship does not fit the criteria needed to secure a UK spouse visa. In this article, we will address this specific concern, and outline the UK Home Office's current immigration rules for spouse visa eligibility.
What is a UK spouse visa?
he UK spouse visa enables individuals who are from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) to enter and live in the UK with a British citizen or settled person to whom they are married or in a civil partnership. The rules require that spouse visa applicants be:
- In a civil partnership or marriage thats recognised in the UK, or;
- Living together in a relationship for at least two years when you apply.
It is also possible to enter the UK on a fiancé visa for the sole purpose of getting married within six months of arrival.
What are the relationship requirements for a UK spouse visa?
Paragraph E-ECP.2.1. of Appendix FM, states that an applicant's partner must be:
- A British Citizen in the UK, or;
- Present and settled in the UK, or;
- In the UK with refugee leave or with humanitarian protection.
And E-ECP.2.2. - 2.9 requires that:
- The applicant and their partner must be aged 18 or over at the date of application
- The applicant and their partner must not be within the prohibited degree of relationship
- The applicant and their partner must have met in person
- The relationship between the applicant and their partner must be genuine and subsisting
- If the applicant and partner are married or in a civil partnership, it must be a valid marriage or civil partnership
- If the applicant is a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, they must be seeking entry to the UK to enable their marriage or civil partnership to take place in the United Kingdom.
- Any previous relationship of the applicant or their partner must have broken down permanently, and if the applicant is a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, neither the applicant nor their partner can be married to, or in a civil partnership with, another person at the date of application.
- The applicant and partner must intend to live together permanently in the UK.
How will the Home Office assess whether we are in a genuine and subsisting relationship in the context of an arranged marriage?
The guidance on how entry clearance officers (ECO's) determine whether a relationship is genuine and subsisting provides a list of factors, which its states are neither exhaustive nor a checklist. These state that the ECO should look at whether the couple:
- Are in a current, long-term relationship
- Have been or are co-habiting
- Have children together (biological, adopted or step-children) and shared responsibility for them
- share financial responsibilities, for example, a joint mortgage or tenancy agreement, a joint bank account, savings, utility bills in both their names
The factors also include whether:
- The partner, applicant or both have visited the other's home country and family and are able to provide evidence of this (the fact that an applicant has never visited the UK must not be regarded as a negative factor, but it is a requirement of the Immigration Rules that the couple have met in person)
- The couple, or their families acting on their behalf, have made definite plans
Concerning the practicalities of the couple living together in the UK, in the case of an arranged marriage, the couple both consent to the marriage and agree to the plans made by their families
The genuine and subsisting relationship guidance also states that ECOs must be 'alert and sensitive to religious and cultural practices, and how these 'may shape the factors present or absent in a particular case, particularly at the entry clearance or first application for leave to remain. For example, a couple in an arranged marriage may have spent little time together prior to the marriage. For many faiths and cultures, marriage marks the start of a commitment to a lifelong partnership visa and not the affirmation of a pre-existing partnership.'
An additional section specifically on arranged marriages also explains, for the benefit of ECOs that 'in an arranged marriage, the family of both spouses take the leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice of whether to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses. This form of marriage is acceptable in the UK, where both parties are free to decide whether to proceed with the marriage. There is a clear distinction between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. It is important that you understand the difference between the 2'
As such, the Home Office immigration rules do make specific allowances for arranged marriages, and other cultural differences around marriage. And in doing so, they make a clear distinction between arranged and forced marriage and reiterate that the former is fully acceptable in the UK. Home Office ECOs are, nevertheless, taught to be alert for the existence of factors that may mean a marriage is not genuine, whether arranged or not. They will look for factors such as whether there are concerns over whether consent was given, the marriage has not been formally registered, there are suspicions of a sham marriage, the applicant or their partner fails to attend an interview, or there is evidence of money being exchanged in return for the relationship (i.e. other than a dowry).
The Home Office rules make it clear that arranged marriages are entirely acceptable from an immigration standpoint. As such, anyone applying for a spouse visa who is in an arranged marriage should not be unnecessarily concerned that their application will be rejected. If there is any reason that your marriage may be considered to be not genuine and subsisting, it is important to seek the assistance of immigration solicitors who will be able to assess your case and provide a cover letter explaining any circumstances which may give rise to any concern. Doing so will give you and your partner the best chance of being able to live together in the UK.