Covid-19 pandemic has affected almost every area of our lives. No country in the world is untouched by the crisis. One thing that is helping us all to get through is the physical support of our loved ones, who are by our side in isolation.
However, for many visa applicants, especially those awaiting Spouse Visa applications to be processed, or who are in the UK on a Spouse Visa and need to apply for an extension or Indefinite Leave to Remain.
The stories of worry and anxiety faced by many are often heart-breaking to read. A woman who asked to be called Mary (not her real name) who must now apply for a Spouse Visa extension told Open Democracy:
Now I'm having to apply imminently for a new visa to be able to remain here with my husband. We now have to prove our income again - otherwise, we'll be trapped in the same nightmare we went through the first time around. Our income, like that of many, many others, has taken a huge hit due to the pandemic, and I don't know how it's going to be possible to prove we're over the threshold.€¯
There are several pressing issues to consider relating to a Spouse Visa application or extension of leave to remain during the Coronavirus lockdown, including but not limited to:
The timing of your application
One spouse is outside the UK
Can you still meet the minimum income requirement?
Delays to marriage ceremonies
Although you may think it is OK to put your Spouse Visa extension application on hold whilst bigger issues such as work and health consume you, the harsh fact is the Home Office will not take into consideration the challenges brought about by Coronavirus if your leave expires. It is vital to prepare and submit your Spouse Visa extension application well in advance of the expiration of your leave to remain in the UK.
If you are applying for a UK Spouse Visa from abroad, you may have trouble getting into the UK due to travel restrictions in your home country. As of 1 May 2020, the UK border was open. Government guidance states that all overseas Visa Application Centres are currently closed. Also, in some areas, UKVI cannot send visa vignettes across borders and routes due to restrictions.
To find out when the Visa Application Centre closest to you is reopening, go to:
TLS contact€¯if you're in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East
VFS global€¯for all other countries
Many English Testing Centres are now closed or experiencing disruption. To find out if your closest centre is operating, click here.
For those who have been furloughed or are self-employed and have seen their business dry up to nothing, meeting the minimum financial requirements for a UK Spouse Visa or a Spouse Visa extension may now seem impossible. However, there are solutions.
The first is to consider making your application sooner rather than later. For example, if you are a self-employed sponsor, you may be able to meet the income requirements if you rely on the last financial year's income (April 2019) rather than this year.
Applicants can also consider relying on the exceptional circumstances' provisions relating to the minimum income requirement, namely paragraphs EX.1 or Gen 3.1 in Appendix FM. You will need to show that denying granting you a Spouse Visa or an extension is a breach of your rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) because it would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for you, or your partner, child or another family member involved.
The test for exceptional circumstances is high. You will need legal advice if you wish to proceed with this route.
Finally, if you have other sources of income that allow you to meet £18,600 per year (more if children are included in the application) requirement; for example, rental income, shares, bonds, pensions, trust funds, or interest from savings, you can ask for these to be considered.
It is not just those on Spouse Visas that have been impacted by the Coronavirus lockdown. Abshire, a US citizen who is in the UK on a FiancÃ© Visa, was meant to marry her fiancÃ© on 23 March - the day the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced virtually all non-essential services were to close. She told The Guardian that the registry office called her the day before to cancel the ceremony. Abshire's FiancÃ© Visa is set to expire in early July and with no confirmation of when the registry office will open again, she will have to apply to extend it, at the cost of £1,033.
It would be great if they did waive those extension charges, given that this is unprecedented. It wasn't a personal issue that came up needing us to get an extension. It's a national emergency that is causing everything to go on pause. It would be helpful if the government could bear that in mind, seeing as how people aren't allowed to work here legally and need to fork out a lot of money to stay here.
If the applicant is in the UK with leave as a fiancÃ©(e) or proposed civil partner and the marriage or civil partnership did not take place during that period of leave, there must be a good reason why and evidence that it will take place within the next 6 months.'
To avoid the visa extension fee, you may be able to take advantage of the government's visa extension on request. The Guidance states:
If you're in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020:
Your visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to Coronavirus (COVID-19).
However, although this route may remove the need to pay the £1,033 it comes with considerable risk. If your application is not accepted, you will become an overstayer. Do not proceed with filling in and submitting the online form until you have sought and received legal advice from an experienced immigration lawyer.
The Covid-19 pandemic is providing many challenges to Spouse Visa applicants. However, there are solutions to every problem. The key is to obtain accurate, up to date legal advice from experienced immigration solicitors. Many visa applications are denied simply because the applicant relied on
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