In the age of the internet, it is not unusual for two people who have never met but have spent months or even years communicating online to decide to get married. Indeed, given the recent COVID-19 lockdown, singles looking for love had no choice but to meet each other through social media. For international relationships, where one person is in the UK and the other is outside the European Economic Area (EEA), not meeting in person can be a problem if the couple plan to get married and live in the UK. There is a fiancée’s (or groom’s) visa for such cases in Britain.
The immigration rules for brides, grooms or proposed civil partnership visas include specific requirements designed to confirm the authenticity of the relationship.
Do we need to meet in order to obtain a UK fiancée or fiancé visa?
The fiancée or groom family visa allows non-EU citizens who are planning to marry or enter into a civil partnership with a UK citizen or person resident in the UK (this person is called the ‘sponsor’) to come to the UK. The visa is granted for six months, allowing the couple to marry, after which the citizen can apply for a partner/spouse visa. However, it is important to know from the outset that the Home Office guidance for brides and grooms or a partner requires that “the parties in the proposed marriage or civil partnership have met”.
According to the Home Office guidance “a relationship that has developed over the internet will not meet the ‘met’ requirement if the relationship does not involve a face-to-face meeting between the couple. Evidence of a face-to-face meeting may include travel history, e-mail exchanges, etc. etc. Therefore, even couples who have spoken digitally will not pass immigration rules.
As with many aspects of immigration law, there are nuances to this rule. Previous immigration tribunal cases involving people applying for fiancé or groom visas have questioned the interpretation of what is meant by ‘dating’. In previous cases, the immigration tribunal had concluded that ‘meet’ could be interpreted broadly to mean ‘get to know’. The key test for whether the ‘meet’ rule has been met is whether there was a face-to-face meeting that resulted in a ‘mutual acquaintance’.
Bride’s or groom’s visa: What are the other requirements that must be met?
In addition to the compliance requirement, there are several other criteria for a fiancée visa; these include:
The sponsor must be a UK citizen or person resident in the UK
The couple must intend to live together permanently after marriage or civil partnership
You have enough money and accommodation without having to access public funds (i.e. welfare benefits) – this must apply both before and after marriage/civil partnership.
You must pass a test certificate in English when speaking and listening to an English language test provider – it must be at or above CEBR level A1.
They are not allowed to work while a citizen is in the country on a fiancée’s or groom’s visa.
Fiancée’s or groom’s visa: extension
A fiancée visa is only issued for a relatively short period of six months, which allows for a marriage ceremony or civil partnership. The non-EU citizen will then be able to apply for a partner/spouse visa, which allows them to stay for 2.5 years. This can then be extended for a further 2.5 years, after which it will reach five continuous years in the UK and you will be able to apply for permanent residency.
To convince the Home Office of the authenticity of your proposed marriage and civil partnership you will need to meet in person. If you are unsure whether you meet the Home Office requirements, it is recommended that you delay applying for a fiancée or groom visa until you have spoken to an immigration solicitor. You may have to take additional steps. And if you have already been refused, then it will be important to provide evidence that a meeting has already taken place.