Exactly 7 months ago, I posted about How I Applied for a UK Settlement Visa. Today I'm here to talk about How I Applied for a UK Further Leave to Remain Visa, the next step in this moving to England process.
Before I even jump into it, I want to be really clear that there are so many reasons to move abroad, so many avenues to pursue to get a visa, and of course each country's process will be different. I don't know anything about work visas, I really only know about my visa and my situation, which applies to someone who moves to the UK to live with his or her fiancé, with plans to marry in the UK and settle in the UK. The reason I'm choosing to write about the process is because while we were going through it, there didn't seem to be a lot of helpful, clear, available information out there. Later on we found some forums, but it was still a lengthy, frustrating process, and we often felt very isolated in it because it was hard to understand what was going on, which makes it hard to communicate to the people in our lives what's going on.
My original Settlement visa was valid from 31 May 2017 through 30 November 2017. That meant I could legally live in the UK for six months, Luke and I had to get married within those six months, and I wouldn't be able to work for the duration of the visa.
Shortly after I moved on 8 June 2017, we called the local Register Office to make an appointment to give notice to get married. Our plan was that we'd be able to get married in July and I'd be working by August. Boy were we wrong! We had to wait nearly two months for an appointment just to give notice on 16 August 2017. At that appointment, we met with a man who asked us questions about who we are, what we do, and where we live. Because I was in the UK on this Settlement visa, we were not taken into separate rooms and questioned about the validity of our relationship. We had already proven our relationship was genuine and real while applying for the first visa. After the confirmation questions, he said the earliest we could get married was 31 October 2017, but we decided to get a slightly bigger room and get married as soon as possible, on 16 September 2017, which was actually our original wedding date. (Our original plan was to do one ceremony within the six month window I had, but we quickly pushed it back and decided to do it in two parts.)
We decided to pay extra for my second visa in order to go into the local office and leave with the visa that day, otherwise it could be another 12 week waiting period. In total, it cost £1,583, with nearly £600 going toward the one-day service. So as soon as we got back from our minimoon in Wales, we booked the appointment, thinking it would only be a few days out. Unfortunately, the earliest appointment was a month away and actually outside of their "regular business hours". (The office is open from 8:00-5:00, but charge an additional fee to book from 8:00-9:00 and 4:00-5:00. The earliest appointment within their normal working hours was 25 October 2017. (While we were booking the appointment, we had to pay an NHS surcharge, called an Immigration Health Surcharge, of £200 per year of the visa, so £500 in total for a 2.5 year visa. As far as we understand it, I'll still pay toward the NHS from my paychecks like other the rest of the British workforce, despite paying the surcharge.)
On 24 October 2017 while I was riding the train back from London, I got an email saying the office was experiencing IT problems, my appointment was canceled and I needed to email them if I wanted to reschedule. We emailed them saying we wanted to reschedule for as soon as possible and the next day I got a call rebooking the appointment for 3 November 2017, a week and a half after the original appointment and only 27 days before my visa expired.
We completed another 79 page application (this time done long hand) and updated our supporting documents with current information. We included:
- The application (corrections were made with white out tape)
- My passport
- My birth certificate and social security card
- Luke's passport
- Our marriage certificate
- Two passport photos for each of us
- Luke's 12 most recent bank statements, stamped and verified with his bank
- Our tenancy agreement for our shared home
- Utility bills in Luke's name from our current residence and his previous residence
- A pre-paid credit card statement with my name and address
- A copy of Luke's 12 most recent pay stubs
- A packet documenting our relationship from our first visa application, including screenshots of our conversations on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype (15-20) and photos of us together with the date (from Facebook, Instagram, and screenshots from our phones, 15-20)
At the appointment, we took a number and waited to be called up to a desk, kind of like the DMV again. Once we sat down with the man, having only waited maybe 10 minutes, he confirmed my name and phone number, checked that we had the necessary documents, but seemed to mostly pay attention to the application and our passports. He told us we needed to wait again to do my biometrics, then they would call me in about 2 hours to come back and pick everything up.
After about another 10 minutes, we got called in for my biometrics. They took my finger prints, took my photo, and had me sign something exactly how my signature shows up on my passport. (Which looks like I just learned cursive and I was practicing by writing every single letter in my entire name.) I asked that woman about changing my name and how it would affect my visa and passport. She said to go ahead and change my name, but to wait until the visa or the passport needed replacing, whichever came first. My passport expires in 2022 and my visa expires in 2020, so I'll change my name in the next 2.5 years and change my passport before applying for my next visa in 2020.
We went across the street to get breakfast and then wandered into a John Lewis store before getting a call that we needed to come back, maybe an hour later. The woman at the front desk told me the visa had been approved and asked me to make sure all our documents had been returned. She said it would take about 2 weeks for my residence permit card to come via post.
Yesterday, my card got delivered by certified mail. It looks like a driver's license. It has my photo and signature. It's valid for 30 months and says "WORK PERMITTED" under "Remarks" on the front and "NO PUBLIC FUNDS" under "Remarks" on the back. I'll use this card as identification when applying for work and when reentering the country any time in the next 2.5 years.
In 2020, no earlier than 28 days before the expiry date of this visa, I have to apply for this visa again. After that visa, I'll have been living in the country for 5 years and I can apply for citizenship or indefinite leave to remain.
Looking back, we could have done this differently. Luke could have gone to visit me in the US and we could have gotten married during his visit. After that, I would have applied for this visa as his spouse, skipping the first visa entirely. We would have spent the first few months of our marriage apart and I wouldn't have moved as early, but it certainly would have been cheaper and I could have continued to work in the US while waiting for this visa to come through.
However, it was really important to me that we figure out what things would be like in "real life" for us before becoming legally married. When I said yes to Luke's proposal, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I wanted to spend my life with him, but we had no idea what it would look like to live together or even live in the same city. We needed to get a rhythm going first before thrusting ourselves into so many major life changes: marriage, living together, moving country, and job searching. It would have been a lot for me all at once.
Again, what we did may not be the best for everyone. You may choose to go a slightly different route than us, or you may be moving abroad for completely different reasons. One thing is for sure, it's not worth the stress and cost to fake a relationship to get a "green card" (because that's not what it's called here), so The Proposal be damned!
In the end, it cost us approximately $2,300 to get my first visa and approximately £2,100 to get my second. Though we have a lengthy break now and we don't have to worry about these things for a few years, the process is far from over. We'll have to pay for this visa again (though I'm not sure about having to pay the NHS surcharge again) and we'll have to pay for either an indefinite leave to remain visa or citizenship a few years after that.
Hopefully either of these posts can serve as a help for someone who is going through something similar. We understand that it can be frustrating, stressful, costly, and uncertain and we would have loved to know what other couples went through so we could just talk to someone who understood! If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to try to answer to the best of my knowledge, but again everyone's process is different and we only know about the visas that we pursued.