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Visa Diaries: Packed for Exile

by Genevieve Rogis

Over the next few months, I will be applying for an unmarried partner visa in the UK.

I am an Australian citizen, and I have lived in the UK for six years, and lived with my partner, Andy, for nearly three. I started on a Tier 5 working holiday visa, before moving to a Tier 2, sponsored by my employer. After three years, I switched to a Tier 4 student visa. This will be my fourth visa application.It is a process that the Home Office appear to have made deliberately obscure. Despite going through it a number of times, it doesn’t get any simpler.

Advice and guidance available from the UK government is inadequate. Current UK immigration policy is aimed at reducing numbers. As soon as you begin a visa application, you become a number. The onus is on you to make sure your application is water tight. The inspector is looking for reasons to reject it.

So if you’re thinking about going through the process yourself, here’s my first piece of advice. You need a lawyer.

That is where I started back in August, and speaking to a lawyer set me on my current path. It is a difficult one, but it is the one that gives me the best chance of succeeding.

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I was intending to begin the process back in September. But, as with most interactions with the UK Home Office, things rapidly became more complicated than I had anticipated. The end is result is that I cannot apply until March, and I have had to leave the UK and return to Australia to wait.

And before you ask, getting married wouldn’t make it any easier, as most of the necessary proofs are the same. Marriage would only help if we had been living together less than two years. And yes, I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds.

So, why did I have to leave? The requirements for an unmarried partner visa can be broken into roughly three parts.

First, we must prove that we have been living together as a couple for two years, and intend to continue to do so.

Second, we must prove that our relationship is genuine.

Third, we must prove that our combined income is equal to or exceeds £18,600.

It sounds simple. We meet all of these requirements. The problem, however, is in the proof. We stumbled at the third hurdle: proof of income.

This is not at all uncommon. For many families on a low income, £18,600 is an impossible goal, as this amount increases with each dependent that needs to be supported.

For families who are looking to resettle in the UK after living abroad, it necessitates an indefinite period of separation while one half of the partnership finds an adequate job and starts work. For others, it is simply impossible to provide the appropriate proof of income.

For us, the difficulty lay in providing proof. I was living on my savings, and Andy is self-employed. While his invoiced income for the year to September was sufficient, we needed two successive years of tax returns showing an average income of at least £18,600, and this we did not have.

No problem, we thought. Andy takes up a contract in September which more than meets the income requirement. But of course there was a ‘but’. Future income doesn’t count.

To prove your income meets the requirements in a salaried position, you need to have 6 months’ worth of payslips and corresponding bank statements showing your earnings. Andy started working this contract in September. 6 months later is the end of February.

My visa expired on the 17th of January.

And so, this month I have packed for exile, and returned to Australia to wait. And to add insult to injury, I will have to explain to the Home Office why we have not been living together during my enforced leave of absence. Once you take into account processing times for applications, the best case scenario will see me returning to the UK in late May.

I am looking on the bright side. I’ve not spent this much time with my family in Australia for years. I’m going to see my grandma, and catch up with friends. I’m escaping the British winter, although I’m not sure I prefer the heat of the Australian summer.

In the meantime, there is plenty to be getting on with. The first hoop is proof that we live together. We need at least 12 pieces of mail from different official institutions addressed to one or both of us over the entire period of our cohabitation.

All supporting documents must be original, or stamped and certified by the issuer. In a time when most of us have switched from snail mail to electronic bills, this can be more difficult than you might imagine.

So here’s my second piece of advice. Switch your bills and bank statements to paper, get a joint bank account, and a joint membership to the charity of your choice. Ours is English Heritage. Sign up for a two-together railcard. And once you’ve done this, keep every piece of mail that drops through your letterbox. All of it. Especially if it’s got both your names on it.

I’ve been advised that anything over the 12 documents (6 documents if they are addressed to you both) is not strictly necessary, but personally I’m not taking any chances.

All this is only half the equation. We also need to prove that we intend to continue living together. For this, we need a copy of our lease, and a letter from our landlord confirming that it’s genuine and ongoing. Thankfully, our agent is (astonishingly for London) both responsive and helpful, and I had what I needed within days.

For us, there is an added final step. Like many Londoners, we live in a shared house. We will need to arrange for a surveyor to come and inspect the property and write an official report confirming that our home of three years is sufficient to continue to accommodate us. I’ll be taking care of this in February.

For now, here I am in Australia, with a ream of supporting documentation, and more to gather.

Over the next month, we’ll be tackling part two: proving our relationship is genuine.

Gen will be writing a regular column for Expat Focus, detailing her experience of the visa process in the UK. Keep up with her updates here on ExpatFocus.com

Read part two here.

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