As soon as you become engaged to a British person, or perhaps even before, you begin researching the process you will need to go through in order to move to the UK to live with your beloved. A key phrase that soon crops up and begins to invade your every waking moment is “a genuine subsisting relationship”. Unfortunately, because we live on the top of a ridge with a steep, winding road that we have to drive down in order to get to the M4, I often pass by a sign which reads: Road liable to subsidence. As a result, my brain has come to twist the visa term into one with a very different meaning. I have to keep reminding myself that we need to demonstrate a genuine subsisting relationship, not a genuine subsiding relationship.
Subsisting is a legal term meaning to remain in force, to continue to exist. Why they can’t just say something simple like existing relationship, I don’t know. Perhaps they want to trip people up, because according to some of the expat forums I’ve read it does cause a considerable amount of confusion among people for whom English is not their first language. And apparently also for middle-aged women whose brains love to play word games and are too easily influenced by road signs.
Rest assured, my relationship with Mr. H is subsisting, not subsiding.
Basically, what “genuine subsisting relationship” means to the UK government is that Mr. H and I must be married for five years, living under the same roof and sharing financial responsibilities, in order to prove that our relationship is genuine. Only after that five year period is concluded will I be eligible to apply for permanent leave to remain in the country, or go beyond that to apply for citizenship.
All of my memories of that initial visa application process recently came flooding back to me when I had to apply to extend my current visa. Under the five year route, as it’s called, your initial visa is valid for roughly two and a half years. They give you a couple of extra months to allow you to make travel arrangements, but for the sake of keeping it simple we’ll just say two and a half years. Toward the end of that initial period you have to apply to extend it for another two and a half years, which will take you to just beyond the five year mark – the magic number when your life will no longer be held in limbo by government bureaucracy.
With no small sense of resentment I sat night after night, cross-legged on my bed, highlighter poised at the ready, thinking this was not how I had imagined spending the blissful months leading up to my wedding. Other women got to lark about tasting wedding cakes and interviewing DJs, but I had to spend my time mired in government red tape.
When it comes to international marriage Shakespeare put it best when he said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
As someone I know who has also been through this has said, trying to sort out all the paperwork involved in applying for a spouse visa is the quickest way to take the romance out of such a happy situation. The process seems to be deliberately designed to take the place of your grandmother nagging, “Why can’t you just find a nice American boy to marry?”
Nevertheless, even visa forms eventually get processed, and that happy day comes when you arrive in the UK to begin your married life. Ah, bliss, ah joy. And then 30 months later you get to go through it all over again. I have to say, it’s much easier the second time around. Perhaps the form is slightly easier for an extension than it was for the initial visa, or perhaps because we had been through it before, it wasn’t quite as painful as it was the first time. Probably the greatest difference is that we were both here, together, rather than pining away thousands of miles apart. I am therefore happy to report that I only cried a couple of times from the stress of submitting the form this time, compared to about six times a day on the first go-round.
I’m not going to go through the whole application process with you, any more than I’d take you with me to the dentist for a root canal – neither one of us would enjoy it very much. But I will share with you some of the lessons I have learned from the past two applications that we have made.
Just the facts, ma’am. When your brain begins to spin from searching through countless documents trying to check and double-check all the various sources of information, you will eventually succumb to the inevitable and consult an ex-pat forum. Fight against this urge as you will, the frustration will eventually get the best of you and you will find yourself Googling “UK spouse visa application” or something like that, and then begin reading through a long list of people relating their tales of either woe or success on their applications. Many of the successful applicants will recount how they included a sweet little letter with their application telling the story of their meeting and budding romance that culminated in them marrying a UK citizen and applying to move to the UK.
Although the ‘story of you’ seems highly relevant, it really isn’t. Do not fall prey to this idea.
I have to confess that I did. Throughout the application process it is unlikely that you will ever actually speak to a representative of the UK Visa and Immigration Department. If you do everything correctly it isn’t necessary to have any form of personal contact with the powers who will be deciding your fate. This wall of bureaucratic silence is unnerving after a while, and you long to insert some element of humanity into the equation. Don’t.
On my first go-round I was feverishly preparing all the documents on my end, Mr. H was mailing me his paperwork, and I was anxiously trying to assemble them all correctly, as instructed on the website. After reading some of the forums I also composed a letter with details about our romance, feeling that some explanation of the course of events bringing us to this point might be helpful. As Application Day approached I emailed it to Mr. H to review and offer his opinion.
Now, my husband has a job which requires him to deal with a particular government agency on a regular basis, so he knows of what he speaks when he says that some file clerk sitting at a desk pod amidst a sea of other desk pods is not going to want to read a romance novel. What that overworked and underpaid file clerk wants is everything assembled in order, neatly and tidily, so they can be checked off the list very quickly. Do not overburden this poor little government worker bee with any extra sentimental nonsense.
And so, nervously, with great reluctance, I round-filed my heartfelt little letter and only submitted the precise documents requested, nothing extra.
Keep your answers short and simple. Sometimes, late at night when my eyes were burning from staring at the small print for so long, the very serious questions on the forms began to seem rather funny, and slightly sarcastic answers started bubbling in my brain. Perhaps this is just one of my shortcomings, but at eleven o’clock at night I was often tempted to write rather absurd answers. Such as:
Q6.23 What type of ceremony was your marriage or civil partnership? Short and overwrought, but it seems to have done the trick.
Q6.32 What language(s) do you and your sponsor use to communicate? Mainly grunts until the first cup of tea or coffee is out of the way, then we move on to monosyllabic English, followed by complete sentences once the caffeine kicks in.
Q6.33 Do you and your sponsor have any shared financial responsibilities? If yes, please provide details below. He earns the money, I spend it.
Q10.1 Have you or any dependents applying with you been convicted of any criminal offence in the UK or any other country? Does the great San Diego orange heist of 1972 count? I only pedaled the getaway tricycle; my brother is the one who went over the wall into the next door neighbour’s garden and actually removed the oranges from the tree. Besides, no charges were ever brought against any members of the Nautilus Street Gang.
This is your future on the line. Do not fall into the trap of assuming anyone has a sense of humour. Keep your answers simple, short and to the point. Applying for a visa is serious business.
For anyone who may be about to begin the process, I can guarantee that there will be days when you’ll want to crawl into bed with the covers over your head and wish it would go away. Always remember that at the end of the day all of the hassle and expense (oh, the expense!) are worth it. Keep your eyes on the goal, and remember to save everything – I mean everything – from your first application. It will come in handy when filling out the extension two and a half years later.
Recently my visa extension was approved, and I now have leave to remain for another two and a half years. Toward the end of that time I will finally be able to apply for permanent settlement. The application process is stressful, there’s no doubt about it, but in the end it is just a small blip of time out of the rest of your lives together. Comfort yourself with that thought, and with the certain knowledge that it isn’t just you – everyone looks like a hardened criminal in those horrible visa photos.
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” ~ Benjamin Franklin