For the purposes of UK immigration law, unmarried partners are couples who have been in a durable relationship similar to marriage or civil partnership for at least two years before applying for a UK visa in a dependent category or as a partner of a British citizen.
Durable relationship usually translates into the requirement to have lived together for at least two years. This is not an accurate translation of the Home Office's policy, but wherever possible, it is safe to interpret it this way.
The Home Office recognises that in some circumstances durable relationship can be proven when the couple are living apart, but this arrangement is temporary and there is a good reason for it. The Home Office would expect evidence of living together in the past and evidence of continued durable relationship at the time the couple were not living together.
The Home Office guidance document offers examples of the situations where temporary living apart is reasonable and consistent with durable relationship, such as work commitments, university education, looking after a family member in another country, waiting for a visa application etc.
Unmarried partners of work permit holders
In the context of a dependent visa, if you are joining or accompanying a person with a temporary status in the UK, the Home Office guidance makes two years' cohabitation a mandatory requirement. It is normally expected that you will be living together at the time of application or immediately prior to the application if the lead applicant was the first to move to the UK. The two year period may be cumulative but has to lead up to reasonably close to the time of application.
Unmarried partners of British citizens
In the context of the partner visa, the Home Office has a slightly less stringent guidance. Unlike unmarried partners in other immigration routes, unmarried couples applying for a partner visa may, in exceptional circumstances, show that they were unable to live together in the past but nevertheless have been in a durable and a committed relationship for at least two years.
This mostly applies to same sex couples from the countries where same sex relationships are not accepted. It may also be possible to rely on this guidance if living together was not possible for other reasons beyond control of the couple. In any event, the couple have to show that the relationship existed for at least two years and is more than a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship.
Evidence of durable relationship
Evidence of living together is best proven by official documents, such as rent agreements, joint bank accounts, joint ownership of property. Shared utility bills or council tax bills are also accepted. Other evidence may come from official letters, NHS letters, letters from the University, HMRC or other government departments. In some cases, the Home Office may accept statements from friends and family, but such evidence is expected to be supported by at least some official evidence.
Photographs in themselves are unlikely to be sufficient proof of a durable relationship but they can be useful to support other evidence.
Similarly, evidence of holidays together, hotel bookings, text and whatsapp messages may be helpful if you wish to address a specific point – for example, staying in a relationship during the period when you were not living together.
Dependent visa for unmarried partners in work related routes
If your partner holds a work related visa or a student visa studying at post-graduate level, you can switch into the dependent category provided you can show durable relationship which subsisted for at least two years before the application.
You don't' have to show knowledge of English for this application.
Your visa will be granted for the same period, i.e. with the same expiry date, as that of the main applicant, and can be extended in line with the main applicant.
If the sponsor's visa is in one of the work permitted routes leading to settlement, the lead applicant will normally qualify for ILR after five years in the eligible immigration categories (or after three years if their last visa type is Global talent or Innovator). As a dependant, you will be eligible for ILR after five years of residence in a dependent category, even if the sponsor qualifies for accelerated settlement after three years.
If the sponsor becomes settled before you qualify for ILR, you will have to extend your visa as a dependant and apply for ILR in due course.
For ILR application, you will have to show knowledge of English (B1 in speaking and listening) and pass the Life in the UK test.
Unmarried partners of British citizens
Unmarried partners of British citizens and persons settled in the UK are entitled to apply for the partner visa – a route different from that discussed above for the dependent partner of the lead visa holder. Partner route has its own immigration requirements which are sometimes more onerous than the requirements for dependants of workers.
In addition to the relationship requirement, unmarried partners of settled persons have to meet the same requirements as apply in UK spouse visa applications.
- the financial requirement,
- English language requirement and,
- for residents of some countries, TB test certificate
Extending unmarried partner visa
Unmarried partner visa can be extended in the same way as the spouse visa.
The documentary requirements are exactly the same as for married couples or civil partners. You will have to show that you have been living together since the last grant of visa and, as in the initial application, meet the financial and English language requirements.
Getting married when holding unmarried partner visa
If you get married when resident in the UK as unmarried partner of a British citizen, you do not have to notify the Home Office or change the visa. You may rely on the marriage certificate in the application for extension of stay or indefinite leave to remain, but the marriage certificate will not substitute the required evidence of cohabitation.
Indefinite leave to remain for unmarried partners of British citizens
If the requirements of the immigration rules related to finances and knowledge of English are met, you will be eligible for indefinite leave to remain after five years of residence in this immigration category (it cannot be combined with any other immigration category).
The alternative, 10-year route is for those who were unable to meet either the financial requirement or the language requirement in the initial application or an application for extension, and were granted leave to remain because refusal would have been unjustifiably harsh.
If you hold a partner visa in the 10-year route, you may have the option of including time spent in the UK in other immigration categories in the calculation of the qualifying period for ILR.
However, there are two distinct routes based on the qualifying 10-year period: long residence route and private life route, and the requirements for the two are different in terms of permitted absences during the qualifying period and the relationship requirement attached to the private life route.
Switching into the unmarried partner route in the UK
You can switch to the unmarried partner visa from almost any other immigration category, except visitor visa and some other short term visas (such as seasonal worker or parent of a child at school).
Your qualifying period for ILR will start from the date your permission to stay in the UK as partner is granted. For the purposes of ILR, you will not be able to combine the time spent in the UK in another immigration category with the time as a dependant of a worker or as a partner of a British, unless you are relying on the long residence route which allows for continuous lawful residence for 10 years in almost any combination of immigration categories.
If you were dependant of a Worker or a lead applicant in another immigration category who became settled in the UK, you do not need to switch into the partner route – unless they became settled outside their previous immigration category relying on the long residence rule, in which case you have no choice but to apply for permission to remain as unmarried partner of a settled person. This will set back the qualifying period for indefinite leave to remain.
The role of legal representatives
The role of your immigration lawyer is to check that you meet the substantive and evidential requirements of the immigration rules and ensure your application is successful.
Where your application requires discretionary assessment of the merits, for example if available evidence is short of the required standard or there are exceptional circumstances which have to be taken into consideration, your immigration advisers will present the case at its strongest and will maximise your chances of success.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.