In May 2021 I wrote a Q & A style blog, examining what has historically been called the Surinder Singh route. This niche immigration category now labelled by the Home Office ‘Family Member of a Qualifying British Citizen’ caters for family members of British citizens who have been living in another EEA state, who now wish to move back to the UK. These people need to apply for an EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit.
10 months since my last blog, and with the deadline to apply fast-approaching, I look at the current state of this route and consider whether anyone should make a last-minute or even late application, or whether to play it safe and apply for a tried and tested, but very expensive, Partner visa (AKA a ‘Spouse visa’).
Q: How do I qualify for a family permit under the Surinder Singh route?
In broad outline, the key requirements of this route are that you are a family member of a British national and that both you and the British family member are residing in an EEA country and were residing there for at least three months prior to 1 January 2021.
The British person must have been ‘exercising treaty rights’ in the EEA state by being a worker, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student’.
The family relationship must generally have been ‘formed’ by 1 February 2020. For spouses this means being married by 1 February 2020 and for unmarried couples it means completing two years’ cohabitation by then (or having other significant evidence of a durable relationship at that point, such as having a child together).
Q: What has changed since my last blog in May 2021
When I wrote my last blog on this subject there were two types of permit you could get, either an ‘EEA Family Permit’ or an ‘EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit’. Now there is just the latter, which is sometimes now simply referred to as a ‘Family Permit’.
Q: When is the deadline to apply under the Surinder Singh route?
The deadline to apply is generally 29 March 2022. However, you can apply after this date if you can show evidence of ‘reasonable grounds’ for not returning by this date. The guidance does not elaborate on what might constitute reasonable grounds.
Q: When is the deadline to arrive in the UK under the Surinder Singh route?
Somewhat confusingly, the deadline to arrive in the UK is also 29 March 2022.
This seems to be a result of the convoluted immigration rules, which state the sponsor can only meet the definition of a ‘qualifying British citizen’ where the sponsor and applicant will be arriving before 11pm on 29 March 2022. Although, again, late arrival is permissible where there are ‘reasonable grounds’.
One important but as yet unanswered question, is whether Home Office delay in application processing will constitute a reasonable ground for late arrival. I would presume it must do, but further clarification is urgently needed.
Q: Should I apply under the Surinder Singh route?
It is increasingly becoming apparent there is a major backlog in the processing of EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit applications, especially those based on being the Family Member of a Qualifying British Citizen.
A recent newspaper report on these delays certainly corroborates what we are seeing in practice.
Q: What is the alternative?
Unfortunately, the alternative to the Surinder Singh is likely to be the Partner or Spouse visa option. Everything you need to know about this route is here. This provision is unrelated to the EU Settlement Scheme and is the standard system catering for family members of British citizens. There are strict rules such as the minimum income requirement, which in broad terms requires an income of £18,600 for the sponsor, or savings of £62,500 held for six months prior to applying. There is an English language requirement.
Aside from the tough eligibility requirements, this visa comes at a high cost. Unlike the Family Permit, which is free, the Partner visa application is £1,523. Even worse, the Immigration Health Surcharge which allows you to use the NHS, which is £1,872 if applying for your first visa from abroad. So, £3,395 altogether.
If approved, you are then granted permission to stay in the UK for 33 months. You will need to apply for a 30-month extension and then indefinite leave to remain. Each of those are paid-for applications and at current rates, combine to over £8,000!
Q: How long does a Partner or Spouse visa take to process?
The one positive note to sound about the Partner or Spouse visa is the more rigid processing timeframe the Home Office works to. With these visas, the Home Office commits to processing standard applications within three months of the biometrics appointment.
If you are willing to pay yet more money (£576), then you can buy Priority Settlement, which brings you a decision within 30 working days.
In practice the Home Office does tend to stick to these processing times, unless your application is ‘not straightforward’, for example if you have an adverse immigration history or criminal record.
Q: So, should I go for a Family Permit or Partner visa?
Both the Family Permit and Partner visa have their relative pros and cons.
The Family Permit is completely free of charge and gets you access to the EU Settlement Scheme and zero application costs until you obtain indefinite leave to remain. But on the major-downside, Family Permits are taking so long to be proceeded that planning your move to the UK becomes a real headache.
With the Partner visa, you pay exorbitant fees – but at least you know when you will get a decision.
Given the backlog in processing Family Permit applications, these days I will generally advise my clients not to apply for a Family Permit unless they are relaxed around when they will relocate to the UK.
Q: How can Truth Legal’s Immigration Solicitors help?
If you think you might want assistance on this matter, we provide a variety of immigration legal services to help. This includes detailed advice, document checking and full representation where we take care of the whole application process for you. Please get in contact with us.