Saturday, 16 July 2011

"Hi, I'm an American and I want to move to the UK!"

Hi! I’m an American and I want to move to the UK! I am about to graduate high school/a recent high school graduate/a college student/just got my degree. I hope to work for Starbucks/find a paid internship and live in the UK for a few years and travel around Europe before going to college/starting my career/settling down. How do I go about doing this?

I’m sorry, you can’t. The UK has a migrant worker visa, but Americans aren’t eligible. There used to be a visa for Highly Skilled Workers, the Tier 1 visa, under which you would get a certain number of points based on your age, level of education, and salary and, if you were a 30-something PhD making over £100,000 a year, you could come to the UK and look for a job but they got rid of that visa, too. Currently, unless you’re married to a Brit or someone with permission to be in the UK, your only chance to move to the UK and work is to find a sponsorship for a Tier 2 visa - a job doing something that no one in the UK or European Union (EU) is qualified for, and that’s a pool of around 50,000 people - or a Tier 4 (student) visa. Apply for and get accepted to a UK university and continue your studies. As an out-of-EU applicant, you’ll be paying higher fees than you might for an equivalent US program, but the UK ones tend to have shorter durations so the debt you might incur often works out around the same.

I’m an American and I’m in love with a Brit! We met on the internet a month ago and we want to live together! How do we do that?

First off, meet in person. More than once. Knowing someone’s heart and soul and the detailed working of their mind is no substitute for actually spending time together in person. Your Brit could be the reincarnation of Shakespeare and still think that showering more than once a month is unhygienic. It happens. Now you’ve met a few times and you’ve reached the point in your relationship where you need to be less than 5,000 miles apart to see if this is the one, what next? You have the above options, a Tier 2 or a Tier 4 visa, either of which would get you in the country so you can spend time together. I personally went the Tier 4 route, which has the advantage of being feasible and increasing my prospects in the world. US education and work experience don’t count for much in the UK so it can be hard to get a job and having passed a course in the UK gives you something prospective employers will actually care about. Also it gives you time to see what your prospective partner and country are like day-in, day-out - it’s very different from spending two weeks on holiday, however many times you come to visit.

Speaking of visiting, the General Visitor Visa, the stamp an American would get entering the UK without having previously applied for a visa, grants you up to 6-months clearance to be in the UK. That sounds perfect, right? You can live with your Brit and see what life is like without having to line up funds and fill in documents! Sounds perfect, right? Yeah, no. This visa is intended for visitors, and visitors usually travel around for 2 weeks (or a month if you’re particularly flush), do touristy things, and then go home. Going home is the important part. If you plan to come for more than two weeks then they want solid proof that you’re going to go home again - proof that you have a return ticket, a job waiting for you and expecting you back on a certain date, a place to live when you return, over-seas insurance, and funds to cover you for the entirety of your visit, without working. Are you a woman in your 20s and 30s? They’re going to be extra suspicious of you because so many of your sistren have, willfully or through ignorance, broken the rules before you. And no work means no work. You can’t get a job, you can’t baby-sit for the neighbours, you can’t volunteer at the local animal shelter, and you absolutely cannot telecommute for an American company, paying you American dollars into your American bank account. The UKBA says no work means no work means no work. I joined a gym, watched a lot of movies, knit, took up cooking, and read a lot. Yes, it is possible to come over as a tourist and visit your Brit for up to 6-months out of a rolling 12-month period, but your Brit has to be willing and able to support you entirely for the duration of your stay. But if the UKBA has any reason to think you might overstay, you might break the rules, you might be trying to cheat the system, they will bounce your bum back to the US on the next flight, without ever having set foot outside the airport, without having seen your Brit. In the future you won’t be able to enter the UK without having secured a visa ahead of time, and if they think you were lying, if they think you were actively trying to deceive them and not just ignorant or stupid, then they will ban you from entering the country for 10 years. If this is a route you plan to take, be sure you know what you’re doing and the possible consequences. And please remember, if you do lie or cheat then you’re making it that much harder for the next person trying to build a legitimate, legal, life in the UK. Also, you cannot switch from a visitor visa to any other type of visa, and you are not allowed to register to get married, or get married.

My Brit and I are in love and we want to get married. What do we do now?

If you’re living in the US and you want to marry a Brit (with the intention of settling in the UK - I know nothing about bringing your Brit to the US) then your easiest option is to have your Brit go to the US and get married. The US allows visitors to get married as long as they’re not planning to stay. Have your Brit bring a letter from work saying that s/he’s expected back on such-and-such date, and be upfront about why s/he is visiting. Get married, and as soon as you have your marriage certificate, you can apply for a Spousal visa. Once you have your Spousal Visa you may book tickets (if you book them first you may not have your visa and passport back in time to fly), pack up your stuff to ship, and join your Brit as a probationary non-citizen.

If you would prefer to marry your Brit in the UK, then you can either apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa (relatively cheap), come to the UK under the same conditions as the general visitor visa (no NHS, no working) and you have up to 6 months to get married and return to the US, at which point you apply for the Spousal visa and all proceeds as above. Note, this visa is intended for people who do not wish to settle in the UK and, even if you have the visa, if the Inspection Officer (IO) at the gate thinks you’re going to stay, the will bounce you back to the US.

If you want to get married in the UK and want to be able to stay, you need to apply for a Fiancé(e) visa (expensive). This grants you entry to the UK for up to 6-months to get married (or if you and your Brit are the same gender, a civil union - the paperwork is all the same, you just tick a different box) during which time you cannot work. Once you have your marriage (civil union) certificate, you can apply for Further Leave to Remain (Marriage), which costs the same as the Spousal visa, it just has a different name because you’re already in the UK. This is the most expensive way to enter the country as a spouse as the fiancé(e) visa costs about as much as the spousal/FLR(M) visas.

If you’re here on another visa and wish to marry a Brit, then you may do so and once you have your marriage certificate, you apply for FLR(M).

What happens after you get FLR(M)? I don’t know. They’re holding a consultation on the family settlement and should announce changes in the coming months.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not american, but I managed the young female refused entry bit ;) despite having a ticket back - apparently an open ticket isn't good enough, and genuinely intending to abide by the rules isn't good enough - they search your luggage, count all the cash with you, invade your life and treat you like the non-british dirt you are in any way they can.

    Advice to any other readers: try your hardest to avoid this situation. The verdict of being guilty with no chance of proving innocence, of being treated like a criminal despite visiting in good faith - it's not a good one.