Marrying a UK citizen will generally entitle a foreign national to live and work in the UK. However, this entitlement is not automatic and there is certainly no immediate entitlement to citizenship for a foreign spouse.
Foreign spouses of UK citizens must apply for a marriage visa before coming to the UK. If the couple has been together for at least four years, and the foreign spouse passes the Life in the UK citizenship test, they will be granted indefinite leave to remain. Where couples have been married for less than four years the foreign spouse will be granted leave to remain in the UK for an initial two-year period. If the couple is still together after two years the foreign spouse is likely to be granted indefinite leave to remain and, thereby, becomes a permanent resident of the UK.
However, there are additional requirements that have to be met before a foreign national can obtain leave to remain in the UK by marrying a UK citizen:
The foreign spouse must have obtained entry clearance before coming to the UK;
The couple must have met each other;
The couple must intend to live together in the UK;
The UK citizen must be able to support his/her foreign spouse, and any dependents, without having to rely on public funds and the foreign spouse must have somewhere suitable to live in the UK.
Once the foreign spouse has lived in the UK for three years they are likely to be eligible to apply for UK citizenship.
Foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK to marry a British citizen may be granted an initial six month visa during which time they should marry and make a fresh application for leave to remain as a spouse. Foreign nationals who are in the UK on a visitor’s visa may not usually transfer this to a marriage visa.
New restrictions have been imposed because some foreign nationals marry British citizens, or residents, purely so that they will be granted leave to remain in the UK and subsequently be in a position to apply for citizenship. To reduce the incidence of foreign nationals marrying UK citizens to obtain leave to remain, people who are subject to immigration control may have to obtain a Certificate of Approval of marriage from the Home Office before they are permitted to marry in the UK.
Forced Marriages Involving British Citizens
In recent years growing concerns have been voiced on the subject of foreign nationals marrying UK citizens in forced marriages. Typically these involve male British citizens going abroad and marrying a foreign national who he may not previously have met and then bringing her back to live in the UK. In many cases at least one member of the couple will not have been aware that they were to be married. Girls may be plucked out of a village, unable to speak English and with absolutely no knowledge of UK life, and brought to live in a foreign country with a complete stranger.
The British government has made it a stated intention, through its Forced Marriage Unit, to reduce the number of forced marriages involving British citizens. One of the main tools they will use is to raise, from 18 to 21, the age at which someone can apply for a marriage visa. Anyone sponsoring a marriage visa will also have to declare an intention to marry overseas before leaving the UK.
Further new rules for foreign nationals marrying UK citizens will include requiring the foreign national to agree, before they come to the UK, to learn English after they arrive. If it is discovered that a foreign national has misused the marriage visa system their leave to remain in the UK may be removed. The UK Border Agency will be given greater powers to deal with those who abuse the system and more guidance in spotting possible victims of forced marriages.