It isn’t often that the British royal family and immigration law are mentioned in the same breath but this week the immigration team at Bindmans LLP has unusually been chatting about both following the announcement of Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle, a US citizen.
There has been much comment and conjecture in the media about Ms Markle’s immigration position in the UK.
Early in the week the view seemed to be that she would become a British citizen before the wedding which astonished our team, knowing what we do about how long these things take. Now there appears to be recognition that even when you are marrying an heir to the throne things are not quite that simple.
It has been acknowledged that she may have to leave the UK and make a visa application to return and that she will apply for British nationality in due course rather than immediately.
We thought it might be helpful for us to share a few nuggets from our experience of guiding many clients through the process so Ms Markle’s journey to naturalisation as a British citizen runs as smoothly as possible.
We assume Ms Markle is currently in the UK as a visitor. This status does not enable her to get married and nor does it enable her to change her status into a fiancee without leaving the UK. Before she gets married she will need to apply from the US for a visa to return as a fiancee showing that she meets the complex requirements of Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules.
For her, unlike many of our clients, there will probably not be any issue about meeting the financial requirement of an income of £18,600 per annum or savings of £62,500. But beware Ms Markle, you cannot rely on your income because you do not currently have permission to work in the UK. Also, you must ensure that any bank statements you provide with your visa application are originals, online statements just won’t do unless you get them authenticated by the bank.
And don’t forget to provide evidence that Harry is a British citizen – a copy of his passport should do the trick – and that plans for the wedding are in place. Remember also that you will normally need to get married within 6 months of arriving in the UK so timing is important. Whilst you are in the UK as a fiancee you are not allowed to work, this includes unpaid work.
This is just the beginning of the journey – next comes an application to switch her status from fiancee to spouse after the wedding which can be made inside the UK. Remember to send your marriage certificate with the application Meghan, the fact that the wedding will have been in the news for months should not be enough evidence for the Home Office. After 30 months she will need to apply for an extension of stay and show that she and Harry have been living together over the last 30 months by sending utility bills and other official correspondence in joint names or to her and Harry individually but at the same address. And then after 5 years in the UK as a spouse she can apply for indefinite leave to remain but she will need to pass the Life in the UK test first and this may require some study. She can make all three of these applications in person at the Home Office if she fancies a day trip to Croydon (or somewhere outside of the capital like Cardiff, Birmingham or Liverpool to name a few options).
Assuming she follows the route others have to follow then and only then will Ms Markle (doubtless by this time she will be Duchess of somewhere – perhaps this has already been decided?) be able to apply to naturalise as a British citizen, more than five years after the royal wedding. And only after five applications to the Home Office and many thousands of pounds of fees will she be able to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen, her grandmother in law, collect her certificate of naturalisation and apply for a British passport…