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Published 14 February 2019
Originally published on LexisPSL.
Shahjahan Ali, partner and head of immigration at DAC Beachcroft, looks at how supporting statements are used in applications for a UK partner visa, where the couple are not married. This opens up questions on how far emotions can come into legal decisions. In other words, how does the objective law interact with the subjective nature of relationships?
Showing emotional depth
With the increased popularity of co-habitation and international travel, it is unsurprising that applications for family related visas in the UK are on the rise. According to Home Office statistics, partner visa applications have increased by 6% in 2018 from 2017. With visa applications, Ali emphasises that the burden of proof rests with the applicant to satisfy the Home Office that they meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules, however, ‘providing only what is specified in the Immigration Rules may not always result in the application being successful and this is particularly true where the circumstances of a couple are not straightforward’.
Therefore, for the UK partner visa, a supporting statement can be important to filling the gaps left by the restrictions of an application form where couples are unmarried. It addresses the more subjective, perhaps emotive, aspects of a relationship. It provides evidence ‘that they are in a genuine and subsisting relationship with their partner’, in the words of Ali, who specifies that the supporting statement can show:
These points, while important to establishing the strength of a relationship, are highly subjective and therefore ‘are not easily addressed in the application form’. How do you define what constitutes a ‘major event’ in a relationship and how it developed, without entering into subjective and emotive language? Ali suggests that providing ‘corroborating letters from friends and family setting out the facts of the couple’s relationship as they know them’ are highly important to this:
‘Taken together, a supporting statement, letters from friends and family and the specified evidence can help the applicant to meet the evidential threshold.’
Strengthening an application
Equally, a supporting statement can address any ‘weakness’ in an application for a UK partner visa, which Ali says can include:
Ali sets out a hypothetical example where a supporting statement ‘adds weight’ to an application for a UK partner visa:
‘If we take the example of a couple who meet online and subsequently develop their relationship from a distance, a statement can be particularly beneficial. Here, a statement can set out in detail how the couple maintain their relationship, how often they communicate, what methods they use to communicate, how their relationship developed and what their future plans are.
‘The statement would also detail the key moments in their relationship which are corroborated by independent evidence eg a holiday together could be evidenced by the statement, flight tickets, accommodation bookings and photos. Another example would be evidencing their wedding by providing venue bookings, photos, arrangements for the wedding, letters from friends and family and of course the marriage certificate itself.’
Fact vs emotion
Ali cautions anyone writing a supporting statement to distinguish between their own knowledge and ‘hearsay’:
‘Statements should be factual and prepared based on the author’s own knowledge. If there is anything which is not from within the author’s own knowledge (this is known as hearsay), this should not be included in the statement unless it is strictly necessary and clearly set out in the statement as hearsay.’
When writing on matters of relationships between people, it appears it is difficult to separate fact from opinion, in a legal document as subjective as a supporting statement. However, as Ali says above, focusing on one’s own knowledge, is key.
Other ways to prove commitment
The living situation of the couple can be a key way to demonstrate a couple’s long-term commitment, and therefore viability for a UK partner visa. Indeed, Ali specifies that one of the requirements of that visa application is ‘to satisfy the Home Office that the couple intend to live together permanently in the UK’. This can be achieved by providing evidence of accommodation, whether it is owned or rented.
Furthermore, Ali stresses the importance of looking ahead to the extension application, which requires the couple ‘to show that they have lived together throughout the duration of the last visa’. This can be proved to the Home Office through documents such as utility bills, Council Tax notices, letters from a government department and letters from the individuals’ GP. Being prepared for this in advance, Ali says, by having the names of the applicant and their partner on documents such as utility bills, could make a big difference to the ease of applying for an extension to the visa.
Future changes to the law
Brexit is often a subject where people considering applying to immigrate to the UK are very concerned. However Ali reassures that ‘the information we have so far is that Brexit itself should not impact on the requirements for partner visas’, although this could change.
More pressingly, the Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of the Immigration Rules with a view to simplifying them, so Ali highlights that ‘we are likely to see some changes to the partner visa rules in the future’ and hopes that the rules will be made simpler for applicants.
Written by Samantha Gilbert, LexisNexis
Bristol, London - Walbrook
+44 (0)117 918 2677
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