Hello everyone! I hope you’re enjoying your weekend—I know I am, after the whirlwind of a week I’ve had. Within the past seven days, Ben and I completed, submitted, and received a decision on (!) my UK fiancée visa application. It all happened so much faster than I expected, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Oh, and yesterday, the day the visa decision arrived, just happened to be my last day at my job of nearly four years. No big deal.
This visa application experience has been one of the most nerve-racking of my life, and I’m still reeling from all of the adrenaline, cortisol, and who knows what else coursing through my system over this past month. Though that’s how long Ben and I spent actively working on it—we spent the better part of at least one weekend day for the past four weeks filling in forms, writing personal statements, collecting documents, requesting reference letters, and screencapping nearly five years of email correspondence and Skype logs—this visa has been the bane of our collective existence for years now.
The income requirement—basically, Ben needed to prove that he’s been earning the equivalent of £18,600/year consistently over each of the past six months—has a lot to do with why we’re only getting around to marrying this year. Until Ben started his training contract this past August, he wasn’t hitting that mark (and was self-employed to boot, another black mark), and with no viable option for getting me to England long-term there didn’t seem much point in us getting engaged without a training contract secured.
The income requirement was our biggest hurdle, but it certainly wasn’t the only one. The sheer quantity of documentation required to apply for a UK fiancé(e)—technically “family of a settled person”—visa is daunting. The application I mailed off to Vulcan House in Sheffield—even the name sounds menacing—weighed over a kilo. And quite a few of the required documents have to be dated within 28 days of submitting the application. It was quite the balancing act coordinating the various bits and pieces between New York, where I am, London, where Ben is, and Moscow, where his parents, who have kindly agreed to let us stay in their house to save toward a down payment, spend most of their time.
Gathering everything together on schedule was tricky, but most aggravating of all was the opaqueness of the whole process. We had a preliminary discussion with an immigration lawyer, but since the fees were steep and we had a straightforward case we decided to go forward on our own. There is an official list of supporting documents available online, but it’s not as thorough as might be—it doesn’t, for example, mention that the required bank statements need to be either originals or certified copies, not just online printouts.
Fortunately, there are plenty of websites and forums to fill the gaps; without them, I’m not at all sure we would’ve put together a successful application. For a while, I felt like every time I Googled something visa-related I found a reference to some other, unrelated requirement we’d had no idea existed. But, as is so often the case with the Internet, all those discussion boards can be a double-edged sword. There’s very little agreement on what is and is not required, and cautionary tales of failed applications are abundant.
And then there’s the cost of the whole thing. Just the application fee set me back $1700. We opted for priority service for an additional $500, since standard visa processing can drag on to the tune of 12 weeks plus. Given how ridiculously quickly the application was processed—it arrived on Wednesday and I received notice that my documents and decision were on their way back to me the very next day, for Friday delivery—I’m guessing we didn’t need to, but what’s done is done.
So, about that Friday delivery. Between trying my best to wrap things up at work and worrying about the impending visa news, I was teetering between quite anxious and full-on panic attack all morning. I live with my parents, and my father was home and able to collect the returned application package for me shortly after I got the delivery notification. He kindly agreed to call me and open it with me on the phone. When I got the call, my heart was beating so fast I thought I might drop dead on the spot if the news wasn’t good. Weirdly—and, at first, worryingly—there was no letter; just my documents and passport. But I asked my dad to flip through my passport and see if anything visa-like had been posted in—and there it was! Complete with a photo that makes my face look like an asymmetrical potato, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
I can’t even put into words what a relief it is, knowing the visa is sorted—melodramatic as it sounds, my whole life really was riding on it. I’ve waited so long, and sacrificed so much, to reach this point. Ben and I both have. And now, finally, we’ve jumped the last real hurdle in our path. When I texted Ben with the good news, I jokingly added that now we’ve survived the visa we must really be ready to get married. But I think it’s not untrue. We had to work as a team, give up our weekends, deal with any number of difficult emotions, and part with a large sum of money. All sounds like good marriage prep to me.
Anyone else going through the UK immigration process in the lead-up to a wedding (or following it)? If you are, will be, or have done so in the past, I’d love to hear about your experience!