Marrying a British Royal: Meghan Markle’s Immigration Status in the UK
Contrary to popular belief, you do not automatically acquire citizenship when you marry a national of another country. The UK has complex immigration laws that are often misinterpreted by persons seeking entry to the UK. Muldoon Britton have advised hundreds of clients since its establishment in 2014, and have offices in both New York and Manchester, UK.
On November 27th, 2017 Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle announced their engagement after a 16-month long relationship.
Many questions have arisen regarding Ms Markle’s status in the UK and within the Royal Family, as she is an American Citizen, who attended a Catholic school as a child, and is also a divorcee.
Regarding Ms Markle’s religious affiliations, she has said that she is not a practising Catholic and identifies as a Protestant. Prior to the wedding ceremony at Windsor Palace, Ms Markle will be baptised and confirmed within the Church of England. The Church of England presently allow divorcees to remarry in exceptional circumstances, and this could certainly be regarded as an exceptional circumstance.
If the ordinary Immigration Rules apply, Ms Markle will have to apply for a marriage visa to come to the UK and wed Prince Harry. To satisfy the requirements of this visa, an applicant must prove to the examiner that they are in a “genuine and subsisting relationship” with their sponsor, have sufficient funds to cover the cost of their stay, suitable accommodation, and have wedding arrangements in place. For those choosing to give notice at a registry office, this would consist of making an appointment prior to applying for the visa, and providing documentation to evidence this. Otherwise, confirmation of a wedding venue booking, invitations, or even a receipt from the purchase of a wedding dress can be used as evidence of a genuine intention to marry your sponsor.
An applicant will submit their documents to their nearest designated British Embassy or Consulate for consideration, and will receive a decision on their marriage visa application within 3 weeks.
Once Ms Markle is married, she can apply for settlement from within the UK, provided that she has married within the 6-month grant period of the marriage visa. In order to qualify for a settlement visa, an applicant will again need to prove that they are in a genuine relationship by providing their marriage certificate to the ECO assessing their application. They will also need to satisfy the English Language Requirement (United States citizens are exempt from meeting this requirement), the financial requirement, and the accommodation requirement.
A UK sponsor must earn above the threshold of £18,600 per annum in order to sponsor their spouse, or the applicant and sponsor must hold at least £62,500 cash savings either separately and/or jointly to meet the financial requirement. Given Prince Harry’s family wealth and status, and Ms Markle’s successful career as an actress, there is little doubt that they will fall below the threshold.
A settlement visa is initially granted for 33 months, and an application for further leave to remain must be made after residing in the UK for two and a half years. An applicant must meet the requirements again at this stage. Further leave to remain is granted for another period of 30 months, after which an applicant can apply for permanent residency. However, if an applicant’s spouse is a British Citizen, they can apply for citizenship if they meet the following requirements:
- They’re 18 or over;
- They’re of sound mind, and able to think and make decisions for themselves;
- They’re of good character, for example they don’t have a serious or recent criminal record;
- They’ve met the knowledge of English and life in the UK requirements;
- They’ve been granted indefinite leave to stay in the UK (this means there’s no specific date that they have to leave) or permanent residence if they’re an EEA national (and they have a permanent residence card or document that shows they have permanent residence);
- They meet the residency requirement.
Ms Markle may to take the Life in the UK Test, requiring her to familiarise herself with about 3,000 facts and 278 historical dates. An applicant for British Citizenship can have spent no more than 270 days outside the UK in the 3 years prior to the date of application and spent no more than 90 days outside the UK in the 12 months prior to application. However, there is an exception if the applicant’s sponsor works abroad either for the UK government or for an organisation closely linked to government, and in the case of Prince Harry and Ms Markle – the future Duke and Duchess of Sussex – exceptions to the UK’s immigration laws are likely to be made.