When Harry Met Meghan - immigration law

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Everyone seemed to assume the happy couple would benefit from preferential treatment when it came to Meghan’s immigration status, straight to British citizenship via Winsor Castle chapel, but Kensington Palace has made clear Prince Harry and Meghan will be sticking to the rules. So what do love-struck international couples wanting to build a life together in the UK need to bear in mind?

Everyone seemed to assume the happy couple would benefit from preferential treatment when it came to Meghan’s immigration status, straight to British citizenship via Winsor Castle chapel, but Kensington Palace has made clear Prince Harry and Meghan will be sticking to the rules. So what do love-struck international couples wanting to build a life together in the UK need to bear in mind?

Engaged – plain sailing?

Meghan and Harry’s engagement was quickly followed by the announcement of their wedding in May 2018. Those in the know will have realised that the happy couple couldn’t afford to hang around – with Meghan (we assume) holding a fiancée visa, the pair had a mere six months to wed. So, despite the clash with the FA Cup Final on 19 May, it had to be! Much has been made of Meghan giving up her acting career to support Harry with his royal engagements. But those aware of the immigration rules will know that a fiancé(e) is not permitted to work until after the wedding, having secured a spouse visa.

The honeymoon destination has not yet been announced, but don’t be surprised if the couple decide to holiday in the UK; enabling them to pop into one of the UK Visa and Immigration’s (UKVI) Premium Service Centres on their way to Balmoral - to drop off Meghan’s leave to remain (LTR) application, and provide her biometrics: the Home Office still needs her photographs and fingerprints. While a romantic trip abroad has its attractions, an in-country application will avoid a minimum six week wait outside the UK.

Why wed?

As a modern young couple, there was surely no need to rush to marry – after all they had only been dating for just over a year. However, like many millennials, their work had kept them on separate continents, and unable to demonstrate two years living together in a relationship “akin to marriage”, Meghan could not secure leave to remain in the UK as Harry’s “partner”. Those preferring not to or unable to marry need to ensure they can evidence the maturing of their relationship: a diamond helps, but joint names on the council tax bill and a sharing of expenses is what the UKVI are really looking for.

Marry for money?

Both independently wealthy, Harry and Meghan surely won’t have a problem; but the financial criteria are not as straight forward as one might think – 75 pages of guidance will leave them confused. Without a steady job providing an earned income of £16,800 per annum, and no business accounts for the last tax year, Harry will have to turn to the royal bankers. Confirmation he has held £62,500+ in a cash account for at least six months when Meghan makes her application for leave will satisfy the Home Office that he can provide for his Duchess during the first two and half years of their marriage.

Divided by a common language

Fortunately as a US national Meghan can tick the language box by producing her passport, but the list of English speaking countries is shorter than you might think. Those not on the list will need to have a degree taught or researched in English, or find time to fit in English lessons and a test alongside the wedding planning.

International travel

The long term (think six year) plan is undoubtedly for Megan to secure British citizenship, but first she needs to secure indefinite leave to remain. With rumours of a Commonwealth role for Harry, she will need to keep a tally of her time outside the UK over the next five years.

More than 180 days outside the UK in any twelve month period after the wedding will restart the clock on her indefinite leave application. They will also want to ensure the royal diary has them in the UK in 2020 to extend her leave.

Stuck for a wedding present?

Harry and Meghan would probably welcome a contribution to their immigration fees fund: for the generous, £10,500 will buy a super-premium home visit from the UKVI to take her biometrics. Those with a more limited budget can pick up her LTR application fee (£1,583) with the NHS surcharge a much more affordable £500 – you’d better get in there quick.

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