Meghan Markle: British Citizenship the long way round?
With another royal wedding now on the cards, the press spotlight is now firmly fixed on Meghan Markle. Much like her character on the US show ‘Suits’, she must now navigate a new series of legal challenges; this time being in the form of UK Immigration and Nationality Law.
A number of press releases from official sources have put the message out quite firmly that if Ms Markle truly intends on becoming a British Citizen then she will be subject to the same immigration law scrutiny as any other foreign national. In other words, no corners will be cut, not even for the fiancée of royalty.
So what hoops will Ms Markle need to jump through before she can bear the mantle of being a British Citizen?
In short, it can broken down into two key steps:
Obtaining a Family Visa (Fiancée / Spouse Visa) and then ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’
Apply for British Citizenship by Naturalisation.
The term ‘Family Visa’ is a commonly used umbrella term for a visa that is obtained through family relationships, most commonly between husbands and wives, engaged couples or unmarried partners who have been in a relationship for a number of years.
Based on the current immigration rules, it seems likely that Ms Markle is in the UK as a visitor and so will not yet be on this form of visa. This means that she may have to leave the UK before she can begin her journey to obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Broadly speaking, she would need to meet the following requirements in order to obtain this visa:
- Suitability: Ms Markle will need to satisfy the Home Office that she is of good character and does not pose a security or economic risk to the UK.
- Relationship: Ms Markle will need to prove that she fits into one of the three main relationship categories mentioned above. She could apply now as a fiancée or later once they are married. It is unlikely that Ms Markle will be going down the unmarried partner route at this stage, due to the confessed brevity of their relationship.
- Finances: Prince Harry, as Ms Markle’s sponsor, will need to show that he has a gross annual income of at least £18,600 or a particular level of savings over £16,000. It is unlikely that they will have any trouble here! The key thing here is that the correct evidence must be provided depending on what type of income is relied upon.
- Accommodation: Quite self-explanatory. The couple will need somewhere suitable to live which does not run the risk of being overcrowded. We highly doubt this will be an issue for the couple either.
- English Language: Partners hoping to move to the UK must have sufficient proficiency in the English Language to be able to apply. In most cases this involves undertaking an English Language test. Ms Markle, however, will be exempt from this on the basis of her US nationality.
If the above boxes can be ticked then Ms Markle can file an application online to re-enter the UK as a fiancée or spouse on a Family Visa. This will most likely involve utilising the Premium Services offered by the overseas visa application centres hosted by VFS Global; think limousine, private rooms and top-priority treatment.
Once approved, Ms Markle can travel back to the UK, pick up her Biometric Residence Permit and then remain in the UK for 2 ½ years (or 6 months initially if applying as fiancée) before thinking about renewing until she reaches the end goal of applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years.
British Citizenship by Naturalisation
After Ms Markle has held Indefinite Leave to Remain for at least 12 months, she may submit an application to the Home Office to be ‘naturalised’ as a British Citizen based on her residence in the UK.
She would need to prove that she has been predominantly resident in the UK over the last 5 years, or 3 years if she applies on the basis of her marriage.
She would also need to pass the famous ‘Life in the UK test’ to show that she has the required skills and knowledge about the UK to be able to integrate as a British Citizen. There are books and apps available to assist people with preparing for this.
Again at this stage the Home Office will want to check Ms Markle’s character to make sure that she does not have any blemishes upon her criminal record or that she has committed an immigration offence in the last 10 years. If she can satisfy all of these requirements then a Certificate of Naturalisation may be issued which will allow Ms Markle to obtain a British Passport.
The process in total can therefore take at least 6 years. Time will tell whether Ms Markle will follow this process to the letter or whether there might be a shortcut here or there. We hope that for the sake of equality and consistency, the full procedure is observed.
If any of the matters mentioned above affect you or your family, or you simply want to discuss the option of applying for Family Visas or British Citizenship with us further, please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist immigration advisers.