Joining with your partner or spouse in the UK

All about Settlement visas and Indefinite Leave to remain (ILR)

If you have legal status in the UK or are a British citizen and are in a stable relationship with someone from outside the EEA (visa national) and you want your partner to come and live with you here on a permanent basis, whether you are married or not, or whether your relationship is opposite or same-sex, your partner may be eligible to apply for a settlement visa.

Once settlement visa is granted, after passing a probationary period of 2-years together in the UK, permanent settlement, i.e. indefinite leave to remain (ILR), can by applied for.

The person in the UK will be considered by the Entry Clearance Officer at the British Embassy as the “Sponsor”; the partner who is applying for the settlement visa is the “Applicant”.

If you have permanent legal status in the UK (such as British citizenship or Indefinite Leave to Remain) then your partner will need to apply for a settlement visa at the British Embassy closest to where they live.

The appropriate form to apply for a visa in view of settlement is Form VAF4a.

If however you have temporary visa status in the UK, such as a Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 visa, then your foreign spouse or partner must apply for a dependent visa to join you in the UK on the basis of your limited leave in the UK. You will need to use a different application form, usually this will be a PBS Dependant application and your spouse or partner will receive a visa for the same period of time for which your visa in the UK is valid. See under the relevant main applicant section for more details.

If your spouse or partner entered the UK under a different immigration category (for example, as a student), they may be allowed to switch into spouse/civil or unmarried partner category if they have been given a total of more than 6 months' permission to live here since their most recent admission to the UK. This permission must have been given in accordance with the Immigration Rules, not 'exceptionally'. The minimum of more than 6 months does not apply if they entered on a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner visa, or as your spouse/civil partner/unmarried/same-sex partner of a Tier 1 Migrant, and you are still their same spouse or partner.


If your spouse/civil partner/unmarried/same-sex partner (and any dependants) are granted a settlement visa, it will initially be for a probationary period of up to 27 months (‘2-year probationary period’). They will be able to work and study here, but will not be able to claim welfare benefits.

You may be able to get permission to live permanently in the UK (ILR) as soon as you arrive, if you and your partner married or formed a civil partnership at least 4 years prior to the application.

Assuming that their relationship with you acquired legal status once in the UK, fiancé(e)s or proposed civil partners will first need to switch to spouse/civil partner visa for the probationary period to commence.

If your application is refused, under this category you have a full right of appeal.

If your marriage/civil partnership/established relationship still subsists at the end of the 2-year period, your spouse/civil or unmarried partner (and any dependants) may be able to apply for permission to settle permanently in the UK (Indefinite Leave To Remain). If ILR is granted, they will be eligible to welfare benefits.

After a further 3 years and assuming that you are or have become British, your spouse/civil partner/unmarried/same-sex partner can apply for British citizenship.

If during the probationary period the marriage/civil partnership/established relationship has broken down, then your foreign spouse/civil partner/unmarried/same-sex partner may not apply for ILR on the basis of the marriage and would need to look at alternative options to regularise their legal stay in the UK.


The appropriate form to apply for settlement or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) as spouse or civil partner is: Form SET(M) – settlement (please see page 7 of the form).

If the settled partner passes away, the foreign spouse/civil partner/unmarried/same-sex partner may apply for settlement as a bereaved partner. They can make the application using form SET(O).

immediately after the partner's death – they do not need to wait until they have been here for a certain length of time.


Hereafter is a description of the requirements for successful settlement applications broken down by category of relationship:

Spouses and Civil Partners;

Unmarried/same-sex partners;

Fiancé(e)s or Proposed civil partners.

Applying for settlement as a spouse or partner: Form SET(M) and supporting documents

Disclaimer: The above article is meant to be relied upon as an informative article and in no way constitutes legal advice. Information is offered for general information purposes only, based on the current law when the information was first displayed on this website.

You should always seek advice from an appropriately qualified solicitor on any specific legal enquiry. For legal advice regarding your case, please contact an immigration solicitor.

For questions regarding the subject covered in this guide, please visit

Applying for settlement as a spouse or partner: Form SET(M) and supporting documents

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