Amidst all that's going on, there's some good news for families struggling in the face of exorbitant Home Office fees for a first spouse visa application, with signs that those who would be made destitute by paying the fees could now find it easier to apply for a fee waiver.

People thinking of applying will know that an application for a first spouse visa can (under normal circumstances) only be made from outside the UK. An application of this kind costs £1523 in Home Office visa fees alone, plus £1000 for the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Each application costs the Home Office just £388 to process, meaning they are making a profit of £1135 on each application, or nearly 300%. This fee is excessive, and is a barrier to many families being able to apply for a visa and start or continue their lives together.

People applying for some kinds of visa – for example a second spouse visa (FLR(M)) - were able to navigate this by applying for something called a fee waiver, where they prove that paying the fee would render them destitute, and that not being able to apply due to an inability to pay fees would risk violating their human rights.

However, until recently this process was not accessible to most people making a first spouse visa application. This is because while it was technically possible to apply for a fee waiver from outside the UK, there was no mechanism for doing so, and we saw many applications being refused just because the applicant was outside the UK.

The Home Office even disclosed to us that they didn’t have any figures for the number of people applying for or being granted a fee waiver for entry clearance – suggesting that even though people had a right to request this help, they were not able to do so.

This situation left people based in the UK who were desperate to sponsor a partner from overseas, but may have been left struggling financially because of visa fees, in an impossible situation. After one of her clients was refused a fee waiver simply because her husband, the applicant, was not based in the UK – because he hadn’t yet been granted a visa to come to the UK – JCWI’s Duduzile Moyo sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to the Home Office, challenging the refusal. JCWI also supplied evidence to the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, which worked with the Home Office to highlight the issue.

On 12 May 2020, the Home Office published updated guidance about fee waivers for people based outside the UK. This guidance hinted that the guidelines for people in this position had been changed, although without setting out any specifics.

Duduzile Moyo made an application on behalf of a client who had not been able to join his wife and young baby in the UK because of an inability to pay the fees, but who had not been able to apply for a fee waiver because he was based outside the UK. The application was granted the very next day – one family a step closer to being reunited!

The applicant's sponsor said:

The fee waiver grant has unburdened my family no end. The fact that we had a right to apply for a fee waiver, but it was being withheld for no good reason, was so frustrating. But now we can make the visa application without the pressure of a financial burden that I wouldn't be able to manage. 

If you need to make an entry clearance application but cannot because you are unable to pay the visa fees, or because paying them would render you destitute, please check out the Home Office's updated guidance, or contact [email protected] for some free and confidential advice