Our PEO experience - ILR
Author : Steve
A few days ago we had an interview for Indefinite Leave to Remain SET M (spouse of a married person) at PEO Solihull (PEO = public enquiry office, also called premium service centre). I'm happy to say straight off that we got ILR.
This brings to a close a long, stressful and expensive chapter in our lives. Of course, it's much worse now for the people currently going through the process. Our application was under the old rules and furthermore was as strong as these things can be, but it still felt like a trial by ordeal at times. This note is shared to be useful to those currently going through this and hopefully to point people in the right direction.
In due course, I'll tot up the total expense of the whole process from the initial fiancee visa through to ILR (which in our case I estimate ran to several thousand pounds - that's including solicitor's fees to guide us through the initial process for a fiancee visa - expensive but reassuring if you're new to this; language test etc. costs; travel costs; and lost earnings - as I'm self-employed). I'll also do a comparison with at least one other country, to provide an international perspective.
These are our experiences :
We dodged a bit of a bullet regarding the timeline for ILR as explained here.
Essentially had we applied for the initial fiancee visa just a few months later, we would have been under the 'new', July 2012 rules which are more stringent. So, we were lucky. However our PEO experience may be useful for others in the future.
Preparation and tips
Preparation is absolutely crucial. Getting the visa is a key milestone in your lives, so you need to over-prepare and take in as much information as you can :
- Do the required language and Life in UK tests well in advance. Don't leave them until the last moment. Language courses are well worth the investment.
- Save everything that may be useful - bank statements, bills in both names, etc. Set up bills in both names in advance to make sure you hit this requirement. See the contents of the bundle, below, for the supporting paperworth that may be useful.
- Keep checking the website for changes - both changes in the forms and indeed the language tests.
- Keep following blogs and forums for news.
- Give the form a few dry runs - practice filling it out several times.
We've been to Solihull a couple of times and on both occasions have found the service to be efficient and fair. I've heard mixed reviews of some of the other PEOs. This is only anecdotal, but it may be worth considering. You may want to dig around the online forums and look for people's experiences and how they compare - fortunately there are a lot of people out there who are very willing to share.
In my opinion if you can afford a premium appointment at a PEO for a visa, you should take the chance. Today's experience went very smoothly, however it helped that we were there in person to answer any questions. As many know, the staff are given very little flexibility in terms of which documents they can accept, and if you do a postal application there just isn't the opportunity to deal with this in person. Also, it gives you tremendous peace of mind and the opportunity to move on with your lives. While the several hundred pounds extra for a PEO appointment is a bit steep, it's better than the alternative. (At the time of writing the extra cost for a PEO appointment is 400 pounds - on top of the application itself).
There is a Premier Inn at the end of the road the PEO is on, and a pub opposite which does coffee and breakfast if you get there a bit early. There are also hotels in Birmingham city centre and a good train service to Solihull.
You can book a PEO appointment up to 42 days ahead. If you are applying for ILR or FLR (M) at least you can only have the appointment within 28 days of the visa expiring. 98% of applications are decided on the same day, according to UKVI.
You can book the appointment online here : https://www.gov.uk/ukvi-premium-service-centres/overview
You should print out any documentation from this. The most important thing, maybe unfortunately, is that you need to print out a receipt (or payment form) to prove that you've paid. You will need this at the PEO.
We had no problem booking an appointment this time around. Last time, for FLR M, we found this very difficult as all slots around the country seemed to be 'booked'. My suspicion at the time was that solicitors were block-booking appointments only to un-book them later (appointment slots became free at midnight every night, when the UKBA's - as it then was - batch system freed up cancelled appointments, which meant staying up several nights in a row to grab one). Whatever was going on, the UKVI seem to have stopped it. (I've heard that solicitors can no longer book appointments, which I guess may support my theory).
Another observation is that the application forms can change at a moment's notice. It's very important to keep watching the Home Office website to check whether the form changes (the form will say something like 'version mm/2014' on the front page. If this changes, you need to fill out a new one. This can be grounds for refusal, so keep watching this).
For example, check the form linked from here :
You'll notice the very first page has text Version month/year. You need to keep watching this for changes.
Similarly, the list of accepted language tests can change quickly, especially in the current climate with 'sham schools' in the news. You need to watch this very carefully.
A list of approved language tests is here :
For ILR, if the applicant is not a national of a majority English-speaking country (or has passed a degree in English on an approved course) an approved pass at Common European Framework of Reference for Languages level B1 or above is required. This is considerably tougher than the fiance/spouse visa requirement, which is A1. Additionally, a Life in the UK is required for all applicants. (It used to be the case that one or the other would suffice, but now both are required).
Contacting the Home Office for clarification can be very difficult, although there is a helpline which seems to have improved over the last couple of years. It may sometimes be worth making a Freedom of Information request using this tool : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/
Overall, it's very important to watch the news and any possible changes like a hawk. Facebook support groups and blogs like freemovement.org.uk are great ways to keep abreast. (Though we do our best on britcits.com as well!)
The PEO appointment
On the day, we turned up 45 minutes early, and were given an airport-style check on the way in. There is a waiting area with comfortable seats and a TV screen (another improvement - the office had been refurbished since we last visited). We were given a ticket number which was called out after a few minutes, to go to one of the counters.
The officer on duty first asked for the payment form, which we gave him. He then asked for the completed form SET M, which we gave him. Then he asked for both passports. Finally he asked for the rest of the supporting documentation.
The supporting documentation is likely to be quite large, so it's important to have it organised. Ours runs to a couple of hundred pages in total. We put each separate piece of documentation in a clear folder, labelled. This will also help the officer work his way through it efficiently. I'll come onto what the contents of our bundle were shortly.
After receiving all this, we were sent back to the waiting area. Then our number was called out again to go to another counter, where biometrics were taken (four fingers on one hand, four fingers on the other, both thumbs, and a photo). Then back to the waiting area again.
The officer in charge of our application stuck his head into the waiting area a couple of times to clarify one or two things. I don't think any of these would have been show-stoppers at all, but I think it also adds to the value of a PEO visit to be able to sort things out quickly.
After about 20 minutes or so, we were told that the officer had everything he needed to make a decision, and we could leave the building while the application was being considered. They took a phone number 'just in case'.
Solihull has quite a nice little town centre, and there is a coffee/juice/sandwich sit-down area at the back of John Lewis, to chill out in.
After about an hour we had the phone call to say that everything was ready for collection. We headed back to the PEO, where our officer handed our bundle back. He told us that the application was successful.
With the bundle, there was a letter confirming ILR and the conditions of ILR. The new biometrics card will be couriered in the next 10 working days.
Keep the letter confirming ILR and hopefully look forward to getting the biometrics card! The visa is associated with the biometrics card for an in-country application. The card will be valid for ten years, but renewing it is like renewing a passport - there's nothing else to prove.
Also keep note of the conditions of ILR - in particular, people who leave the UK for more than two years (which you may be tempted to, after going through all this) risk losing ILR - as noted here : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/time_out_of_uk_with_ilr#incoming-545307
The bundle was fairly neat but some documents were returned out of order, as the officer had pulled them out and put them back in.
The contents of our application bundle were as follows (in labelled transparent folders, in the following order) :
1/ A letter we had written outlining our personal history, why we were applying for ILR, and the contents of the bundle.
2/ The completed form SET M, including our passport photos as required.
Keep checking that the form you have filled out is correct and hasn't been changed, as this can happen quickly!
3/ Both of our passports and the required biometrics/residence card.
Language and Life in the UK
4a/ The required original language certificate to meet the language requirement. There is a list of approved tests here : https://www.gov.uk/…/Approved_secure_English_language_tests…
As noted above, keep checking that your test is valid!
4b/ The Life in the UK certificate, to meet this requirement.
Documents relating to the relationship
5a/ Our marriage certificate.
5b/ A selection of about 20 photos of us.
Proof of cohabitation
Proof of cohabitation requires several different pieces of
correspondence from several different sources. It's best to supply more
than what's required because it's been known for officers to refuse some
pieces of correspondence. It's also important to spread out the
correspondence over the whole period of the visa.
6a/ 9 phone bills with both our names on them, sent to our home address, spread out over the time period since the last visa.
6b/ 4 water bills from two different water companies, with both our names on them, spread out over the same period.
6c/ Annual council tax bills with both out names on them, spread out over the same period.
6d/ Letter from the National Trust with both our names on it. (We're both members).
6e/ Letters from the bank we have a joint account with.
I believe that the following can also be used: letters from a GP, tenancy agreements, mortgage statements, joint phone bills, etc. Anything official with both names on them. Overall 6 documents addressed to both names from 3 different sources should suffice, spread out over the whole period. If this isn't possible, 12 to each name separately, at the same address, from 3 different sources, over the same period. There's a good discussion of this here : http://www.immigrationboards.com/indefinite-leave-to-remain/cohabitation-ilr-t133369.html
7a/ As well as 6e/ above, we have a few accounts in our names separately. So, original bank statements for all of our accounts (current and savings, and statements for accounts in our names separately), going back over the whole period.
7b/ Annual ISA statements.
7c/ An A4 sheet walking through our accounts and respective balances as proof of savings.
Essentially - supply as much evidence of financial stability as possible!
This will differ depending on each person's circumstances, but proof of employment or self-employment will certainly not hurt. In my case (as a self-employed person) this was...
8a/ Certificate of incorporation of my ltd company.
8b/ My contract, i.e. a written agreement with payment schedule between my company and my main client.
8c/ Monthly invoices which I've sent to my main client.
8d/ Monthly bank statements for my ltd company.
8e/ Letter from my accountant confirming their share in my company.
8f/ Letter from HMRC confirming the registration of my ltd company.
Taken together, these constitute proof that my company exists, that it's under my control, that it is being paid and that it has capital.
If you're employed, you can provide something like a contract of employment and regular payslips, for example.
This ends our ordeal now.
Good luck to anyone doing this shortly!
Support groups and blogs worth following -
I Love My Foreign Spouse - Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/139807999382936/
UK Immigration Forum - Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/200512816798635/
EEA Visa... EU Free Movement - Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/groups/650212281695959/
Free Movement blog : http://www.freemovement.org.uk/
Immigrationboards : http://www.immigrationboards.com/
Family Immigration Alliance : http://familyimmigrationalliance.wordpress.com/
Transpondia : http://www.londonelegance.com/transpondia/
Migrants' Rights Network : http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/
JCWI : http://jcwi.org.uk/