Photo credit: Kensington Palace/Alexi Lubomirski/Twitter
Like millions of viewers around the world, many of us at Newland Chase tuned in to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last Saturday. But unlike many of the viewers… alongside questions of “who will walk the bride down the aisle?”, “what designer will she be wearing?”, and “where does a royal couple go on honeymoon?”… our thoughts gravitated to “I wonder how an American British princess immigrates to the UK?” (We know. She’s technically now the Duchess of Sussex, not a “princess”, a title generally reserved for those of royal bloodline. But “princess” just sounds better in a blog.)
Not wishing to detract from the romance and pageantry of the Royal Wedding… we take the opportunity of this week’s blog to offer this slightly tongue-in-cheek look at UK immigration. And with so many Newland Chase team members located on both sides of the Atlantic in Prince Harry’s and Meghan’s home countries, we offer our sincere “cheers” and best wishes to the newlyweds and congratulate the UK and the Royal Family on the marvellous addition of their new “American” princess.
Meghan’s Trip to Chicago for a Fiancé Visa
Less well-publicized than the events of Saturday was a quick trip Ms. Markle made to Chicago the month before, where she reportedly visited the VFS Global UK Visa Application Centre on the second floor of the Regus office building on West Randolph Street. Reportedly, she flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Thursday, had a 10-minute appointment at the VFS office that same day, and flew back to London Saturday evening. So we’re guessing she sprung for the “Gold Premium Service Package” with next-business day processing.
While a princess may go to the head of the queue at the VFS office… and may not think twice about paying premium processing fees… Ms. Markle is still navigating those same bureaucratic waters that we all swim when we cross borders to live, to work, to marry, and/or to potentially become citizens in lands other than those of our birth.
The visa Meghan picked up from the VFS office on her trip to Chicago was likely her fiancé Family Visa, authorizing her to live in the UK with her citizen fiancé/spouse and marry. In addition to the premium processing application fee, she presumably also paid the UK’s healthcare surcharge (£200 per year)… but she’ll get a refund of some of that after she applies for Indefinite Leave to Remain (the UK’s form of permanent residence).
Likewise, the other application requirements likely presented only minor challenges to the future princess. Hopefully, Meghan kept her copy of the divorce decree from her previous two-year marriage to film producer, Trevor Engelson… because the VFS centre would have required that. Clearly, Meghan and Prince Harry’s relationship is “genuine”, and she has “suitable accommodation” at Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace. Even though she is currently “unemployed” – having left the cast of the American TV drama Suits to marry the prince – she can count Prince Harry’s income to show the required £18,600 a year minimum income, and technically money paid to the Royal Family is not considered “public funds”, so she will not be a ward of the state. (But we wonder what documents do you present to show the income of a British prince? Tax returns?) Proving “good knowledge of English” should also be a pretty easy hurdle for Meghan. Presumably, the VFS office will accept a DVD or Blu-ray of Season 7 of Suits.
Switching to a more serious note for a moment, the Migration Observatory in Oxford estimates that approximately 40 percent of UK residents in full- or part-time employment do not earn enough to meet the £18,600 (£22,400 for a partner and child) threshold in order to sponsor their foreign partners to come to the UK. When the minimum income requirement was introduced in 2012, successful fiancé visa applications dropped by around 40 percent. Thus their love stories unfortunately often have less than the fairy tale ending than that of Prince Harry’s and Meghan’s.
Where They Go from Here and Potential Immigration Hurdles
Under the Family Visa rules, Meghan and Prince Harry were required to marry within six months. So they’ve easily cleared that requirement. Now with the wedding complete, they should be able to largely shelve immigration concerns for a while. The princess will have to reside in the UK now for at least five years before she can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and British citizenship. The Royal Family has publicly indicated that they will not be requesting any sort of “fast-tracking” of Meghan’s citizenship.
With a five-year wait, Princess Meghan should have plenty of time to save-up the £1,330 application fee and more than enough time to study for her “Life in the UK” citizenship exam if she studies a little each evening. (Reportedly, she was a better-than-average student both at Immaculate Heart High School and Northwestern University.) And on the off chance that she is reading this blog… we can at least give her one question we know is on the exam. “Who was in charge of the British fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar? a) Oliver Cromwell, b) The Duke of Wellington, c) Robert Bruce, or d) Admiral Nelson.” Hint: It’s the one with “admiral” in his name.
The only potential significant immigration hurdle we can see ahead for the princess is the limitation on “days outside the UK”. The Royal Family’s annual international travel budget is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £5 million, constantly attending international events and supporting global causes (most often flying British Airways). So we’d advise Meghan to keep careful track of her days spent outside of the UK. At the time she applies for her British citizenship, she’ll have to prove that she has spent no more than 450 days outside the UK in the past five years and no more than 90 days outside the UK in the prior twelve months.
Newland Chase is Here to Help
While Newland Chase does not strictly specialize in Family Visas or Citizenship applications for princesses (though we’d be honoured to assist), we do specialize in all aspects of business travel and corporate immigration in the UK and more than 160 other countries around the world. The blog this week has been light-hearted… but rest assured, we take our clients’ global travel and mobility needs very seriously and pride ourselves on the professionalism with which we serve many of the world’s largest and most successful corporations. For more interesting (and likely more serious) stories from the field of global immigration, please continue to follow this blog… or to have up-to-date news from around the world on vital global immigration changes for corporations delivered to your inbox once each week, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter in the fields below.This blog post was prepared by Newland Chase. It is informational only and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment’s notice without warning or notice. Please reach out to your Newland Chase contact should you require any additional clarification or guidance. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content published or provided by Newland Chase that extend beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing any permissions rests with those persons wishing to reuse this blog post or any of its content.