**Written in September 2017**
UK VISA TIPS FOR APPLICANTS FROM THE UNITED STATES
This is a somewhat peculiar text, because its proper title would have been “UK Visa tips for Americans”, and, of course, UK immigration rules for Americans are EXACTLY the same as for everyone else in the world. The problem rather is, that Americans are the one single group most inclined to believe otherwise – and, as such, they often have unrealistic or completely wrong expectations of the UK system, the rules of which, some seem to believe, should either not apply to them, or apply in some different fashion than they apply to everyone else. Part of it, I suppose, is the famous American Exceptionalism )).
The other — which I will address below — traces back to some crucial differences between the principles of the US immigration system, which many Americans would be aware of, and the UK system. Misunderstanding of these few principles seems to have underlined all of the most famous — and, to me, infuriating — cases that we in the UK label derisively “white distress”, of Americans who had put themselves into unresolvable immigration situation through what looks like bad advice or their own mistakes, who then attempt to resolve their situations through the court of public opinion and liberal newspapers. In those newspaper articles, they usually draw on a fact that they are college-educated, professional, married to Brits and English-speaking. One thing that remains increasingly unclear usually is – WHY THEN didn’t they manage to figure out exactly what was required of them, and comply with the rules?
Adding further confusion, the ridiculous and self-deprecating “visa through the Guardian” strategy usually works, a heart attack and a few thousand pounds later, because the UK govt is comically susceptible to media coverage . But trust me, folks, it is very easy and MUCH cheaper, through getting good advice AND FOLLOWING IT, to avoid having to put yourself on the front page of The Guardian in order to get your visa.
Quite obviously, a US citizen living in the States with their British spouse is exactly in the same legal position vis a vis, for example, a future spouse visa, as a citizen of India living there with their spouse who has British citizenship (or anywhere else in the world). In practice, however, it seems the US has the MOST future migrants who seem to have some sort of unsurmountable difficulty understanding, navigating and accepting British immigration rules. While the family in exactly same legal position somewhere in India would have either the sponsoring spouse, or someone within their close family and social circle, who has at least the first-hand experience with UK immigration, US/UK couples in the States most often will not. This short article aims to explain to them the main points on which, in my own experience, most of them fail.
In recognition that many applications to the UK from the United States involve an applicant or sponsor who had themselves been through the US immigration process, or at least are notionally aware of US immigration rules as a starting point, I particularly take care to highlight some principal difference between the US and UK systems.
Tip 1. YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CHANGE, EXTEND OR ADJUST STATUS IN THE UK ONCE YOU ENTER IT AS A VISITOR, EITHER WITH OR WITHOUT VISA. THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME FOR A US VISITOR AS IT IS FOR A NIGERIAN VISITOR OR A RUSSIAN VISITOR OR A BRAZILIAN VISITOR OR A VISITOR FROM ANY OTHER COUNTRY.
This does not depend on whether you have a British citizen spouse, or British children, or are yourself a child, or on anything else about you..
This is the main crucial bit many Americans seem to miss for a simple reason — that in the US immigration system, they see exactly the opposite. In the United States, legal entry is a crucial start, from which onwards, you will be able to build almost anything. In the US, once you enter legally once, you can continue to change and /or extend status, and it will work out often simpler or better so long as you are not going to leave the country.
I must mention, that most Brits who attempt something along the lines “my spouse will enter as a visitor and then sort it out once we are in the UK” misunderstand that the same strategy would have worked in the US just as poorly, for instance visa waiver visitors are not supposed to adjust status in the US either, although apparently it is tolerated for “immediate relatives” somewhat, but it is risky and fraught with problems. But, granted, a British spouse of a US citizen, if they were able to enter the US on a visa waiver, would MAYBE be able to eventually adjust status after some hassle. Most non-immigrants who enter the US on tourist visas can change and adjust status to anything, so long as they do not fall out of status (and, for immediate relatives, even if they have).
IN THE UK – NOT SO SIMPLE.
Visitors without a visa admitted for 6 months at the border are exactly in the same status as visitors with a tourist/ C-visit visa. Neither of them can change their status to anything while they are visitors. Similar to the US, an exception exists in the United Kingdom too, that allows spouses/partners of citizens to legalise their status ONCE THEIR TOURIST (or other) VISA RAN OUT – but they will then be in the same position whether it ran out 10 days ago, or 10 years ago, and it applies ONLY to those who have a British citizen child under 18 who is with them in the UK. (There are other exceptions but they would not apply in this scenario and are in practice almost impossible to achieve).
So if you are a couple without MINOR children who are already British citizens, then this will not work, ever. Certainly not for the first 10 to 20 years. You will have to leave the UK, go back to the United States, and apply for a visa.
Further, once you are for some reason already doing it, in order to get the so-called EX.1 exception based on a British child, you need to OVERSTAY FIRST — in other words, you still cannot apply while you are in the UK as a visitor. This is a point even many advisors often miss, and this was at issue in one of the most recent ridiculous Guardian-led “white distress” campaigns.
Last but not least, an application when an overstayer based on a child will only gain you a 2.5 year residence extendable in 2.5 increments, and the earliest you will be eligible for settlement will be in 10 years — twice as long as those with a normal spouse visa.
THEREFORE IF YOU ARE A SPOUSE OF A BRITISH CITIZEN YOU HAVE TO APPLY FOR A SPOUSE VISA FROM THE UNITED STATES. The ONLY people to whom anything else will make sense are those who BOTH (a) have a minor British citizen child under 18, and (b) expect themselves to NOT be able to meet the financial requirement.
The latter may benefit from the visitor-overstay-EX1 approach, if they also have the requisite British child in tow. But don’t forget the “overstay” bit and that this is a strategy of the absolutely last resort.
Please note the above applies only to visitors, be it visitors without visa, tourists, business visitors, family visitors, visitor for marriage, or short-term students. You still can change and extend status in the UK as a spouse if you entered as a PBS (Tier 1,2,4,5) migrant, or, of course, a fiancée, if you meet the conditions. Switching between PBS categories however, while possible, is subject to restrictions. A person who entered or currently has leave to remain as a spouse cannot switch into a PBS category (for instance no a breakdown of the relationship).
Tip 2. There is a lot of confusion about the term “settlement visa”, used to describe a range of visas for family members in our overseas visa application system (Visa4UK system). YOU ARE NOT, IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, APPLYING FOR SETTLEMENT . “Settlement” is a term in UK immigration practice that means “permanent residence”, eg indefinite leave to enter or remain. SINCE 2012 THERE IS NO IMMEDIATE SETTLEMENT FOR SPOUSES, NO MATTER HOW LONG THE MARRIAGE LASTED. It used to be possible to “apply directly to settlement” before 9 July 2012, but not since. (This, again, is strikingly different from the US immigration system, where spouses can apply for permanent residence directly, and, where the marriage had lasted for more than 2 years prior, the residence is unconditional.)
The only type of indefinite leave to enter that still exists today is for children of “both settled parents”, eg both parents British or with indefinite leave to remain.
I had a hysterical American woman yell at me a couple of months ago, that she had applied for a “settlement visa” and when I called it a “fiancee visa” — which is what she seems to have applied for — she screamed that I do not know UK immigration law, nevermind that I studied and practice it successfully, in the UK.
“Settlement visa” is a legacy term that is now used as technical term in VISA4UK application system and in visa fee structures, to denote a type of applications where a condition of entry is that the applicant intends to permanently reside with the sponsoring family member in the UK, in theory. They are all subject to the same fee, you see. And they require meeting of the financial requirement (different rules for children of both settled parents).
You are applying for a TEMPORARY leave to enter, usually for 30 months (when granted from overseas, 33 months). You will need to accumulate 5 years of residence in the UK in this capacity to become a permanent resident (get Indefinite leave to remain), and you will have to satisfy the same financial requirements at extension in 2.5 years’ time.
Standard spouse visa route now has a 5-year route to settlement. Any “funny business” such as described above in (1) that deviates from standard spouse visa in process and criteria leads to 10-year route to settlement. You CANNOT apply to a 10-year route from overseas simply because you do not meet a financial requirement, or while in the UK as a visitor.
All financial requirements for a spouse visa (and IHS fees!) are calculated in increments of 2.5 years. Initial term of entry when getting the visa overseas is 33 months, and it gives very limited rights, including restriction against use of public funds in the name, or share of, the visa-holding spouse.
This is markedly different from the analogous aspects of the US immigration system, where IR (immediate relative) categories into which spouses fall, are applications directly for permanent residence (greencard). And of course the US has a direct viable route to permanent residence for all parents of USCs.
To confuse matters further, a fiancée visa, which is granted for 6 months without right to work or use the NHS, is still called the “settlement visa” in the vISA4Uk system, that is because, again, entry on it technically may lead to prospective settlement in case of a future marriage, and it is subject to the same fee and financial requirement. But this is in any event a major misnomer.
So please do not call and yell at me that you “applied for a settlement visa” and expect me to know immediately what exactly it was.
So, as a rule, and no matter what Visa4Uk called whatever you applied for, as a new immigrant you will be on a “route to settlement” of some length. That means a number of years after which you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (right of permanent residence, the point at which you become disconnected from the reason for its residence, for instance no longer have to remain married). Spouse/CP visas and parent (of a British child) visas of a standard variety (once where you met financial requirement) lead to settlement in 5 years, generally.
UK Settlement, upon meeting prescribed requirements of the category and payment of fees, is not subject to any numeric limits and there are no wait times, it is all about you meeting the requirements of whatever program you are currently on. Programs and routes to settlement vary so widely that for many of the current ones there is not really a huge body of evidence about that settlement actually being reached — eg current 5-year and 10-year routes for partners and parents have only been introduced for those who applied after 9 July 2012, with an obvious result that the first people to ever enter them would only bow be reaching 5 years.
Many other categories also LEAD to settlement, for instance work routes – in contrast with US immigration categories, where Labour Certification and other greencard-leading procedures are subject to their own completely different process. Here, again, it’s a matter of time and compliance with the program. Workers on a current Tier 2 General route — our analog of H1B – qualify for settlement after 5 years in the UK, regardless of whether they have been changing employers, but with moral support from the current one.
Entrepreneur visa routes lead to settlement in 3 or 5 years, depending on the scale of the entrepreneural activity actually happening, measured in jobs created rather than money. Some much less well-known categories lead to settlement after 5 years as well, including “sole representative of overseas business”.
Tier 2 Intra-company transfer categories (our L1/L2) and student visas (Tier 4), are among those categories that do not “lead to” settlement. It is however important to understand, that everything leads to settlement eventually, eg there is universal settlement after 10 years of residence in the UK, if you managed to maintain legal status throughout, regardless of category. The catch is, you cannot have been gone for more than 18 months of that time — much less generous than many of the categories you may have been on during the time, but failed to reach 5 years on.
This may sound like an awfully long affair, but consider this — we allow applications for naturalisation on the basis of overall 5 years of residence, of which only 1 year has to be “free from conditions” (eg with indefinite leave to remain). For most people it means 6 years from entry to citizenship, which is actually quite generous. Those who are, at the time of the application, married to or are civil partners with, British citizens (no unmarried partners here), do not have to have had ILR for a year, and can apply the next day after becoming “settled” if they meet the overall requirements. You may see on some sites that spouses can apply after 3 years — from the perspective of nationality law, that is true, but they still have to be “settled”, and since we do not admit spouses directly to “settlement” from 2012, this is no longer technically possible.
Tip 3. The UK accepts different kinds of relationships for immigration purposes (unlike the US which recognises only marriage). This includes unmarried partners, either of same or opposite sex. In other words, “unmarried partner” is a category for all people who live together as if they were married, but for some reason aren’t, be it because they are a same-sex couple who cannot marry in their home jurisdiction, a straight couple who simply do not believe in marriage as a principle, or a grandpa and grandma who married 50 years ago in a country which no longer exists, and misplaced their certificate.
This applies not only to spouses/partners of British Citizens, but to all immigration categories, eg PBS Tiers 1,2,4 and 5, students, skilled workers etc. So if neither of you is British but one of you is going to the UK to work or study, the other can apply as an unmarried partner. However, two years of sustained cohabitation in the same household in a relationship “akin to marriage” will be required. This is not to be confused with a dating relationship. You will need two years of shared address, utility bills, bank accounts, mortgages etc etc, in addition to some evidence that you present yourselves as a couple outwardly to friends, family and colleagues.
You cannot put together an unmarried partner application on evidence of a fact that you have had a child together, or your social or travel photos together. This is all very well to prove that your relationship is genuine, but none of these prove that you live in the same household and share all day-to-day and financial responsibilities.
If you do not have two years, your only option is to marry – if necessary, for instance because you are a couple who cannot marry in your home jurisdiction – apply as a fiancee and marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK (this option means however that you need to meet the financial requirement at each stage and pay two sets of expensive visa fees).
Do not confuse the term “unmarried partner” with the term “civil partner”. Civil partnerships are a form of a marriage-like REGISTERED union specific to the UK, that is available only to same-sex couples (it existed before same-sex marriage became possible in the UK, and affords roughly the same set of benefits for legal purposes). In order to enter into a civil partnership, you need to apply for a fiancee/proposed CP visa and then undergo all the trappings of the process similar to couples intending to marry. CP registration is a ceremony similar to a civil marriage in the same Registrar’s office.
If you are a same-sex couple who cannot marry in your home jurisdiction and you do not have two years, and neither of you is British or settled in the UK, eg you are going there for work or study, you are largely out of options for the other half. However it is possible in practice that if they were to enter the Uk as a visitor for marriage (this includes CP), then entered into a CP there with their other half who is on a PBS visa, they can then return to the US and apply as a PBS dependent.
“Visitor for marriage” is a visa for anyone who intends to hold a marriage or CP ceremony in the UK, they do not have to be marrying/CPing a British citizen or a settled person.
Also please note that UK immigration law, for family immigration purposes (fiancee/spouse/partner/unmarried partner) recognises EQUALLY (unlike the United States) British citizens, and those with Indefinite Leave to Remain as sponsors. There are no functional or procedural difference between British citizens and holder of Indefinite Leave to remain, and their existing or prospective spouses. This again is in contrast with the US system, in which immediate relatives of USCs have immediate immigrant visa availability, and spouses of LPRs are subject to a wait under the system subject to numeric limitations.
Tip 4. The financial requirements of the Appendix FM and FM-SE, underlying rules for spouses and partners, is a requirement of STRICT CONSTRUCTION and should be taken seriously and literally. So, for that matter, are the requirements for PBS migrants in Appendix A and C. This means that, across the requirements, documents have to literally be what the Rules say they must be. Bank statements must be original, or accompanied by original cover letter, or stamped on every page. Payslips must be original, not printouts, otherwise again accompanied by covering letter and stamped. No matter if your bank no longer issues original statements, or assures that HO will accept what they are giving you — it will not. Everything should be not more than 30 days old at the date of your appointments to enrol biometrics at USCIS application support centre.
MOST — probably 99% – of the applications for UK visas, spouse/partner and PBS visas alike, fail on financial requirements, and usually because the applicants did not take the requirements seriously enough.
I heard people say things to me such as, “we are wealthy and the government well knows it”, or “they can’t not let me bring my husband in and I am not going to be bothered”, etc. Even if you think the government knows that you are wealthy, this really makes it even less clear to an angry low paid civil worker why can’t you just get the bank statements they are asking for.
Refer to Resources section of this site for a link to a caseworker staff manual on how to consider the evidence in support of the financial requirement in spouse/fiancee/partner visa applications.
The following are important pointers on the financial requirements gathered under the heading of one tip:
- You CANNOT RELY ON UNLIQUIDATED ASSETS to show savings for the purpose of spouse/partner visa. This is confusing to those who went through US immigration process, because you can do it for an affidavit of support in the US, where you can include appraised value of real property. NOT in the UK. In other words, you cannot rely on equity in your home, or current value of stocks or shares in your brokerage accounts or pension funds. The money needs to be liquidated into cash before the application. The only reprieve you get is that if the money was converted from an assets held by the applicant or spouse you only need to have owned the underlying asset, not the cash, for 6 months, so you can sell just before the application. SOME pension savings accounts may be acceptable, for instance the Home Office is instructed to accept Cash ISAs. There is some confusion over cash value in 401K plans which are the US equivalent, so this has to be approached with a lot of caution. Investment or brokerage accounts are accepted if they are held in cash (eg cash intended to buy shares, rather than actual shares) and they are the institution REGULATED by a financial authority, and of course most of US brokerage firm and money market accounts are not FDIC-insured, which, in my view, would create a problem. ANYTHING other than just cash in a bank needs to be explored and looked at very carefully.
2. You have to have at least one full year of tax returns reflecting requisite income, if you are relying on self-employment, which INCLUDES SALARY PAID FROM A BUSINESS WHERE YOU ARE A PRINCIPAL SHAREHOLDER AND A DIRECTOR. You need all underlying documents explaining how this money accrued in the business and was distributed to you, if they were dividends etc. You also need proof that the activity is ONGOING from the end of last financial/tax year and to the present.
3. Do not forget that when relying on overseas employment or self-employment income you need reasonable equivalent of documents and you ALSO need UK job offer. You cannot use either one without the other.
4. EVERYTHING that is designed to represent a current state of affairs at the time of the application, needs to be not more than 28 days old at the time you apply. For avoidance of doubt, take this to mean the date of your fingerprints appointment at the USCIS application support centre.
Tip 5 Be careful when applying for admission of step-children that the non-British spouse has from their previous marriage/ relationship.
The situation in the UK is VERY different from the United States, and that applies largely across all categories, not only in context of family-sponsored visas, but PBS as well — although the enforcement is most rigorous in practice in family-sponsored visas.
Children that are non-British are admitted to the UK only in the status as their LEAST favoured parent (in immigration terms).
This means that when a wife with a child from previous relationship applies for a spouse visa, the child will be a spouse’s dependant on the same 5-year route and have no status of their own, except one contingent on the applying mother and her future immigration journey (again, different from the US where stepchildren benefit as immediate relatives directly).
But that is not all of it. The admission of a child who has a parent with parental responsibility — in other words, a live breathing parent who has not been stripped of their parental rights by a family court – left behind, in other words not already residing in, or being admitted on the same occasion, to the UK – is conditioned very strictly on proving that the applying parents had had a sole responsibility for the child’s upbringing.
This requirement is retroactive — we look not just at the position now (unless the other parent is recently deceased or maybe, although I had not seen such cases, is serving life in prison and so unavailable to care for the child), but as it has been throughout most of the child’s life. So, for instance, if you have a 12-year old child who was born into a marriage that was dissolved two years later with the sole full custody given — at that time — to the parent who then raised the child and is now applying, and the other parent in the wind and not paying child support, then you have a good case.
If you had a divorce with a shared custody in which the child spends even a day per week at the other parent’s — a mechanism sadly often undertaken in order to bargain down on child support — or you have been receiving child support from the other parent, these cases are very bad, as far as prospects of taking the child to the UK go. You need qualified and confidential advice, now. Taking a child to live permanently in the UK if the left-behind parent shared any noticeable responsibility for their upbringing, is very hard and often impossible, and this CANNOT be cured by simply obtaining consent of the other parent or family court. You should not confuse family court proceedings with UK immigration rules. UK is the country that thinks that it — not you – knows best what YOU need (welcome to the nanny state). So simply the fact that everyone involved agrees, may not be enough.
The requirement is based on factual proof of how things stood throughout the child’s life — and are ostensibly designed to benefit the child, so the system somewhat views the situation from the child’s perspective. In other words, if the parents divorced and any personal contact was lost since before the age at which the child could remember anything, it is (for these purposes) good. If you have the position you (now) want — such as, full custody and nothing about child support — cemented in a historical years-ago divorce decree, the UK system is instructed to accept that for face value.
But if your divorce gives shared custody, evidence to disprove any role of the other parent in the child’s life has to be voluminous, including records of not receiving child support, letters from schools stating they never heard from the other parent, etc etc.
The Rules do have “especially compelling circumstances” category, but you cannot underestimate that when they say “especially compelling”, they mean it. If the other parent is service life in prison because they are a serial killer, or they are in a coma or severely disabled, you may have a case. Maybe. For 99% of cases, you have to meet the “sole responsibility” criteria.
Again, you cannot underestimate the seriousness of this provision. There are NUMEROUS parents who married Brits but cannot bring their pre-marriage children to the UK for these reasons, and often never. Making an unsuccessful application in which statements that prejudge your position are made, can worsen the situation.
The good news is, if you have a birth certificate on which the other parent is not listed, the requirements do not apply to you.
This is not the subject of these tips, but you have to also pay very special attention to the cases of adopted children. Even completely non-British families do need, at minimum, to have 2 years of overseas custody before bringing adopted children to the UK, and requirements to bring to the UK a child adopted overseas by a British citizen are also complex (plus, remember, a child tracts an immigration status of the least favored parent, even be it adoptive parent). Due to very strong potential for fraud and the unwillingness of the Uk to face situations when Brits use overseas adoptions as a way to circumvent the very stringent domestic adoption laws, you have to take advice on your situation.
Tip 6. Do not assume that you will be able to be rescued from your situation by a “human rights application”. Some really, really bad immigration lawyers often advise people to file those applications – known as FLR(FP) – simply because there is nothing else the person could file. However you, not matter whether you are a pensioner, a spouse, a pensioner spouse, or a child, stand absolutely no chance in hell at a “human rights application” if you are freshly or recently arrived in the UK, UNLESS YOU HAVE A BRITISH CHILD UNDER 18. Your non-British child, if for some reason they did not qualify for a visa, will not have any success at a “human rights” application either, unless/until they have been in the UK 7 years and are still under 18. For an adult, it has to be in all cases more than 10 years, and even then your chances are slim, if you arrived in the Uk at adult age. The criteria for “lost all contact with the country of origin” really doesn’t apply almost ever, if you grew up in that country, speak its language and have relatives of any sort. It is not about you not having a house or bank account there, it is about you being no more able to build a life there than any other British person. This will be almost never true of anyone with US citizenship or a still valid LPR status. NOR will you be able to claim that your British spouse absolutely cannot leave the UK and live elsewhere, if you had just arrived together from that elsewhere, having lived at that elsewhere for years. This is a non-starter. But filing a FLR FP that has no merit is also much, much more harmful that simply overstaying your tourist visa and doing nothing at all, because it significantly restricts your ability to make a similar claim in the future, when perhaps you have more grounds for it.
Tip 7. ANY MARRIAGE INVOLVES A TWO-PRONG TEST: that it is (a) genuine and (b) subsisting. While it may seem like the same thing, they are not always. For instance, a couple who have been married for years and had children together, may have been in a perfectly genuine relationship once, but, likewise, may have separated years ago and no longer live together — so it is not subsisting. Unless you are newlyweds, you have to prove both prongs of the test.
This is somewhat in contrast with the US immigration law, where conditions on the spouse’s residence may be removed where the spouses had separated, so long as there has not yet been a divorce. The US places emphasis on whether the marriage was genuine at the time it was entered into, not on the present state of the relationship.
In the UK, you need to prove that your relationship is continuing, eg that you are still living together as a family, at every stage, including extension and ILR. It is somewhat possible to justify living apart in different cities in some circumstances, related to work or study, but not as a rule, and it gets tricky.
Situations where a British citizen spouse moves to the UK ahead of time in order to “work up” 6 months of employment for the purpose of meeting the financial requirement, are generally recognised as situations when this is accepted as warranted. But you do still need to show that you have ongoing joint financial commitments and contact during the time of separation.
In all other cases, do not fall into a trap of assuming that “our marriage lasted for years and we have a 14-year old so no one will doubt it”. Most likely no one indeed will doubt it, but you do need to provide proof of subsisting relationship, eg joint residence and/or property and financial obligations.
Please note the above does NOT apply to applications under EU law, including Surinder Singh applications. For purposes of EU law on Free Movement and related jurisprudence, marriage, once genuine, is valid and accepted until the final decree of divorce, notwithstanding any separation of the parties.
Tip 8. In the UK, there is no disconnect between visas (entry clearance) and status you gain inside the country (leave to remain). They are both granted by the same authority (currently UKVI, an agency of the Home office), NOT by the diplomatic missions/ Foreign office. Even when they are granted at overseas embassies, they are still granted by UKVI decision making hubs located there. This is very different from the US system, where visas are issued by Department of States and status in-country is granted by DHS, which is often less stringent (there are legal and policy reasons for that, but we won’t go into them).
Most important aspect to understand, however, is that in the US, you can have a visa for entry purposes, and then get admission for however long you are granted on entry, or “D/S (duration of status)” so long as you continue in this status. You could have a, say, student visa that was valid until the day after tomorrow, fly with it to the US, be admitted for as long as you remain a student, then finish your bachelor’s degree and start on Masters, all the while changing I-20s but not worrying about a visa, and then if you decide to take a job, you get a change of status to H1B — but then if you returned overseas even for a few days, you would need an H1B visa to return, and a consulate may rather arbitrarily decide not to give it to you..
Not in the UK.
In the UK, your visa is also your permission to be in the UK once you are there, and you cannot be admitted for longer than the visa. Your remaining in the UK past the date of its validity is conditional upon getting, inside the UK, a biometric residence card with the new date on it, which will, once you get it, be good for any amount of travel in and out (you would no longer need a visa) until its date of expiration. It’s like a visa, but separate from your passport (which you still need to travel). Think of it as an analog of a US Green Card, except it can be issued for all sorts of limited purposes and be valid for as little as a year or sometimes even less, depending on your visa category.
If you lose your card when you are overseas, you can apply for a short-term one-time entry visa to return to the UK “to resume previous leave”, where you can sort out a new card. There is no requalification during the time for which you were already granted “leave”, regardless of whether you lose you card, leave the country, or whatever.
With a fiancee visa, you do not get a card because it’s only for 6 months.
HOWEVER if you are a US citizen, or a citizen of another visa-free travel country, you have to be very careful to always present your BRP — the card- to the immigration officer and make very good sure they take a mental note of it. If you have a sticker-type visa of any category,including old indefinite leave, you have to make THE MOST sure the IO knows it is there. When leaving the IO desk always check the stamp in your passport, to make sure it is a simple date stamp, perhaps with VIPP or your residence card number scribbled on it in pen. Do not under any circumstances enter the UK with a “visitor stamp” which has language about not taking employment appended to it. Some IOs will place one in your passport by mistake, in this case you have to immediately protest and have them correct the endorsement. In order to resume the leave to enter/remain you had when you left the UK, you need to be admitted with just a date stamp (longer stamp with words supercedes it with a new leave for 6 months and you lose the one you had). You have to especially watch out for this at Channel entry ports and Eurostar.
Tip 9. You have to understand that the UK immigration system changes a real lot. All the time. In the last 10 years, we have had several major, completely defining, overhauls of it. Categories open and close, length of time required for this or that changes, financial requirements are introduced and changed, etc etc. Contrast this with the US immigration system which has been largely unchanged since at least 1996 when I first started to deal with it.
This, first of all, means that the experience of pretty much everyone you know socially is most likely irrelevant to what you will have to go through now. The experience of many people on the forums, apart from the golden rule that most people don’t post on forums, and that no two cases are the same, is most likely also outdated in this or another way.
On top of that, our government is based on a very different principle from yours. The British government officials are not professionals in their field. They are all elected officials who rotate in and out of offices they know or understand little about, and usually do not have time to learn much about. In fact, Theresa May had a real long tenure as the Home Secretary and her sidekick (minister for immigration) during that time, Brokenshire, was actually a lawyer. But that was all an anomaly that was cured when they shipped him to another post and put in a woman who has never had anything to do with any of the matters involved at all as a Home Secretary, and they also made a woman who is not a lawyer the Lord Chancellor (eg a Secretary of Justice). Our previous Lord Chancellor, I think, was formerly Secretary of Education. And, in the Cameron’s “coalition government”, their Secretary of the Treasury was previously a press-secretary for Scottish National parks.
This creates a constant atmosphere of uncertainty, in which most public statements are made by people who have no idea what they are talking about, or a vague, general idea. I have been to policy consultations at the Home Office, where people in charge of developing that policy had no idea what it currently was (that is why they call the practicing lawyers in, none of them are lawyers).
PR and political gains have everything to do with what is happening in immigration, and the law, as such, very little — because of Parliament supremacy and no constitution, nothing prevents whoever is in power from changing it every day, if they wish. So they, pretty much, do.
Further to this atmosphere of constant confusion on the part of public officials, it transforms to the media. I used to love The Guardian, but can no longer read is because of uninformed, factually and legally incorrect bollocks that they constantly publish on immigration topics. Sort-of-somewhere around what actually is the case but not quite right. This is infuriating to those of us who know the law and how things actually are, but I can imagine it is even more infuriating to those who are trying to find out. .
In the United States, for whatever reason I do not know, the overall level to which the public, the media and the people in legislature and government, are informed about the actual immigration issues and aspects of the system — Trump and his team the only exception – is actually very high. Over 90% of everything people on TV say is factually correct from the standpoint of what the law is. Somehow most of those involved in implementing or covering it seem to know what it actually is. So the level of public discourse on immigration in the US is actually much higher than in the UK. That is NOT the case in the Uk at all. No one you will have heard from, likely, had no idea what they are talking about.
That is why, if you need guidance, you have to consult with a lawyer, It is not enough to read something on a site, including this site — things I wrote here two years ago, sometimes a year ago, are already outdated, and it is not always easy to find and correct them. You need to consult with an actual practicing person who is doing it today, last week, last month. Tops. Block out all other noise.
If you are really, really keen on self-help then please DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES 1) draw wisdom from gov.uk main interface description of visa categories, processes and requirements. They are VERY INCOMPLETE and sometimes even plain wrong, and 2) NEVER call the HOme Office advice line, it is NOT ACTUALLY HOME OFFICE. It is stuffed by low paid, high turnover, unskilled call centre workers from a commercial company that has nothing to do with the Home Office, they give out ALWAYS WRONG advice and they are absolutely unaccountable for it. Just treat it as a prank.
You can guide yourself by reading the actual law that will apply to you, contained in the up to date copy of the Immigration Rules (link to Index of them in Resources on this site). You can also read, with reservations, applicant guidance published in long multi-page PDF documents, and , with much more attention, documents called “modernised guidance” — current guidance for caseworkers. For instance, google “Tier 2 modernised guidance”. It should have “Published for Home Office staff” on it, and in most cases will be current year, although maybe previous. Very few types of guidance still persist today (Sept 2017) from 2015. I link specifically to manual on assessing Financial requirement in Resources.
SAVE the guidance you applied under, they change it and then replace the files in the links and it is hard then to prove what it was at one past point in time.
Last but not least. Do NOT purchase a UPS label from the VFS for $140. Register at MyUPS.com, and create a shipment with yourself as a destination and International Visas and Operations in Sheffield as a sender, generate the label, print it and enclose. If you have done it right it costs £23-25. If you pay by Paypal via a bank account, the money will only come out of your account once the barcode is scanned at UPS, so you will know when it has been shipped back.