What to do if you can’t afford to apply for your first visa

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  • Home Office application fees are extremely expensive. If you are applying for a visa to come to the UK to join a partner or family member, you will usually have to pay at least £1538, plus extra costs like the Immigration Health Surcharge. People applying for a visa usually end up paying over £3000 just to make an application.

    This is a huge amount of money to have to save in order to apply to live with your loved ones, and for many people means that their family remains out of reach.

    For people who cannot afford the application fee, there is something called a fee waiver. If you can prove that you cannot afford the application fee, the Home Office will let you apply without paying the application fee.

    The Home Office recently changed its rules to for people applying for their first visa to come to the UK to join a partner or family member, to get a fee waiver. This was after JCWI challenged the Home Office in court, and its previous policy was found to be unlawful.

    Applying for a fee waiver can seem very complicated. Our lawyers have made an information sheet about who can apply, what evidence you need and how to apply online.


    1. What is a fee waiver?

    When you apply for your first visa to come to the UK (also known as an entry clearance visa), you need to pay two main fees to the Home Office: the Home Office fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). There are also other costs, like paying to enrol your biometrics.

    If you can’t afford this, you can apply for something called a fee waiver. If this is accepted, you won’t have to pay the Home Office fees and/or the IHS.


    2. Can I apply for a fee waiver?

    You can apply for a fee waiver if you are applying to come to the UK as:

    • The partner of a British citizen or person who is settled here (also known as having Indefinite Leave to Remain)
    • The partner of someone who has refugee status in the UK, if you met after your partner arrived in the UK
    • The partner or child of a UK citizen who is in the UK armed forces
    • The partner or child of someone who is not a UK citizen but has been in the UK armed forces for 4 years

    If you are applying in any of the ways listed above, and you cannot afford the application fee, you can apply for a fee waiver. Remember that it should be you – the person applying for a visa – who applies for a fee waiver, not your sponsor (the person who is already in the UK or in the UK armed forces).


    3. Will asking for a fee waiver affect the outcome of my application?

    No. It is important to remember that if you get a fee waiver, you can then apply for a visa. The two systems are separate, and applying for a fee waiver does NOT mean you are less likely to get a visa.


    4. How do I apply for a fee waiver?

    You can apply online, using this form. It is free to apply. If you have other family members applying with you, you will need to include their details on the same form.

    After you submit the online application, you have 28 working days to provide documents to support your application (see below).

    If you are granted a fee waiver, you will be given a code. You’ll need to enter this code when you make your application for leave to enter.


    5. What do I need to show?

    Can you and your sponsor afford to pay the fee? If you can’t, that is all you really need to show. If you have a child, you can also get a fee waiver if you can show that you and your sponsor’s combined income is not enough to meet your child’s needs.

    The Home Office  talks a lot about destitution and exceptional circumstances – but you do not have to prove either of these things. You only need to show that you cannot afford the fee.


    6. How do I prove this?

    To prove that you can’t afford the application fee, you will need to:

    • Show how much income you and your sponsor get (including salary, any benefits and support from other people), and how much you have in savings
    • Show how much money you regularly have to spend (for example, on rent and other living costs)
    • Compare the amount of money you have left over, after paying for things like rent, to the fees you would have to pay to apply, and show that you would not be able to afford it

    If you have a child, you can apply for a fee waiver even if you and your sponsor could afford the fee, but if paying it would have an impact on your child (whether that child is in the UK or abroad). For example, you might be able to afford the fee, but paying it would mean you couldn’t afford medical treatment for your child. In this case, you should be granted a fee waiver.


    7. What evidence can I submit?

    There are lots of types of evidence the Home Office might want to see. If you and your sponsor have bank statements, you should submit these, to prove how much money you have and how much you spend per month.

    You can include a covering letter that explains your income and how much money you spend, to show the Home Office that you cannot afford the fee. Make sure you explain any large or regular income or expenses on your bank statements. The table might look something like the below:

    Income £ per month Expenses £ per month
    Wages Rent
    Benefits Bills
    Total Food


    If you or your partner are on a zero hours contract, or your income varies for another reason, you should provide bank statements or payslips from the six months before you apply, and provide an average for your income.

    The Home Office guidance says you should show that other people would not be able to lend you the money to pay the application fee. If you get financial help from someone other than your partner, it is a good idea to include a letter from them stating that they are not able to lend you the money to pay the application fees, and giving reasons for this if possible.


    8. When can the Home Office refuse my application?

    If the Home Office think you have not given enough information in your application, they should contact you within 14 days to ask for more evidence.

    The Home Office can refuse your application if they think:

    • You have not provided ‘reliable information’ about your circumstances
    • You have hidden money, or got rid of money on purpose so you can get a fee waiver
    • You have spent money on things that are not ‘essential’
    • You have not done enough planning to make sure you have enough money to pay the fee

    The last two points are difficult to pin down, as what is ‘essential’ isn’t the same for everyone. However, the guidance does give some examples – it says your fee waiver application can be refused if your evidence shows that you have spent money on holidays or ‘luxury items.’

    The Home Office will also consider whether you need to move to the UK urgently. The Home Office rules say that they can refuse your application if you would be able to save for the application fee in a few months, and do not have an urgent need to travel. If you do need to travel to the UK urgently, you should mention this in your application.


    9. Can I apply to not pay part of the fee?

    If you can’t afford to pay the application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), but can afford to pay one, you can apply to only pay for either the application fee or the IHS.

    If you have one child, you have to apply for a fee waiver to cover application fees for both of you. However, if you are applying with two or more children, you can get a partial fee waiver. This means you can apply for a fee waiver to cover some people who you are applying for but not everyone.


    10.When will I get a response?

    There are no rules about how long a fee waiver application takes. You can expect to wait at least a month to get a response from the Home Office. However, you can ask the Home Office to process your application more quickly if there is a specific reason that you need an answer fast.


    11. What will happen if I get a fee waiver?

    If you get a fee waiver, the Home Office will send you a code that allows you to apply for a visa without paying the application fee.

    You will then have 28 days to submit your visa application, and use that code. After this time the code will expire and you would need to submit a new fee waiver application.

    In order for the fee waiver code to work, you must make sure that the personal details (name, nationality and date of birth) provided in your application match the details used on the fee waiver request. If you have any technical issues you can email ApplyOnlineE-Support@homeoffice.gov.uk.


    12. What if my fee waiver is refused?

    If your fee waiver application is refused, there is no right of appeal and the refusal can only be challenged by a process called “judicial review.” You should seek legal advice about this if you want to consider this option.

    Alternatively, you may be able to submit more/better evidence and prepare a stronger fee waiver application that addresses the reasons for refusal. Being refused for a fee waiver in the past does not mean you will be refused in the future.